An annual security assessment presented to the U.S. Senate by James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, has excluded Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah from its list of terror threats to U.S. interests, despite both being consistently included as threats in previous years.
The unclassified report, issued by Clapper on February 26 and entitled the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Communities, was published by the Times of Israel amid Israeli concerns that Iran was omitted simply because of Tehran’s efforts to combat ISIS.
In a previous report from January 2014, Clapper included Iran and Hezbollah in the ‘Terrorism’ section, writing that both “continue to directly threaten the interests of U.S. allies. Hizballah [sic] has increased its global terrorist activity in recent years to a level that we have not seen since the 1990s”. Iran was also given its own sub-heading in the ‘Terrorism’ section of such assessments in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Yet in the latest report, Clapper omits both Iran and Hezbollah from this section, only mentioning the Shiite Muslim militant group once in reference to the threat it faces from radical Sunni groups – such as ISIS and the al-Nusra Front – on Lebanon’s borders. In regard to Iran, the report names it as both a cyber and regional threat to the U.S. because of its support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
However, the report speaks of Tehran’s assistance in preventing “ISIL [another term for ISIS] from gaining large swaths of additional territory” in Iraq. It adds that the Islamic Republic has “intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia”.
The report fails to mention that Hezbollah is labelled as a terrorist organisation by both the U.S. and the European Union, while it receives the majority of its funding from Tehran. The omission comes as Washington and other world powers continue to negotiate with Iran to strike a deal over its nuclear program and capabilities.
The assessment adds that Iran has “overarching strategic goals of enhancing its security, prestige, and regional influence [that] have led it to pursue capabilities to meet its civilian goals and give it the ability to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so.”
The Israeli thinktank Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has claimed that the removal of both actors from the U.S. terror assessment comes amid Iranian support in the fight against ISIS, where Tehran’s shadowy former spymaster Qasem Soleimani is directing the offensive on the Sunni-majority city of Tikrit.
“We believe that this results from a combination of diplomatic interests (the United States’ talks with Iran about a nuclear deal) with the idea that Iran could assist in the battle against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and maybe even in the battle against jihadist terrorism in other countries,” the NGO’s assessment of the report said.
Max Abrahms, professor of political science at Northeastern University and member at the Council of Foreign Relations, believes that the omission signals a “quid pro quo” between Washington and Tehran.
“I think that we are looking at a quid pro quo, where Iran helps us with counter-terrorism and we facilitate their nuclear ambitions and cut down on our labelling of them as terrorists,” says Abrahms. “The world has changed. The Sunni threat has gotten worse, the Islamic State is a greater danger than al-Qaeda ever was, and the Iranians have really come up big in terms of helping us out in combating the Islamic State.”
Hezbollah has been accused of responsibility for a number of terror attacks against U.S. or its partners interests, such as the 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassy and American military barracks in the Lebanese capital, Beirut; the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Argentina and the 2012 Burgas bus bomb on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.