WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following opening statement at a Committee hearing on Iran’s destabilizing influence in the Middle East:
“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for calling this timely hearing about Iran’s destabilizing role in the Middle East. As Iran continues waging its charm offensive with the international community and negotiating with the P5+1 over its nuclear weapons program, we cannot forget a basic fact: Iran remains the most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world and Iran is a key driver of regional instability. From Syria and Iraq to Yemen and the Palestinian territories, understanding Iran’s nefarious behavior is essential to protecting the interests of the United States and our allies.
“Even as Iran’s economy continues to falter under the weight of international sanctions, leaders in Tehran are plowing their scarce resources into elements of Iran’s security apparatus that support terrorism—particularly the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Quds Force. Iran also provides funding, weapons, and other support to a wide range of terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. All of these groups have been designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the United States, and we will continue to treat them as such no matter what happens in the nuclear negotiations.
“I want to emphasize a point that you made in your opening statement, Mr. Chairman, with which I certainly agree, and you and I have talked about this a great deal. It was sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table. It was sanctions that made Iran think twice about moving forward. And I don’t think we should remove those sanctions while—for any situation that is not preventive of Iran being able to have a nuclear weapon. I don’t think we should willy-nilly loosen sanctions on Iran. I think we should keep the sanctions until we see that they are dismantling their nuclear program.
“Last week, Chairman Royce and I sent a bipartisan letter to President Obama, signed by more than 340 House colleagues—that’s more than three-quarters of the members of the House of Representatives. We asked the Congress to consult—we asked the President to consult with Congress on the scope of any potential sanctions relief. The letter noted that U.S. sanctions on Iran are based not only on its nuclear weapons program, but also on Iran’s ballistic missile program, its support for terrorism, its human rights abuses, and its development of chemical and biological weapons. Even if a comprehensive nuclear deal is reached and it enjoys broad support on Capitol Hill, it is safe to say that Congress would not lift all sanctions on Iran unless it ceased to be a bad actor in the region and dramatically improved its behavior in all of these areas.
“With hundreds of Hamas rockets raining down on Israel, we see the real impact of Iran’s support for terrorism. In March, the Israeli Navy intercepted the Klos-C, a ship carrying Iranian rockets to the Gaza Strip—including dozens of Syrian-produced long-range M-302 rockets, which are capable of reaching high-density Israeli population centers such as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. By deliberately targeting civilian areas with these deadly weapons, Hamas is committing war crimes—aided and abetted by Iran.
“I have to laugh at the crocodile tears coming out of Hamas terrorists in Gaza talking about the civilian population. I think yesterday was an eye-opener for many people when the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire was accepted by Israel, but rejected by Hamas. It’s clear to see who wants peace and who refuses to want peace. And Hamas would not, and could not, be so bold without all the support it has received from Iran. Iran again is the number one supporter of terrorism around the world, and Hamas is a terrorist organization.
“So in almost every conflict in the region, we see Iranian fingerprints, as Tehran seeks to spread its influence and manipulate its neighbors. Iran’s support for Assad in Syria and for Hezbollah’s intervention in the Syrian civil war has given the regime a new lease on life and resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent Syrian civilians. Assad would not be winning, potentially, in Syria if it wasn’t for Hezbollah, a terrorist organization supported, funded, maintained and controlled by Iran.
“Iran’s support for Hezbollah has also destabilized Lebanon and allowed the terrorist group to amass tens of thousands of rockets on Israel’s northern border. Iran’s involvement with the Maliki government and with radical Shia militias in Iraq have undermined efforts to establish a more inclusive government in Baghdad. So I don’t think the U.S. should be cooperating with Iran on the situation in Iraq, and I was pleased to hear Secretary Hagel’s remarks last week confirming that we are not doing so.
“So Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, let me say at this time of great instability in the Middle East, we need to remain clear-eyed about the capabilities and intentions of our adversaries, especially Iran. I look forward to hearing the testimony of our distinguished panel of witnesses, and thank you again for holding this important and timely hearing.”
Watch Rep. Engel's Opening Statement Here