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Engel Remarks on Iran's Role in Destabilizing the Middle East

ENGEL REMARKS ON IRAN’S ROLE IN DESTABILIZING THE MIDDLE EAST

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WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks at a full Committee hearing on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and how it fuels Middle East turmoil:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Thank you for calling this hearing.  And I want to welcome our witnesses to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“In the wake of the Paris attacks, the world is focused on the fight against ISIS.  There were announcements yesterday by the Secretary of Defense about new measures that we are taking to fight ISIS are welcome.  And I think that there is obviously a lot more to go.  We are reminded of the ongoing threat posed by terrorism.  And so I’m glad our Committee is focusing on the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism: Iran.

“I want to echo the concerns that the Chairman just mentioned.  The fact that Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism.  And in the past several years, when Iran had no money, it still found money to be the leading state sponsor of terrorism.  Under the deal negotiated with Iran, they will be awash in cash.  They will have lots of money.  And imagine how much destruction they can do in support of terrorist activities and terrorism.  And it’s very deeply troubling for me.  And it was, and has been, throughout our discussions about U.S. relations with Iran and the entire nuclear deal with Iran.

“Now, since seizing power in 1979, the Iranian regime has built an ugly record supporting terrorist proxies.  Let’s remember this: the seizure of our embassy in Tehran, 1979; the bombings of our embassy and a marine barracks in Beirut in the early 80s, killing nearly 300 Americans; the attacks in Buenos Aires that targeted Israel’s embassy and a Jewish community center; the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which also cost American lives; and just a few years ago, a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, right here in Washington.

“And every one of these horrible events is covered in Iran’s fingerprints.  The Iranian regime uses the Qods Force—an elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—as a tool to support terrorist proxies and spread instability throughout the region.  And in recent years, Iran’s leaders have doubled-down on this reprehensible policy.

“And let’s just look at what’s going on today.  In Syria, Iran is committed to propping up the Assad regime.  And now is working with Putin in pursuit of that objective.  So much for P5+1.  It has mobilized Hezbollah, and organized militias composed of Shiite fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to support the regime.  It has also deployed hundreds, if not thousands, of the Qods Force fighters in a direct combat role.  And the result of Iran’s actions?  A longer, more costly war.  A graver humanitarian crisis.  And more and more innocent lives lost.

“In Iraq, the Qods Force continues to support hardcore Shiite militias, some of which were involved in targeting American troops during the Iraq war.  These violent groups drive sectarian division, making it harder to build the inclusive Iraqi government necessary to help defeat ISIS.

“And in Yemen, Iran’s support for Houthi rebels has fomented a bloody civil war that’s now spilling over Yemen’s borders.  The chaos in that country has hampered U.S. counterterrorism efforts focused on AQAP—one of the most dangerous al-Qaeda affiliates.

“Iran also supports Shiite elements in other Gulf states—including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia—that are involved in efforts to destabilize those governments.  And of course, the Iranian regime has repeatedly expressed its support for ‘wiping Israel off the map.’  By providing a steady flow of missiles to Hezbollah and arms to Hamas, Iran is a grave threat to our close ally Israel. 

“Finally, it’s important to note that Iran’s support for terrorism is not just limited to the Middle East.  Just this past week, Kenyan security forces arrested two men suspected of working with the Qods Force to plan attacks in that East African nation.

“This dangerous pattern is one of the reasons I remain concerned about the Iran nuclear deal.  Once the nuclear sanctions on Iran are lifted, the regime will have access to tens of billions of dollars in new wealth.  And I’ll bet my money that some of it will end up in terrorist coffers. 

“So I agree with what the Chairman said.  Iran was a leading and has been a leading state sponsor of terrorism when they had no money.  Imagine now when they’re going to have sanctions lifted, how much money they have which will directly go to terrorist activities.

“So in my view, these factors all point to the likelihood of greater chaos and instability in the years ahead.  So today, I hope we can discuss what can be done to counter Iran’s malign activities in the region and beyond.  I want to mention just a few areas I think are most important.

“First, we must aggressively enforce terrorism, proliferation, and human-rights sanctions on Iran.  This includes existing sanctions on the IRGC.  And we should continue to designate all entities connected to Iran’s support for terrorism.  We need to send a clear message that working with Iranian firms linked to the IRGC is risky business.

“Next, we need to keep making our case to our EU allies and others that Hezbollah as an organization—not just its military wing—is a terrorist organization, and should be treated like a terrorist organization.  Our friends in Europe try to split hairs by saying that only part of Hamas is a terrorist organization.  The other part is a humanitarian organization.  Baloney.  It’s a terrorist organization, and we should say it and our allies should say it.

“We should ramp up our efforts to track the resources Iran receives as a result of sanctions relief.  We need to know just how much money Iran is funneling to those violent groups. 

"We need final, closer cooperation with our Gulf allies on defense, intelligence, counterterrorism, maritime security, and other key areas.

“And lastly, we need to maintain a very close security relationship with Israel—our closest ally in the region.  This includes the negotiation of a new Memorandum of Understanding—or MOU—that reflects the new security environment in the region.  We must also redouble our commitment to supporting missile defense systems—including Iron Dome—so that Israel is able to defend itself.

“And I hope going forward, Congress and the Administration do what’s needed to pursue those aims.  I look forward to ideas and insight from our witnesses.  And I yield back.”