For decades, Latin America has been utilized by Iran as a hotbed for generating terrorist activities to facilitate Tehran’s political aims. Some areas in Latin America remain ripe with drug trafficking, cartel operations, and other illicit activities.
These loosely controlled areas with inconsistent or corrupt political control, in combination with sympathetic Shiite populations in regions such as in Columbia, provide grounds for Iran to carry out their foreign policy aims against their ideological opponents. This list of opponents includes a number of Western entities, but the United States and Israel have been Iran’s primary targets. Latin America also provides Iran with a region to carry out terrorist plots with a smaller chance of large-scale retribution from their ideological adversaries. Despite this history, terrorist activity in Latin America does not receive significant public attention.
Back in 2020, the United States carried out an airstrike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani. Soleimani was the architect behind many Iranian-sponsored terrorist plots and human-rights abuses in the Middle East and abroad. At the time, Iran had been launching rocket attacks and other operations against United States forces in Iraq. In response to the death of Soleimani, Iran and Hezbollah promised retribution.
Over the past couple of years, Iran has attempted to carry out terrorist attacks, but these attacks were foiled and failed to come to fruition. These planned attacks were to be carried out against U.S. and Israeli targets. The targets included prominent U.S. and Israeli businessmen and their families, diplomats, embassies, and other interests. Iran and Hezbollah have well-developed networks within Latin America and the Middle East. Using these networks, Iran can continue to both recruit for, and resource future terrorist plots.
A number of these intended attacks were to take place in Latin America and Columbia, according to monitoring organizations such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. In one case, Hezbollah operatives involved had previously been expelled from Columbia but were able to return. Drug trafficking operations have been used to facilitate transferring money, personnel, and storing weapons caches for Iranian operatives.
These operations are at times aided by a number of Shiite mosques in Latin America, many of which are under the influence of Hezbollah and Iranian friendly religious leaders. Often the corruption-ripe justice systems of Latin American countries enable terrorists to avoid prosecution, with terrorist agents being sent back to Iran or other countries instead, as reported by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
There has been a long history, especially active in recent years, of Iranian-sponsored terrorist activity in Latin America. These terrorist activities target U.S. and Israeli interests. With this in mind, it is increasingly likely Iran will attempt further terrorist attacks in the near future, with United States and Israeli personal and interests as the prime targets. These Iranian terrorist plots tend to receive minimal media attention compared to terrorist activities in other regions, which helps keep Latin America a desired area for continued Iranian involvement. Latin America will serve as Iran’s ideological warzone in the years to come.