The January 2 death of Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, has prompted consternation from some press and policymakers. Killed in Baghdad by a U.S. drone strike, Soelimani was described by The Washington Post as a “revered military leader” and by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as a mere “foreign official.”
In fact, he was an arch-terrorist responsible for the murders of thousands of people — including hundreds of American servicemen and women, many of who were murdered and maimed by Iranian-created explosive devices.
Pundits and reporters alike have claimed that Soleimani’s death has led to Iran threatening the U.S. But they have it backwards. Tehran has been threatening the U.S. for years — a fact the media have often ignored or obfuscated.
Indeed, in the days prior to his death, Soleimani and the Shiite militias under his command had murdered an American contractor and attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Iranian belligerence long predates the Trump administration.
Ever since its founding in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has consistently called for “death to America.” Anti-Americanism, like anti-Semitism and imperialism, is a core tenet of the regime’s Islamist ideology. For four decades, Iran has sought to make good on its threats, kidnapping and torturing Americans, bankrolling terrorist groups — Sunni and Shiite alike — that attack Americans, and murdering our troops.
Yet Western media have frequently minimized Iran’s open hostility. In December 2015, for example, The Hill noted that “powerful Iran-backed Shiite militias” had “threatened to attack U.S. forces in Iraq in response to U.S. legislation” granting Kurdish forces the means to defend themselves from ISIS. Most major U.S. news outlets ignored Iran’s gangster-like behavior.
Similarly, on November 26, 2016, an Iranian ship threatened a U.S. military helicopter in the Strait of Hormuz. The incident was profiled in a brief Reuters report at the time that noted that “a small Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard vessel pointed its weapon” at a U.S. Navy MH-60 helicopter. However, The Washington Post, USA Today, and other prominent newspapers failed to cover it.
In 2014 and 2015 — while the Obama administration was engaged in negotiations with Iran over its illicit nuclear weapons program — the regime was ramping up its cyber war. As one New York Times report detailed, American officials and private security groups “say they see a surge in sophisticated computer espionage by Iran, culminating in a series of cyber attacks against State Department officials.” The attacks, the Times admitted, were “nothing new, having begun in the latter years of the Bush administration and proceeded since then to target U.S. agencies, banks and citizens.” The report pointed out that Iranian cyber attacks transitioned in 2014 from attempting to disrupt, degrade, and destroy targets to “spear phishing for espionage.”
“Beginning in May 2014,” the report said, “researchers found evidence that Iranian hackers were targeting Iranian dissidents, and later policymakers, senior military personnel and defense contractors in the United States, England, and Israel.”
Perhaps most alarmingly, Iranian terrorists have sleeper cells in the U.S., Canada, and Europe — a fact that many in the press have overlooked. On April 17, 2018, several intelligence officials told Congress that Iranian agents tied to the terror group Hezbollah had been discovered. Hezbollah is a Lebanese-based terrorist organization completely funded and controlled by Tehran. Prior to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks by al-Qaeda, Hezbollah had murdered more Americans than any other terrorist entity.
Although the majority of analysts testified that Iranian proxies like Hezbollah pose a threat to the U.S. homeland, many news outlets failed to report their testimony, as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) noted at the time.
U.S. law enforcement even arrested two Hezbollah operatives, Samer El Debek and Ali Mohammad Kourani, indicting them in May 2017 for “casing targets for possible future terror attacks.” Both were members of Hezbollah’s External Security Organization (ESO), also known as Unit 910. ESO is tasked with carrying out terrorist attacks and other operations, such as money laundering and drug smuggling, throughout the world. As he later told investigators, Kourani had been recruited into the ESO in January 2008.
The two Hezbollah operatives — both naturalized U.S. citizens — underwent military training in Lebanon and procured explosives, night-vision goggles, and drone technology. El Debek reportedly scoped out potential targets, including New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) and La Guardia International Airports, and the U.S. Armed Forces Career Center in Queens, New York. As the terror analyst Matthew Levitt detailed in a June 14, 2019 Foreign Policy article, before he was convicted, Kourani’s trial showed that Iranian sleeper cells were far more active in the U.S. than previously thought. Yet this revelation, and the trial itself, received little press attention.
In 2007, Iranian proxies planned to blow up the fuel tanks at JFK International Airport, but were thwarted by authorities. In another foiled plot, Iranian-backed operatives planned to blow up a Washington, D.C. restaurant in 2011 in order to murder a Saudi dignitary. Yet these facts were conveniently ignored in numerous reports on the potential fallout from Soleimani’s death.
Iran itself has openly broadcast its ambitions, holding rallies and marches calling for death to both “the Great Satan” (the U.S.) and “the little Satan” (Israel). In 2017, an Iranian filmmaker released a 90-minute movie depicting the destruction of U.S. Naval forces by Tehran. In the film, a character that closely resembles Soleimani leads a single vessel against more than a dozen American warships. When a U.S. commander orders him to surrender or die, he replies: “General, I am not a diplomat, I am a revolutionary!”
But Iran’s threats are no mere fantasy. And the threat posed by the Islamic Republic warrants honest and complete media coverage.
The writer is a Senior Research Analyst for the Washington D.C. office of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.