Iran and Hezbollah have gone missing from the Terrorism section of this year’s Worldwide Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community. In recent years, the threats raised by Iran and/or Hezbollah were duly noted in the assessment of terrorist threats presented to Congress by DNI James Clapper. This year we need to send out an APB.
The subject is important. Subject to correction, I tentatively offer the following in the spirit of inquiry.
This year’s threat assessment focuses on “Sunni violent extremists.” Whatever happened to “Shiite violent extremists”? They are missing in action. A pallid discussion of Iran is confined to the section on regional threats. According to the assessment of terrorist threats:
Sunni violent extremists are gaining momentum and the number of Sunni violent extremist groups, members, and safe havens is greater than at any other point in history. These groups challenge local and regional governance and threaten US allies, partners, and interests. The threat to key US allies and partners will probably increase, but the extent of the increase will depend on the level of success that Sunni violent extremists achieve in seizing and holding territory, whether or not attacks on local regimes and calls for retaliation against the West are accepted by their key audiences, and the durability of the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria….
Looking back at the annual threat assessments posted since Clapper became DNI, this year is different from other years. I’m not entirely sure I have precisely navigated the previous assessments. Looking around at the material posted by the DNI, however, this is the way Clapper’s previous assessments look to me.
In the 2014 assessment, the report included this section under terrorist threats:
Iran and Hizballah
Outside of the Syrian theater, Iran and Lebanese Hizballah continue to directly threaten the interests of US allies. Hizballah has increased its global terrorist activity in recent years to a level that we have not seen since the 1990s.
In the 2013 assessment, the report included this section under terrorist threats:
Iran and Lebanese Hizballah
The failed 2011 plot against the Saudi Ambassador in Washington shows that Iran may be more willing to seize opportunities to attack in the United States in response to perceived offenses against the regime. Iran is also an emerging and increasingly aggressive cyber actor. However, we have not changed our assessment that Iran prefers to avoid direct confrontation with the United States because regime preservation is its top priority.
Hizballah’s overseas terrorist activity has been focused on Israel—an example is the Bulgarian Government’s announcement that Hizballah was responsible for the July 2012 bus bombing at the Burgas airport that killed five Israeli citizens. We continue to assess that the group maintains a strong anti-US agenda but is reluctant to confront the United States directly outside the Middle East.
The 2012 assessment included this section under terrorist threats:
The Threat from Iran
The 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States shows that some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived US actions that threaten the regime. We are also concerned about Iranian plotting against US or allied interests overseas.
Iran‟s willingness to sponsor future attacks in the United States or against our interests abroad probably will be shaped by Tehran‟s evaluation of the costs it bears for the plot against the Ambassador as well as Iranian leaders‟ perceptions of US threats against the regime.
Hey, what costs did Iran incur for the plot against the Saudi ambassador. Remind me again.
Going back to the 2009 assessment, before Clapper’s tenure as DNI, we find this:
The Threat from Lebanese Hizballah
Lebanese Hizballah continues to be a formidable terrorist adversary with an ability to attack the US Homeland and US interests abroad. Hizballah is a multifaceted, disciplined organization that combines political, social, paramilitary, and terrorist elements, and we assess that any decision by the group to resort to arms or terrorist tactics is carefully calibrated. At the same time, we judge armed struggle, particularly against Israel, remains central to Hizballah’s ideology and strategy.
We assess Lebanese Hizballah, which has conducted anti-US attacks overseas in the past, may consider attacking US interests should it perceive a direct US threat to the group’s survival, leadership, or infrastructure or to Iran. However, we judge Hizballah would carefully weigh the decision to take any action against the United States. Hizballah probably continues to support proxy groups and individuals, which could provide the group plausible deniability for possible attacks against the West or Israel.
We assess Hizballah anticipates a future conflict with Israel and probably continues to implement lessons learned from the conflict in the summer of 2006. In a potential future conflict, Hizballah is likely to be better prepared and more capable than in 2006.
What’s happening here? Perhaps some clarification or explanation will be offered. In the meantime, we are left to draw our own tentative conclusions. This is mine. Anticipating the conclusion of the nuclear deal in process with Iran, we are entering the tertiary stage of appeasement.