WASHINGTON – In 1992, Israel killed Abbas al-Musawi, a founder of the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon, in a dramatic helicopter attack. Iran, Hezbollah’s primary funder, threatened to retaliate – talk that was somewhat expected for a country that routinely calls for the destruction of Israel.
Two years later, a suicide bomber drove a van loaded with explosives into the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 and injuring hundreds more. Multiple intelligence agencies have identified Hezbollah and Iran as the masterminds of the AMIA attack, and many now see the bombing as retaliation for the al-Musawi assassination.
So when Iran
threatened a leading Washington think tank with sanctions and other unspecified measures over the weekend, it raised red flags. With tensions between the Unites States and Iran on the rise, US government officials are warning Jewish communities across the country to be on the lookout for threats that could originate with Iran or its proxies, including Hezbollah.
The targeted Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which counsels hawkish policies toward Iran, certainly isn’t taking any chances.
“Law enforcement is taking a close look at the Islamic Republic’s threat against our think tank,” a foundation official told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Much of the recent Jewish security focus has been on white supremacists, but federal authorities have their eye on Iran.
A game of chicken in and near the Persian Gulf – the United States and its allies and Iran are targeting each other’s ships – could spill over into the United States, federal officials have warned Jewish community officials. Since its revolution in 1979, Iran has habitually taken hostilities to the backyards of its perceived enemies.
“We’re constantly monitoring and evaluating with our government partners the situations with recent activity and increased tensions, both in the rhetoric and activities in the Strait of Hormuz,” said Michael Masters, CEO of the Secure Community Network (SCN), the security arm of national Jewish organizations.
Several weeks ago, SCN convened a call for Jewish security officials across the country with officials from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the National Counterterrorism Center to discuss the potential threat from Iran and Hezbollah, said Masters.
The focus of the briefing, he said, was on physical and cyber threats, areas in which Iran and its proxies have carried out successful attacks.
“We’re working to protect the whole community,” Masters said.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.
The potential threat from Iran bubbles beneath the main concern of white supremacists now preoccupying US Jews and other minorities, following massacres they have committed over the past year in El Paso and Pittsburgh, as well as deadly attacks elsewhere.
roundtable in June brought together Jewish, Muslim and Christian lay and clergy for hours of briefings and talks to exchange strategies on countering the white supremacist threat. Notably, however, the day ended with a warning from a Homeland Security official about a heightened threat from Iran and Hezbollah.
Masters noted the indictment last year of two Iranian citizens caught surveying the Rohr Chabad House in Chicago, as well as repeated suspected cyber-hacking attempts on Jewish institutions.
“We’re reminding people to be vigilant about access control” to computers and computer networks, he said.
SCN has distributed two fliers to Jewish organizations with instructions on cyber safety. One, on “phishing” scams that use fake emails to extract a recipient’s personal information, advises Jewish officials to watch out for generic email subject lines (“urgent email”), bad grammar and suspicious attachments.
The Trump administration has also enhanced security cooperation in recent months with allies in Latin America, where Hezbollah maintains a presence.
In May, a jury in Manhattan federal court convicted a New York man of seeking targets in New York City for terrorist attacks. The US Attorney’s Office said Ali Kourani was “recruited, trained, and deployed by Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization to plan and execute acts of terrorism in the United States.”
Cybersecurity experts say that Iran has launched phishing scams in recent years aimed at garnering information – including names and addresses of potential targets – from a variety of institutions.