This week, President Trump made it clear to the world that he would not stand by and let Iran threaten the United States. Our President’s bold, America-first posture stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, Barack Obama, who was consistently weak against Iranian provocation. Not only do President Trump’s “red lines” actually mean something, he is not afraid to follow through on his promises, as when he bombed Syria for Assad’s barbaric use of chemical weapons against his own people.
Iran has proven time and again that they are our enemy. Members of their parliament have burned our flag while yelling “death to America!”, their paramilitary forces have attacked our allies in Israel, and they are attempting to bring an Islamic republic to our own back yard.
In recent years, Iran has engaged in a multi-pronged attempt to destabilize South America, particularly Venezuela. Hezbollah, a transnational criminal organization, is involved in international drug trafficking, smuggling contraband, and financing other terror groups worldwide. Hezbollah’s presence in South America is vast — in fact, there are more Hezbollah operatives in South America than in the entire Middle East. On March 12th, I held a Congressional field hearing, “Hezbollah Gains in South America,” where several experts discussed the threat to America posed by Hezbollah’s rise in South America.
Florida’s First Congressional District is home to America’s largest population of active-duty servicemen and servicewomen. These brave soldiers serve worldwide in the fight to keep America safe. But when many Americans think about where our troops engage with our enemies, they automatically think of the Middle East. We must not overlook the presence of our troops in other worldwide stages — particularly in South America, where Eglin’s own Seventh Special Forces group are on the front lines in the fight against terror.
The Obama administration turned a blind eye to the increasing threats posed by Hezbollah, refusing even to designate them as a terrorist organization. Although the Obama administration could (and should) have done far more to counter Hezbollah’s malign influence in South America, this problem has been a long time in the making. In the 1980’s, when Venezuela was our ally, we sold them F-16 fighter jets. After the sale, Venezuela sent their F-16s to Iran for “maintenance.” It wasn’t long until the Iranians had missiles with propulsion systems that looked shockingly close to those of the F-16.
Today, Venezuela harbors huge numbers of radical Islamic terrorists, and their government has become openly antagonistic toward the United States. Their vice-president, Tareck El Aissami, has strong ties to drug running and to Iran. Hezbollah has gained traction there because Venezuela’s socialist government does nothing to curb the influx of Islamic militants. We cannot allow this dangerous trend to continue.
I am grateful that the brave men and women of Northwest Florida are leading the fight against the spread of terrorism in South America — and grateful that President Trump has recognized the Iran-to-South-America pipeline of terrorism. The 7th Special Forces are a powerful force in the fight against Hezbollah.
Thanks to the 7th Special Forces, and our president’s willingness to take a hard line against Iranian aggression, we are pushing back Iran’s influence in South America. Make no mistake, Iran is trying to put a permanent military and political footprint in South America — but thanks to the stalwart defender in the White House, and our brave servicemembers, America is sharply curtailing their growth. By acting today, we are warding off what otherwise would have been an existential threat two decades from now. We must continue this push in order to ensure our long-term safety and security.
Congressman Matt Gaetz represents Florida’s First Congressional District.