Following the January 3 killing of IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. airstrike, Iranian authorities and media were quick to warn of retaliation. IRGC commander Maj.-Gen. Hossein Salami promised "a strategic revenge which will definitely put an end to the U.S. presence in the region." Former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezaie and current secretary of the Iranian regime's Expediency Council tweeted that Iran "will take vigorous revenge on America." Former Iranian defense minister Maj.-Gen. Hossein Dehghan said that Iran would "for sure" target U.S. military personnel and bases; Iranian Majlis member Abolfazl Abutorabi noted, "We can respond to them on American soil," adding that Iran "can attack the White House itself." Soleimani's newly appointed successor, Esmail Qaani, promised "to continue the martyr Soleimani's path with the same strength, and his martyrdom will be reciprocated in several steps by removing the U.S. from the region."
The possibility of a threat to the U.S. homeland already has authorities on high alert in major U.S. cities, including Washington DC, where a range of security precautions has been taken at government sites; Los Angeles; and New York City, whose mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that he had spoken with top law enforcement about "immediate steps" to "protect key NYC locations from any attempt by Iran or its terrorist allies against America." The Department of Homeland Security warned the U.S. public that while there is "no specific, credible threat," the Iranian leadership and several affiliated violent extremist organizations have publicly stated their intentions to retaliate against the U.S. and have shown the intent, and the capability, to conduct operations in the U.S. – on top of previous plots against homeland targets that have included scouting and planning against infrastructure targets and cyber-enabled attacks against a range of U.S.-based targets. Something else not mentioned publicly in these warnings is the threat of a drone attack as retaliation.
It must be noted that for several years now, U.S. National Intelligence Worldwide Threat Assessments have noted the growing threat of Iranian elements inside the U.S. According to the National Intelligence 2018 assessment, "Iran will continue working to penetrate [the] U.S." as it "cultivate a network of operatives across the globe as a contingency to enable potential terrorist attacks." The 2019 assessment stated that Iran will increase its cyber espionage and attacks and will continue to seek political, economic and military advantage over the U.S. It added that Iran will almost certainly further develop and maintain terrorist capabilities – likely already used in the foiled mid-2018 plot to bomb an Iranian opposition event in Paris that was attended by prominent European and U.S. figures.
There is clear evidence that the warnings in the Threat Assessments are valid; Iran has tried to infiltrate the U.S. and may have pressed militias it supports to attack U.S. targets. One of the most prominent cases was in October 2011, when U.S. officials accused elements of the Iranian government including Soleimani himself of plotting to assassinate Saudi Ambassador to Washington Adel Al-Jubeir, a key advisor to Saudi King Abdullah, at a restaurant in the U.S.
It should be noted that Soleimani also posted on his Instagram account a personal threat to attack the U.S. – a graphic image of himself using a walkie-talkie in front of the White House as it explodes. The text accompanying the July 28, 2018 image, and the text in the graphic, reads "We will crush the USA under our feet," along with a request to readers to follow his Telegram channel.
Two days later, on July 30, 2018, Soleimani posted a photo of himself giving a speech. The image included a quote from his July 26 speech: "Mr. Trump, the Gambler! Don't threaten our lives! You are well aware of our power and capabilities in the region. You know how powerful we are in asymmetrical warfare."
Arrests Of Iranian Elements In U.S. – Ongoing For Over A Decade
Iranian elements inside the U.S. have been arrested for offenses including espionage, cyber crime targeting individuals, groups, and companies, and violating the U.S. sanctions on Iran. One of the most disturbing and telling recent cases was last August. Two Iranians, one a dual citizen and one a U.S. resident, were arrested in the U.S. and indicted for allegedly conducting covert surveillance on behalf of Iran of Israeli and Jewish facilities in the U.S., including a Chabad House in Chicago, as well as for collecting identifying information about U.S. citizens and nationals who are members of the group Mujahedin-e Khalq. This, said a Department of Justice official, "demonstrates a continued interest in targeting the United States, as well as potential opposition groups located in the United States."
Most recent is the case of Amin Hasanzadeh, who in November 2019 was accused of stealing sensitive technical data from his employer in Michigan and sending it to his brother in Iran, who has connections to the Iranian military. He has been denied bond.
Earlier, on September 24, Iranian national Negar Ghodskani was sentenced to 27 months in prison for her participation in a conspiracy to facilitate the illegal export of controlled technology from the U.S. to Iran. She had pleaded guilty to helping establish and operate a Malaysia-based front company for the Iran-based Fana Moj company which provides microwave radio systems and wireless broadband access in Iran. Fana Moj's primary client is the state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) – and both Fana Moj and IRIB are U.S. Department of the Treasury Specially Designated Nationals. It should be noted that IRIB was designated for assisting or denying the free flow of information to or from the Iranian people and was implicated in censoring multiple media outlets and airing forced confessions from detainees.
On September 19, a New Jersey man, Alexei Saab, aka Ali Hassan Saab, was charged in a nine-count indictment for offenses related to his support for Hezbollah and, separately, for marriage fraud. A member of the IJO, the Hezbollah unit responsible for external operations, he had, while living in the U.S., "served as an operative of Hezbollah and conducted surveillance of possible target locations" to help Hezbollah "prepare for potential future attacks" against the U.S. and had '"allegedly used his training to scout possible targets throughout the U.S." and "surveilled multiple locations in major cities."
Prior to that, on July 16, the FBI announced the extradition and indictment of an Iranian citizen and the indictment of two others for exporting material that can be used in enriching uranium from the U.S. to Iran. They are charged with violation, conspiracy to violate, and attempted violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
In June 2019, an Iranian citizen was charged with conspiracy to acquire U.S.-origin aircraft parts and goods to supply to Iran. Months earlier, in February, former U.S. counterintelligence agent Monica Elfreide Witt had been charged with spying on behalf of Iran, and four Iranians were charged with running a cyber campaign targeting her former colleagues – a major PR achievement for Iranian efforts.
In 2018 there were many other cases of Iranians and others involved in plots inside the U.S. In December, the CFO of Huawei was arrested for allegedly violating the sanctions, as was an Iranian scientist, arrested in November as he arrived in the U.S. for a position as a visiting scholar.
Also in November, two Iranian nationals were indicted for deploying ransomware to extort hospitals, municipalities, and public institutions, causing over $30 million in losses. In April, a New Jersey woman was charged with $2 million in illegal sales to Iran and violating the sanctions, and three Bay-area businessmen were indicted for using an "elaborate system of international wire transfers" to send automotive parts to Iran, also violating the sanctions.
Earlier, in March, nine Iranians were charged with conducting a massive cyber theft campaign on behalf of the IRGC, and an Iranian national was arrested for a scheme to evade the sanctions by illicitly sending over $115 million from Venezuela through the U.S. financial system. Earlier, in 2016, four men were indicted on charges of violating the sanctions, and a U.S. man was charged with illegally funneling approximately $1 billion in Iranian financial translations through the U.S. Additionally, in 2015, four companies and five individuals were indicted for illegally exporting technology to Iran.
Iranian Loyalists' Subversive Activity In The U.S. – Including Illegally Subleasing Studio In MEMRI's Office Building
Another incident highlighting Iran's subversive activity inside Washington, D.C. was its state-run Tehran-based Press TV's illegal subleasing, from a production company, of a studio in the building housing the MEMRI offices. Press TV's parent company is the U.S. Treasury-designated Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting organization. Press TV itself is one of the channels MEMRI monitors; its sublease was discovered when its staff was observed broadcasting live from in front of the building. Once MEMRI notified authorities, Press TV quickly vacated the premises. Last January, Press TV's activity made news in the U.S. when anchor Marzieh Hashemi was arrested by the FBI in St. Louis on a material witness warrant.
All these are only one part of Iran's highly valued army of supporters outside Iran – and in the U.S. and the West. The Iranian religious and government establishments openly boast that there is support inside the U.S. to do Iran's bidding. Iranian Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution member Hassan Rahimpour Azghadi said on Iranian TV on December 21, 2018 that Iran's influence is worldwide, that it "has forces that are willing to sacrifice their lives" and "has bases from North Africa to East Asia... [and] supporters inside America and Europe."
Backing up these statements, some Shi'ite mosques and cultural centers in the U.S. openly support the Iranian regime. On February 20, 2019, the Islamic Education Center of Houston, posted on its YouTube channel a video of a February 17 ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, showing children singing: "Allah Akbar! Khamenei is our Leader!... we are your followers, you are our Leader. We are your followers, we are your soldiers, and together we can all be your power."
A speaker at a May 31, 2018 Dearborn, Michigan rally for International Qods Day expressed support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and said: "Not only will we witness the liberation of Palestine, but Allah willing, we are going to play an active role in it with our own hands..." Qods Day is a 1979 Iranian initiative taking place on the last Friday of Ramadan; it is now marked by annual events worldwide. MEMRI has also published reports on Iranian funding of Shi'ite mosques in France and Germany; a MEMRI TV clip of a ceremony at a mosque in Muenster, Germany featured a recitation of an oath of allegiance to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Iran's Ayatollahs And Military Figures Are Threatening The U.S.
The MEMRI Iran Media Studies Project, which maintains the largest archives of translated Farsi content from the past two decades, has documented Iran's ayatollahs' and military figures' open threats to attack U.S. interests, made at Iranian religious, political, academic, and media venues. The threats are coming from, inter alia: Iran's Supreme Leader and defense minister and their representatives; commanders, deputy commanders, and generals in branches of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), including its Qods Force; top Iranian Army officials, including the chief of staff and ground forces commander; and regime officials, including members and former members of the Majlis Foreign Policy and National Security Committees, the Assembly of Experts, the Expediency Council, and the Supreme Council For Cultural Revolution. Regime officials have not just threatened to attack the U.S. – they claim that there is support within the U.S. to carry out attacks inside it.
Iran's top military and religious echelons are not only calling for, describing, and orchestrating simulations of attacks on the U.S.; their speech is infused with the language of annihilation and genocide, broadcast live on state television, used in military drills, in Majlis sessions, and in sermons. This constant stream of incitement from Iran's highest-ranking officials must be denounced.
On September 26, Iran's Ambassador to Iraq Gen. Iraj Masjedi, formerly of the IRCG, warned that "if the Islamic Republic is threatened," "the Americans' locations, wherever they may be... may be bombed, anywhere in the world" and he added, "This can be (in) America itself..."
Iran's Ofogh TV aired, on June 1, 2019, a documentary about a village event in which a crowd of villagers gathered to watch as "missiles" were sent down ziplines toward structures representing a U.S. naval vessel, the U.S. Capitol, and other targets. The men punched their fists in the air and the women and girls shrieked with delight and took pictures. The crowd chanted "Allah Akbar! Death to America!" The event was attended by IRGC Officers College Commander Gen. Ali Fazli and IRGC Aerospace Force Commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh.
An October 2018 video on Iran's Channel 5 showed Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei with military leaders including Soleimani inspecting an IRGC foot drill depicting the collapse of the White House with a Star of David atop it, as the drilling soldiers sang "America, America, death to your deception!"
And, in a January 2019 threat against the White House, Ayatollah Lotfollah Dezhkhan, Khamenei's representative in Fars Province, said in a Friday sermon in Shiraz: "Until we turn the White House into a Hussainiya [Shi'ite Islamic center], we will all continue to shout: 'Death to America!'"
Calls For Attacking And Destroying The U.S.
Senior Iranian military officers openly call not only for attacks inside the U.S., but for its destruction. IRGC deputy commander Gen. Hossein Salami said in a speech aired February 19, 2019 on IRINN TV (Iran): "We have plans to defeat the world powers... We are planning to break America, Israel, and their partners and allies. Our ground forces should cleanse the planet from the filth of their existence."
In a March 24, 2018 Tasnim news agency interview, Iranian Army chief of staff Abdolrahim Mousavi said: "We will be able to crush the murderous America at the height of its power." Additionally, IRGC Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, a senior spokesman for the Iranian Armed Forces, said in an April 25, 2019 address: "We courageously say, in obedience to the late imam [Khomeini], and out of respect to our Leader [Khamenei]: We have powerfully, decisively, and actively proven that we will squash America under our feet... Our front with America is never defensive... We will squeeze America's throat until it chokes, so that humanity is saved from America. This is our mission. This is our responsibility... In the next 40 years, we must act quickly and powerfully to bring an end to America's life."
*Steven Stalinsky is executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute and the author of "American Traitor: The Rise And Fall Of Al-Qaeda's U.S.-Born Leader Adam Gadahn."