The Hezbollah Threat

The terror group takes over Lebanon; is the Obama administration's yawn the right response?

Are al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region the primary threats to the U.S.? Even before winning the presidency, this has been the contention of Obama and his administration. Fareed Zakaria argues, however, that “al-Qaeda isn’t the threat anymore.” Zakaria’s assessment notwithstanding, I would venture to say that the Shiite terrorist organization, Hezbollah, is a far greater threat to the U.S., Israel, and the West, than al-Qaeda. Yet, this threat has been virtually ignored by the Obama administration. Consequently, Hezbollah has been allowed to take over Lebanon and create a base there for its Iranian patron.  In fact, during a recent visit to Lebanon, Ahmadinejad vowed before thousands of Hezbollah supporters that “U.S. and Israeli power in the Middle East will soon be eclipsed.”

Syria, forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in 2005, has been reasserting its control over Lebanon. The visit by Syrian President Bashar Assad to Beirut this past July was one such example. Another, the recent pilgrimage of Saad Hariri to Damascus, where the Lebanonese Prime Minister asked for reconciliation and for Assad to be absolved from the murder of Hariri’s father, Rafic. Moreover, in 2008 Hezbollah defeated pro-Western factions in Beirut, which increased Hezbollah’s power, and therefore, the influence of Iran and Syria.

Al-Qaeda, according to Zakaria:

“has been whittled down to about 400 fighters. It has been unable to execute large-scale attacks of the kind that were at the core of its strategy—to hit high-value American targets that held military or political symbolism. Instead, the terrorist attacks that have taken place after 9/11 have been launched by smaller local groups, self-identified as affiliates of Al Qaeda, against much easier sites....The fatal problem with these kinds of attacks is that they kill ordinary civilians—not U.S. soldiers or diplomats—and turn the local population against Islamic radicals.”

The opposite, however, is true of Hezbollah, which has become stronger since the 2006 war with Israel.  It is now the dominant force in Lebanon and, according to a October 25, 2010 special report from the Paris-based Le Figaro, Hezbollah has been able to construct an elaborate infrastructure used for smuggling an array of sophisticated weapons, including 40,000 missiles into Lebanon.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been mandated to assisting the Lebanese Armed Forces create an area between the border with Israel and the Litani River that is free of any armed personnel, assets or weapons, other than those of the Lebanese army. But it has been incapable of stopping Hezbollah from smuggling missiles and other lethal weapons from Syria to Lebanon.  Recent clashes between southern Lebanese villagers and UNIFIL peacekeepers have reduced UNIFIL’s ability to enforce Security Council Resolution 170; enacted at the end of the Hezbollah-Israel war in the summer of 2006.

Le Figaro revealed that Hezbollah has 3000 fighters and a reserve force of 10,000.  In addition to an effective weapons smuggling system, Hezbollah has also enhanced its ability to move money from Iran and Syria into Lebanon.  Le Figaro’s information comes from a secret intelligence report it received. The report describes the precise smuggling routes and the quantities of missiles Hezbollah is armed with. The report also reveals that U.S. satellite radar has spotted 26 M-6002 missiles, with a range of 250 km, in the area between Damascus and Syria’s border with Lebanon.

The weapons transport system, the report unveils, is divided into three units: Unit 108 is responsible for transferring missiles (including M-6002s), weapons, and ammunition from its main base near the Damascus airport to Hezbollah bases on the Lebanese-Syrian border. Unit 108 has permanent supply and reserve depots. The former are located near the Damascus airport and the latter, in the Syrian cities of Aleppo, Homs, and Tartus.  Unit 112 transports the weapons from the border areas with Syria, to Hezbollah bases in Lebanon. The transfer takes place at the end of the month, exploiting electrical power outages, which allows Hezbollah to avoid having their vehicle license plates registered.

Unit 100 deals with deployment and training.  The men in this unit transfer Iranian and Syrian experts between Iran, Syria, and Lebanon.  This unit recently transferred Hezbollah fighters who were trained in Iran to use Fatah 110 missiles with a range of 150 km.

Hezbollah has deployed its missiles north of the Litani River in underground bunkers. It has also dug tunnels along the Lebanese-Syrian border to enable Hezbollah fighters to escape or be resupplied in case of a war with Israel.  Iranian experts have constructed a central communications network which extends from Hezbollah’s South Beirut headquarters to Hezbollah strongholds in Southern Lebanon along the border of Israel.  Arms and ammunitions have been stored in mosques, schools, and shops in close proximity to the Israeli border.

According to the same Le Figaro report, Hezbollah has a standing force of six brigades and a naval component designated as Naval Unit 87, which is trained in diving and sabotage missions.

On April 7, 2007, The New York Times reported that the “intelligence community in Washington as having said that Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, despite their differences, have cooperated in the past and continue to cooperate on jihad-related activities against the United States and its interests at home and abroad.”  But, whereas al-Qaeda’s power has been checked by U.S. forces, Hezbollah’s has not.  Despite the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 (which killed 241 U.S. Marines and wounded sixty others), the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut that same year, playing a role in the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847 in Beirut, and the murder of a U.S. Navy diver, the U.S. has never attacked Hezbollah bases as they have al-Qaeda bases.

Hezbollah has a worldwide network of cells – including some inside the US – that raise vast sums of money.  These cells are prepared to attack U.S. targets once ordered. And, unlike al-Qaeda, it has powerful governments as its allies and, as mentioned above, controls an entire country.  Hezbollah’s capacity to inflict painful blows upon the U.S. has been clearly demonstrated, yet, the Obama administration has chosen to appease this radical Shiite terrorist organization and its sponsors in Iran and Syria rather than confront it. It is high time for the Obama administration’s national security services to consider Hezbollah a major threat to the U.S. and a priority target -- not only as a way to prevent future terrorism on America and undercut Iranian influence, but as a necessary step to restore democracy in Lebanon and foster an Israeli-Lebanese peace.