(CNSNews.com) – After a conspicuous absence last year, references to Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah returned to the “Terrorism” subsection of the intelligence community’s 2016 Worldwide Threat Assessment, presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
“Iran continues to be the foremost state sponsor of terrorism and exerts its influence in regional crises in the Mideast, through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–Qods Force, its terrorist partner Lebanese Hezbollah, and proxy groups,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the committee, reading from his submitted assessment.
“Iran and Hezbollah remain a continuing terrorist threat to U.S. interests and partners worldwide,” he added.
Last year’s Worldwide Threat Assessment – unlike those in earlier years – omitted any reference to Iran and Hezbollah from the subsection on terrorism.
Iran was discussed elsewhere in the 2015 report, in subsections on “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” “Cyber,” and “Regional threats” – but with no reference to its support for terrorism. The report was also silent on Hezbollah, bar a single reference to attacks against the Shi’ite group by Sunni militants.
The absence of references to Iran and Hezbollah in the terrorism context prompted some critics to wonder whether the administration was trying to avoid annoying the regime while sensitive nuclear negotiations were underway.
An Israeli think-tank, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, said the omission was not accidental, attributing it to “a combination of political considerations (the U.S. dialogue with Iran over the nuclear agreement) and the idea that Iran and Hezbollah may be of assistance in the campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq and possibly in other countries.”
A U.S. official said at the time the intelligence community's position on Iran had not changed, and that there was “simply a format change” in the 2015 report. “There is no ‘softening’ of our position,” the official added.
But former Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton called the claim of a format change “a flat lie.”
“I think the Iranian negotiators told the American negotiators, ‘you’ve got to start going easy on us on this terrorism stuff,’” he told Fox News.
“Because what they want is not simply to be freed from the sanctions that were imposed because of the nuclear program; they want to be freed from the sanctions that have been imposed 30-plus years because of their state-sponsorship of terrorism,” Bolton said.