Heightened Risk for US and Israeli Interests Worldwide
By Clare M. Lopez
Days before Israel reportedly struck inside Syria to destroy a shipment of dangerous Fateh-110 missiles with long range, precision-targeting capabilities, Hezbollah's Supreme Guide Hassan Nasrallah declared that Syria had "real friends" who were ready and able to defend the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, under attack since early 2011 by a coalition of Sunni rebels.
In an April 30 address on the Hezbollah satellite TV network, Al-Manar, Nasrallah hinted at a possible Hezbollah role on the ground inside Syria and, as he has done before, directly threatened both "America and the Zionist regime [Israel]."
This is not the first time that Nasrallah and his Iranian terror proxy, Hezbollah, have lashed out against the United States and Israel on orders from the "Supreme Leader" of the Iranian regime. What some have termed the "Shadow War" between Jerusalem and Tehran burst into the open in early 2012, with a series of plots involving Hezbollah and Iranian operatives across the globe.
Terror Network Identified
From Africa, Central Asia, and the Far East to Eastern Europe, the Shi'ite terror network has been identified by authorities in assassination, bombing, and Israeli embassy and personnel attack attempts. Many, thankfully, were thwarted, but in July 2012, five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver were killed in Burgas, Bulgaria by a Hezbollah suicide bomber.
In the wake of the May 3 and May 5 Israeli air attacks against the shipment of the advanced surface-to-surface missiles intended for delivery to Hezbollah, Nasrallah's warning — and Hezbollah's recent operational tempo — might well be kept in mind.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad was equally blunt on May 5, when he told CNN that Israel's air strikes were being interpreted as an Israeli "declaration of war" against the Assad regime and threatened retaliation. Clearly, the Syrian revolt – actually an internecine Sunni vs. Shi'a intra-Islamic sectarian war – is spilling over the country's borders. Not only are regimes across the Middle East region (as well as the U.S.) lined up behind their respective jihadi forces, but the fighting and the refugees increasingly are destabilizing Syria's neighbors.
A convergence of the Hezbollah/Iranian "shadow war" with the potential for retaliation related to the Syrian conflict could well point to a heightened risk for both American and Israeli interests worldwide.
The Washington Institute's Matthew Levitt believes that Iran has tasked Hezbollah with reviving the operational capabilities of its sagging international terrorist unit, the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO). In part due to Hezbollah's decision to keep a lower profile following its deep involvement in the 9/11 attacks, and in particular since the February 2008 assassination of Hezbollah's terror chieftain, Imad Mughniyeh, IJO performance had declined.
"Shadow War" Against Israel
The uptick in Hezbollah plots since 2012, however, points to a decision at the top level of the Iranian regime to rejuvenate IJO capabilities and terror activity, not only to avenge Mughniyeh's killing, but to respond to Tehran's tasking in the "shadow war" against Israel.
As Levitt described in a late April 2013 piece for the West Point Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) "Sentinel" publication, the Cyprus trial that month of Hossam Yaacoub, a Lebanese-Swedish dual national Hezbollah operative, provided a revealing look at the terror group's current tradecraft training and procedures.
Under interrogation, Yaacoub admitted that he was recruited by Hezbollah in 2007 and underwent extensive training in building a cover story, conducting pre-attack casing of potential targets (frequented by Israeli tourists), and mastering communications codes and signals before being dispatched to Cyprus for the first time in 2009.
Although Yaacoub eventually was arrested in July 2012 by the Cypriot police before any attack there could be carried out, Levitt concludes that the lengthy, professional tradecraft training he had received, along with the "successful" Hezbollah attack against the Israeli tourist bus in Bulgaria, together indicate a return to traditional tradecraft standards by Hezbollah.
Operating Under Diplomatic Cover
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force operatives serve under cover in Iranian embassies worldwide; they are tasked with liaison to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations, narcotrafficking cartels and organized crime groups.
Together with the Iranian intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), the Qods Force and Hezbollah operate as integral elements of the global Shi'ite terror network. That narcotrafficking, organized crime, terror network is very much present and functioning in the Western Hemisphere, where the Iranian presence is anchored by its outpost in Venezuela, which it uses as a staging ground for supervising an extensive network of Hezbollah operational cells whose activities stretch northward through Mexico and into the U.S. and Canada.
The accelerating pace of attack and counterattack by the Shi'ite terror network has alerted U.S. security officials and their Israeli partners that the threat to both countries' interests at home and abroad is becoming increasingly critical.
As the Syrian conflict spirals ever more out of control, with the U.S. already deeply involved in supporting the al-Qa'eda and Muslim Brotherhood rebels (and looking to become more so), the potential for retaliatory strikes from Hezbollah, acting alone or in conjunction with its Qods Force handlers, will only increase.
Given the renewed emphasis on operational tradecraft plus its well-established bases throughout the Western Hemisphere, Hezbollah is a menace to be monitored.