Senior Obama Administration officials held a background briefing on Friday in which they discussed the “alarming trend” of escalating Iranian support for terrorism. Two high-ranking officials, who remained anonymous under the ground rules of the briefing, warned that the tempo of Iran’s terrorist operations had risen to levels not seen since the 1990s, with terrorist attacks plotted in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa in 2012 alone.

The briefing underscored the troubling assessment of the State Department’s annual report on terrorism, which was released last week: “Iran increased its terrorist-related activity, including attacks or attempted attacks in India, Thailand, Georgia, and Kenya.”

In particular, Iran has ratcheted up its shadow war with Israel and has increasingly used Hezbollah surrogates to target Israeli civilians and diplomats in Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Thailand, and elsewhere.

Last week Nigerian authorities arrested three members of a Hezbollah cell that was amassing weapons in preparation for terrorist attacks against Israeli and western targets in that country. These arrests came three months after another Iranian terror cell was broken up by the Nigerian security services. Iran also has used Hezbollah to advance its goals in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, where Hezbollah militia forces played a crucial role in retaking the rebel-held town of Qusair today.

Iran also has plotted terrorist attacks against U.S. diplomats in Azerbaijan that were disrupted last year by close U.S. counterterrorism cooperation with the Azerbaijani government. That is a disturbing sign that Iran is willing to assume a much higher level of risk in its terrorist operations than was previously assumed.

And why not?

Iran’s foiled plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a popular Washington, D.C., restaurant in 2011 brought very few consequences to the Iranian regime.

Last week, Mansour Arbabsiar, an Iranian-American who pleaded guilty in the plot, was sentenced to 25 years in jail. He had been enlisted into the plot by a cousin who is a high-level official in the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is the regime’s chief instrument for supporting terrorists abroad. Arbabsiar may have paid a heavy price for his involvement in the plot, but the Iranian regime escaped without any penalty.

By treating state-sponsored terrorism primarily as a law enforcement problem rather than as a national security issue, the Obama Administration may mete out justice to Iran’s henchmen if they are caught, but it allows the Iranian leaders calling the shots to continue to operate with impunity. That is a very dangerous message to send to a regime that has relied heavily on terrorism to maintain itself in power since 1979.