Iran would escalate support to terrorist groups after military strike
Iran is already known to be a significant sponsor of terrorist groups like Hezbollah. After a U.S. military strike, Iran would be free to greatly increase its material and financial support to terrorist groups, possibly enabling them to strike the U.S. homeland.
Tehran would also allow al-Qaida and other Islamic terrorist groups free passage across its borders from Afghanistan and Asia into the Middle East, Iranian officials said.“Iran will open a freeway for terrorists from Afghanistan all the way to Lebanon, enabling the terrorists to strike in almost every country in the Middle East,” said the official with knowledge of national-security discussions. He added that Iran currently bans such transits from Afghanistan, forcing them to take longer routes and risk capture in other countries. “This positive action would not continue if Iran is attacked by the U.S.”One Kuwaiti analyst said Iran-backed terror attacks are expected if war breaks out.
[ Page 7-8 ]
Most dangerously, Iran would strike back. With the possible exception of Iraq, Iran appears not to have targeted Americans directly with terrorism since the 1996 attack on Khobar Towers, though it still retains the capability to do so. Iran instead uses terrorism as a form of deterrence, "casing" U.S. Embassies and other facilities to give it a response should the United States step up pressure.6 Should the United States strike Iran militarily, Iran could retaliate against U.S. facilities around the world. In addition, the recent deployment of European peacekeepers to Lebanon, where Iran's ally Hizballah is strong, provides a venue to strike against any allies that assist the U.S. military effort.Iraq is the biggest theater for Iranian retaliation. A military strike could easily lead Iranian leaders to step up their activities in Iraq, turning parts that are relatively peaceful into a war zone comparable to the worst parts of Anbar Province. Iranian commentators speak openly of the "140,000 hostages" next door in Iraq and clearly see the U.S. presence in Iraq as a potential source of leverage.
[ Page 179 ]
Tehran has also sought at least a degree of deniability in its use of terrorism—a reason it often works through the Lebanese Hizballah to this day when backing terrorists. As Iran expert Kenneth Pollack notes, a chemical or biological attack (to say nothing of a nuclear strike) would lead the victim to respond with full force almost immediately. The use of proxies or cutouts would not shield Iran from retaliation.September 11 has also had a limiting effect. The attacks occurred over a year after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. The tremendous worldwide concern about terrorism, and the active U.S. campaign against Al Qaeda, made Iran's proxies cautious about any attacks that would lead them to be compared to Al Qaeda.Nor do Iran's favored proxies actively seek weapons of mass destruction as does Al Qaeda. They appear to recognize the "red line" drawn by the United States and other powers with regard to terrorist use of these weapons. Moreover, their current tactics and systems enable them to inflict considerable casualties. Indeed, some of the more available types of chemical and biological agents would be difficult for even a skilled terrorist group to use to inflict mass casualties, although the psychological impact would be considerable from even a limited attack with unconventional weapons.Tehran is not likely to change its behavior on this score except in the most extreme circumstances. Traditional terrorist tactics such as assassinations and truck bombs have proven effective for Tehran. Only in the event of a truly grave threat such as an invasion of Iran would many of Tehran's traditional cautions go out the window.
U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Iran is prepared to launch terrorist attacks inside the United States in response to perceived threats from America and its allies, according to Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr.
[ More ]