Overview of Iranian-Backed Terrorism

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has helped to fund and commit acts of terrorism across the globe. Galvanized by the revolution, the Iranian regime embraced terrorism as a means to export its ideals. Shortly after taking power, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini embodied this fervent desire by declaring, “We should work hard to export our revolution to the world…we must confront the world with our ideology” (1). As the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, Iran has trained and financed acts of violence against innocent civilians while further providing weapons and safe havens for non-state militant groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Through its proxies, the Iranian regime continues to maximize terrorist attacks to weaken nations it considers to be adversaries. As a result of Iran’s malevolence, the U.S. and its greatest ally, Israel, have faced countless attacks at the hands of the regime and its proxies which have resulted in thousands of deaths. Below are several groups the Islamic Republic has supported which will be further referenced in Iranian-backed terrorist attacks against the U.S. and Israel.


Several of Iran’s Proxies and Supported Terrorist Groups


  • Hezbollah: As one of Iran’s top-funded proxies, Hezbollah serves as a terrorist group, transatlantic criminal organization and political party that seeks to further spread the ideals of the Islamic Revolution abroad. Although based in Lebanon, Hezbollah has an infamous record of committing international acts of terrorism and crime. Created during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, Hezbollah seeks to utilize its global network to cause harm to the United States and Israel (2).


  • Hamas: Hamas, which serves are one of the two main Palestinian political parties, was founded in 1987 during the First Intifada, a series of terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. Hamas is cut off financially from U.S. and European Union assistance. However, the group’s leadership has a history of receiving aid from the Islamic Republic (3).


  • Palestinian Islamic Jihad: As a radical Islamist, Palestinian nationalist organization, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) seeks the ultimate destruction of the Jewish State. In addition to being designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. since 1997, the State Department has determined that the group receives the vast majority of its funding from the Islamic Republic (4).


  • Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine: Following the Arab States’ overwhelming defeat in the Six Day War against Israel, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) formed to overpower conservative Arab states and achieve Israel’s ultimate demise. In 1986, the PFLP joined the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) (5). Iran has historically provided financial assistance to the PFLP, thus furthering acts of terrorism against innocent Israelis.


  • Taliban: Although not an official proxy of Iran, the Taliban has received financial assistance from Tehran as an incentive to cause harm to Americans. As the former de facto government of Afghanistan, the Taliban has played a role in aiding terrorist groups, mainly al Qaeda, which has resulted in U.S. targeted strikes against the Taliban in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks committed by al Qaeda against thousands of Americans. Since then, the Islamic Republic has reportedly paid out of pocket for the Taliban to murder American troops in Afghanistan (6).


  • Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the United States, maintains an influential role in Iran’s foreign policy endeavors, controls vast segments of the Islamic Republic’s economy and holds ties to Hezbollah and Hamas. The IRGC is responsible for aiding Iran’s proxies in their heinous acts of terror while directly playing a role in harming Israelis and Americans (7).



Although not a comprehensive list of all acts of terrorism committed by the Islamic Republic and its proxies against the United States and Israel, the following presents an overview of the various terrorist organizations and lethal attacks Iran has helped fund and initiate in order to propagate its radical revolutionary ideology through attempts to weaken its adversaries.


Instances of Iranian-Backed Terrorism Against Americans


Iranian Hostage Crisis

November 1979-January 1981


On November 4, 1979, a group of radical Iranian college students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 66 diplomats and embassy employees hostage. Although tensions had been mounting between the U.S. and Iran, the hostage crisis was an immediate response to the U.S. decision to allow Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s deposed shah, to receive medical treatment in the U.S. for lymphoma. Despised for his relationship with America, the U.S. faced demands for his return to Iran. The takeover of the U.S. embassy instantly became recognized as one of the worst diplomatic crises in American history. Although 14 hostages were released after a period of time, 52 Americans were held captive in the embassy compound for 444 days (8). When recalling his experience as a hostage, retired U.S. Army Colonel Chuck Scott recounted continued threats and immense torture. After more than a year in captivity, Scott was filled with unspeakable gratitude when he and the other 51 American hostages landed on U.S. soil. “When you stop and think about it, we were the icons of the crisis,” Scott said. “But this whole nation was held hostage. It was like no homecoming you’ve ever been to in your whole life” (9).


U.S. Embassy Bombing in Beirut

April 18, 1983

Iran proxy: Hezbollah


On April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber crashed a truck into the front of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon before detonating approximately 2,000 pounds of explosives. A massive explosion ripped through all seven stories of the embassy, resulting in the building collapsing in on itself. Among the 63 killed in the terrorist attack, 17 were Americans. An additional 120 people were severely injured. The victims were mostly embassy and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) staff members. The bombing was tied to Hezbollah, one of Iran’s well-funded proxies. At the time, the 1983 U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut was the deadliest attack on an American diplomatic mission (11).


Beirut Barracks Bombing

October 23, 1983

Iran proxy: Hezbollah


On October 23, 1983, a suicide bomber drove a truck packed with explosives into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The truck exploded in the heart of the headquarters, which dug a crater 30 feet deep and 40 feet wide in the center of the building. As a result of the attack, 241 U.S. service personnel were killed. “Bodies were lying all over,” said one rescuer. “Other people were trapped under the concrete.” During the same fatal morning, 58 French soldiers were killed in their barracks in a connected suicide bombing a mere two miles away (12). The incident was recognized as the deadliest single-day death toll for the U.S. Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II and the deadliest single-day death toll for the U.S. Armed Forces since the first day of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War. Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy and a transatlantic terrorist organization better funded and better armed than the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), claimed responsibility for the attacks. “There are no words to properly express the outrage of all Americans at this despicable act,” President Ronald Reagan said in response to the tragedy.


U.S. Embassy Annex Bombing in Beirut

September 20, 1984

Iran proxy: Hezbollah


On September 20, 1984, just over a year after the 1983 U.S. Embassy attack in West Beirut, America’s relocated embassy in East Beirut was bombed after a suicide bomber sped toward the entrance with 3,000 pounds of explosives. Although the driver was shot and lost control of the vehicle before it was able to impact the building, the truck detonated after hitting a parked van. The explosion destroyed the front of the building and killed 22 people, among which included 2 Americans. An additional 60 people were injured. Iran-backed Hezbollah was deemed responsible for the attack (13).


El Descanso Bombing

April 12, 1985

Iran proxy: Hezbollah


On April 12, 1985, a restaurant named El Descanso in Madrid, Spain was bombed in a terrorist attack. The explosion was so impactful that it caused the three-story building to collapse on 200 diners and employees. The attack killed 18 Spaniards and injured 15 Americans. Following an investigation into the incident, it became apparent that Hezbollah carried out the attack and specifically chose the location due to the restaurant being frequented by U.S. military personnel who were stationed at the Torrejon de Ardoz joint U.S.-Spanish air base (14).


Khobar Towers Bombing

June 25, 1996

Iran proxy: Hezbollah


On June 25, 1996, Hezbollah attacked a U.S. Air Force housing complex in Khobar, Saudi Arabia housing 2,000 U.S. military personnel. The bombers drove a truck packed with 5,000 pounds of explosives near the complex and escaped the vehicle before it detonated by jumping into waiting cars. The truck was spotted by then-1st Lt. Michael Harner who had only been at the station for several days and was struck by a glass door after the vehicle detonated. Despite his own injuries, Harner attempted to save others by calling out for anyone who needed help. “It was dead silent,” he said. “And it was one of the most eerie feelings I have ever had in my entire life.” The monumental explosion was heard over 20 miles away from the complex and left a crater 85 feet wide and 35 feet deep (15). Nineteen U.S. service members were murdered and approximately 500 people were injured. Thirteen members of Hezbollah were indicted in June 2001 over their roles in the attack. In September 2018, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ordered Iran to pay $104.7 million to the victims of the bombing (16).


Murdering American Soldiers in Iraq


Iran’s Military: Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force


Following the U.S. entering Iraq in 2003, the growing presence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps became a point of contention between Washington, D.C. and Tehran. In 2007, U.S. President George W. Bush accused Iran’s Quds Force, one of the five branches of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, of providing roadside bombs to Shiite militia groups in Iraq that were used to kill American troops. “I can say with certainty that the Quds Force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated I.E.D.s that have harmed our troops,” the former President declared. Additionally, members of Iran’s military have threatened to kill Americans and those deemed responsible for the killing of the country’s late General Qasem Soleimani.


Bounties for Targeting American Soldiers in Afghanistan

Iran-supported group: Taliban


U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that the Islamic Republic has directly been responsible for paying bounties to Taliban fighters for targeting U.S. troops and coalition groups in Afghanistan. In 2010, reports stated that Iran was paying $1,000 for each U.S. soldier the Taliban murdered. Additional reports from various British news sources claimed that the Iranian regime was also paying $6,000 for the destruction of a U.S. military vehicle. The Haqqani network, a terrorist organization led by the second highest ranking leader of the Taliban, was reportedly paid significantly for their attack on Bagram Air Base in December 2020. The Pentagon confirmed that this attack killed two civilians and injured more than 70 others, including four U.S. military personnel (17).



Instances of Iranian-Backed Terrorism Against Israel and Jews


First Intifada

December 8, 1987-September 13, 1993

Iran proxy: Hamas


On December 8, 1987, a five-year long series of attacks occurred when members of Hamas targeted Israeli citizens within the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and within Israeli territory. The killing spree began following protests that erupted along the West Bank and Gaza Strip where Palestinians lobbed rocks and threw Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers monitoring the unrest. Hamas, financially supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran, continued to attack innocent Israelis and murdered approximately 100 civilians and 60 Israeli soldiers throughout the series of attacks. Between 1990-2000, Iran’s financial support to Hamas ranged from $20 million to $50 million annually, which helped to aid in these killings (18).


Bombing of Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires

March 17, 1992

Iran proxy: Hezbollah


On March 17, 1992, a suicide bomber rammed a pick-up truck loaded with explosives into the front of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Upon impact, the vehicle exploded, killing 29 people and injuring 242 others. Iran-backed Hezbollah was recognized for perpetuating the attack that killed four Israelis and is recognized as the deadliest attack on an Israeli diplomatic mission. In addition to destroying the embassy, the bombing also ruined a nearby school and Catholic church (19).


Bombing of Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos Aires

July 18, 1994

Iran proxy: Hezbollah


On July 18, 1994, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina was bombed when a suicide bomber drove a van loaded with explosives into the front of the building. The attack, which was linked to Hezbollah, killed 85 people and injured hundreds of others. Nathan Sales, former ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department, remembered the attack 25 years later at a seminar discussing the anniversary of the bombing. “It’s been a quarter of a century since the AMIA bombing, yet the threats from Iran, the IRGC and Hezbollah remain undiminished,” he said. “The regime in Tehran continues to provide hundreds of millions every year to terrorists around the world. It has provided Hezbollah alone some $700 million a year” (20).


AC Flight 901 Attack in Colón, Panama

July 19, 1994

Iran proxy: Hezbollah


On July 19, 1994, AC flight 901 exploded shortly after departing Enrique Adolfo Jiménez Airport en route from Colón city to Panama City. All 21 passengers, including 12 Jews, were killed in the bombing of the aircraft. Upon investigation following the incident, it was quickly determined that the cause of the explosion was likely due to a suicide bomber on the flight. Officials claimed that Hezbollah was responsible for the bombing and shared that the attack was directed at Jews in part because it took place a mere day after the AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina (21).


Dizengoff Center Bombing

March 4, 1996

Iran proxy: Palestinian Islamic Jihad


On March 4, 1996, the eve of the Jewish holiday of Purim, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside of Dizengoff Center, the largest shopping mall in Tel Aviv. The attack, which was connected to Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad, killed 13 Israelis and wounded 130 more (22).


Second Intifada

September 28, 2000-February 8, 2005

Iran proxy: Hamas


Beginning on September 28, 2000, the Second Intifada was the second Palestinian uprising initiated by Iran-backed Hamas. Following Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s peaceful visit to the Temple Mount, a series of Palestinian protests and suicide bombings and rocket attacks unraveled. The horrific killing spree resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 Israelis and 64 foreigners (23).


Assassination of Israeli Minister of Tourism

October 17, 2001

Iran proxy: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine


On October 17, 2001, Rehavam Ze’evi, Israel’s minister of tourism, was assassinated in the early morning hours at a hotel in Jerusalem by a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an Iranian-funded Palestinian socialist group. Ze’evi was the most senior Israeli official to be killed by Palestinian militants during the entire Arab-Israeli conflict thus far (24).


Netanya Market Bombing

May 19, 2002

Iran proxy: Hamas


On May 19, 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber disguised as an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier slipped through several police checkpoints while wearing an explosive belt hidden underneath his clothes which was packed with nails and bolts. The terrorist detonated the bomb at the front of the outdoor coastal market in Netanya, Israel. The attack, which killed three civilians and injured approximately 56 others, was claimed by Iran-backed Hamas (25).


Meggido Junction Bus Bombing

June 5, 2002

Iran proxy: Palestinian Islamic Jihad


On June 5, 2002, Palestinian Islamic Jihad initiated a suicide bombing attack at Meggido junction in northern Israel. As a result of the attack, 17 people were killed and an additional 50 were injured following the Palestinian suicide bomber approaching the bus filled with passengers traveling from Tel Aviv to Tiberias and causing the explosive to detonate near the fuel tank which caused the bus to immediately burst into flames (26).


Maxim Restaurant Bombing in Haifa

October 4, 2003

Iran proxy: Palestinian Islamic Jihad


On October 4, 2003, Maxim, a beachfront restaurant in Haifa co-owned by Jews and Christian Arabs, was attacked by a suicide bomber tied to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization primarily funded by the Iranian regime to harm Israelis. The suicide bomber detonated her explosive belt in the middle of the restaurant which caused metal fragments to launch across the restaurant. The bombing resulted in 22 deaths with an additional 60 people wounded. Among those killed were four children with one of them only two months old (27).


Carmel Market Bombing

November 1, 2004

Iran proxy: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine


On November 1, 2004, shortly before 11:00 am, a Palestinian terrorist entered Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, Israel with an explosive belt hidden underneath his clothes. Three Israelis were killed when the bomb detonated, and an additional 30 people were injured. The attack was claimed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one of Iran’s terror proxies (28).


Burgas Bus Bombing

July 18, 2012

Iran proxy: Hezbollah


On July 18, 2012, a passenger bus carrying 42 Israelis, mainly youths, to their hotels after arriving from Israel exploded. The explosion, which was carried out by a suicide bomber, resulted in the murder of five Israelis while injuring 32 others. Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the Bulgarian interior minister at the time of the bombing, claimed that there was “well-grounded” and sufficient evidence that demonstrated Hezbollah initiated the terrorist attack against innocent Israelis (29).


Endless Rocket and Border Attacks

Iran proxies: Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps


The lives of Israeli citizens are consistently put in danger by Iran-backed terrorist organizations, which consistently launch rockets into Israel, attempt to plant explosives along Israel’s borders and seek to dig tunnels into Israeli territory. Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps use funding and military assistance from Iran’s regime to harm Israeli citizens. Since the Iron Dome, Israel’s air defense system, made its appearance in 2011, over 2,500 enemy rockets have been intercepted with the majority of attacks coming from Hamas and Iran-backed Palestinian terrorist groups. Additionally, both Hezbollah and Iran have routinely attempted to invade Israel’s borders to cause harm among Israeli civilians. In November 2020, Iran’s Quds Force was also deemed responsible for planting explosives within Israeli territory along its border with Syria (30).