September 26, 2010 | Commentary on Iran, National Security and Defense

Axis of Evil Express

Last week in New York, Ira nian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the press that if the United States attacked Iran over its nuclear program it would face war like it had never seen.

Bluster? Maybe, but it ain't an empty boast if you can do it.

And Iran may have already been making preparations to strike America should we come to blows over nukes -- or anything else.

How? "Terror Air."

For three years now, there's been a twice-monthly "Axis of Evil Express" that shuttles "passengers" between Iran, Syria and Venezuela -- with occasional stops in Lebanon.

The flights come courtesy of Iran Air and Conviasa (Venezuela's national airline), which insists it's filling the travel needs of Iranian, Syrian, Lebanese and Venezuelan business-people and tourists.

Now, there is commerce and cooperation going on between Iran and Venezuela on some industrial and manufacturing fronts (e.g., autos, tractors and petrochemicals) and energy matters.

But the tourism angle is a bit hard to swallow, even though there is a Middle Eastern diaspora in Latin America. Can't you almost see the Venezuelan family huddled over glossy travel brochures, explaining how much fun they'll have on vacation in the Islamic Republic of Iran?

Plus, the flight doesn't accept open bookings, as transport for entrepreneurs or sightseers surely would. No, these planes are most likely carrying bad actors from the likes of Hezbollah, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Guard's Qods Force.

Hezbollah has been in Latin America for some time now -- witness its attacks on the Israeli embassy in 1992 and a Jewish community center in 1994, both in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as well as its documented drug and arms trafficking.

But a Pentagon report to Congress this year on Iranian military power noted that Iran's elite troops, the IRGC and Qods Force, are growing in number in Latin America, especially in Venezuela.

What better way to move terrorists, spooks, weapons -- and who knows what else -- than under the cover of an innocuous commercial flight?

The direct flight dodges risky transits through various immigration portals where the passengers might show up on terror watchlists. Military flights between Tehran and Caracas might also garner notice by foreign intelligence.

In fact, in 2008, the State Department wrote that passengers on these planes get only "cursory immigration and customs controls" in Caracas. Plus, easy-to-get Venezuelan IDs make the country a "potentially attractive way station for terrorists," allowing newly arrived passengers to pose as Venezolanos during travel in the region.

But why come to Venezuela?

Well, Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have become quite chummy. The IRGC and Qods Force, which provide internal security and train and equip other terror groups, could be coming to tutor Chavez's security services.

It's also been reported Iranian "advisers" are embedded with the Venezuelan military. They may also be coaching the narco-terror group FARC, a Chavez ally, in its war with Colombia.

But, most important, with Tehran and Caracas' declared "axis of unity" against Washington, Iran (and its allies) might envision using Venezuela as a base camp for attacks on our interests in the region or even inside America.

There have been enough on-the-record suspicions about the Terror Air flight that some claim it'll soon be cancelled. That may be, but it doesn't mean its passengers have gone home or will no longer travel to the region -- far from it.

Indeed, Tehran's henchman will continue to help the anti-Yanqui Latin Left (e.g., Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia) to foment instability and subversion across the region -- while preparing terrorist action against us.

Remember: Although Ahmadinejad may seem to be little more than the Iranian regime's "yapping dog," that doesn't mean that when he threatens the United States (or Israel), he's crying wolf.

Heritage Foundation senior fellow Peter Brookes is a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in The New York Post