BEIRUT: The United States has evidence Iran is helping Hezbollah build missile production facilities in Lebanon, a senior official in Washington said Wednesday, though he did not offer proof.
“They [Iran] were really able to develop a forward-deployed missile base in Lebanon and are trying to do so in Iraq,” U.S. Special Envoy to Iran Brian Hook said.
Speaking at an event titled “Iran’s Missile Proliferation,” Hook cited Tehran’s ballistic force as the largest in the Middle East, with more than 10 systems “in its inventory.”
One of the main concerns of Iran’s ballistic capabilities is its “enduring threat to our allies and partners, including Israel,” Hook said.
Designated by the U.S. to lead the Iran Action Group, Hook is tasked with coordinating the State Department’s pressure campaign on Iran.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has reversed a thaw in U.S.-Iran relations, withdrawing from a 2015 deal over nuclear activities and sanctions, and ratcheting up pressure over what it sees as Tehran’s malign activities in the Middle East.
Also Wednesday, the State Department named Iran the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism, saying, “Iran and Hezbollah are emerging from the Syria conflict emboldened and with valuable battlefield experience.”
Throughout his talk, Hook repeatedly discussed Iran’s alleged activities in Lebanon.
“Iran has been engaging in its sort of unique brand of sectarianism and violence and exporting revolution around the Middle East through Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain,” he said.
But Hook did not reveal any evidence that Washington may have supporting the claim that Hezbollah is building missile production facilities inside Lebanon.
He called on Iran to “behave like a normal country so that it can enjoy the privileges of a normal country.”
Hook added, without elaborating: “They’re essentially trying to ‘Lebanize’ the Middle East.”
However, Hook was quick to strike a stern tone consistent with the Trump administration’s stance of complete disapproval of Iran’s alleged malign activities.
“We don’t make a distinction between governments and Iranian Shiite militias in the Middle East.”
In an indirect message to Lebanon and other countries where Iranian proxies continue to be present, Hook said it was very important that these countries become more aware of the dangers that Iran’s proliferation presents to their own people.
“If we want a stable and prosperous Middle East, it starts with constraining Iran,” he said.
“They [Iran] feel like they can do this with impunity. We need to get after this problem,” Hook said.
Nonetheless, he raised the prospect of a treaty being signed between Washington and Tehran, saying that the U.S. has a new strategy meant to address the “totality of threats” Iran presents.
Since 2012, according to Hook, $16 billion has been distributed to Iran’s partners in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
The diplomatic priority of Hook’s work, he said, was to impose sufficient pressure on Iran in order for the “cost-benefit analysis to change for Iran’s malign behavior in Iraq and Syria.”
“America will take measures and it’s important that Iran understands our resolve,” he added.