Iran Threatens Actions by 'Security Institutions' Against D.C. Think Tank

Official announcement accuses Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which has advocated a hawkish policy against Tehran, of 'economic terrorism'

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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President Hassan Rouhani speaking at the announcement ceremony of a new missile defense system, August 22, 2019.
President Hassan Rouhani speaking at the announcement ceremony of a new missile defense system, August 22, 2019.Credit: AFP PHOTO / HO / IRANIAN PRESIDENCY
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON – Iran threatened on Saturday to take action against The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank, which it said was pushing for economic pressure against it.

The official Iranian announcement on FDD included a reference to actions by the country’s “security institutions,” drawing strong condemnation from current and former U.S. government officials. It also specifically targeted organization’s CEO, Mark Dubowitz.

Tehran accused FDD of “economic terrorism” and of “actively trying to harm the Iranian people’s security and vital interests through measures such as fabricating and spreading lies, encouraging, providing consultations, lobbying, and launching a smear campaign.”

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The statement also warned that “this measure will be without prejudice to any further legal measures that the other administrative, judicial or security institutions and organizations may take in order to counter, prosecute or punish” the organization, as well as FDD’s “Iranian and non-Iranian collaborators.”

In recent years, FDD has advocated a hawkish policy against Tehran. It played a leading role in fighting against the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and has been pushing the Trump administration and other governments to sanction the Iranian regime and to take actions against Iran’s military involvement and support for terrorism across the Middle East.

It is rare for a foreign government to make this kind of designation regarding a think-tank, and the Iranian announcement is a sign that Tehran is frustrated by FDD’s promotion of sanctions and other tough policies. Although the think tank has been supportive of the Trump administration’s re-imposition of sanctions on Iran, it has also criticized some of Trump’s Middle East policies, such as his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.

Dubowitz told Haaretz on Saturday that “the statement from the Iranian foreign ministry suggests that they have put FDD and me on a targets list, not just a sanctions list. According to the statement, they did this after consulting with the Quds Force, Iran’s extraterritorial terrorist group responsible for assassinations and terrorism around the world; the Ministry of Intelligence, which supports and sometimes conducts these assassinations and terrorist acts; as well as with judiciary, defense and central bank officials.”

Philip Gordon, who was a senior Middle East policy adviser to President Barack Obama, told Haaretz: “I have strong disagreements with FDD and its director on Iran policy, but that's not relevant here.  There is no place for this sort of threat, especially from a regime whose ‘security apparatus’ has sponsored and conducted violent attacks against its critics around the world.”

The Iranian statement was denounced by the U.S. State Department’s spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, who wrote on her Twitter account: “The outlaw regime in Iran issued a threat today against FDD, an American think tank, and its CEO. The U.S. takes the regime’s threats seriously. We intend to hold Iran responsible for directly or indirectly compromising the safety of any American.”

Dan Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Obama, wrote: “this kind of thuggish threat of violence against an American institution and those who work with it is unacceptable. Anyone who has access to Iranian officials needs to communicate that.”

Ilan Goldenberg, a former Pentagon and State Department official under Obama, who is currently works for the Center for New American Security, also wrote that “threats by Iran’s government against a Washington think tank are completely unacceptable.”

In 2017, hackers published emails exchanged between the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Washington, Youself al-Otaiba, and the leadership of FDD. The emails focused on the UAE’s regional rival, Qatar, and they were leaked as part of the two Gulf countries’ power struggle in Washington. The publication was meant to embarrass Otabia, since FDD is considered very supportive of Israel.