Tags: Hezbollah | Syria | Lebanon | Levitt

Former Treasury Official on Rise of Hezbollah

By    |   Monday, 09 September 2013 01:35 PM EDT

On Sept. 3, Congress prepared to return from its extended recess to find the civil war in Syria at the top of the agenda of the Democrats who control the White House and the Senate. Ironically, the administration is led by a president and a group of senior advisers who in the past have resisted efforts to contain the spread of state-sponsored terror. Most conservative Republicans seem inclined to say to them, "You figure it out," and "You can deal with the critics in the farther left of your party."

Against this background, Matthew Levitt, former deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Treasury who has already produced a book on Hamas, presented his new book, "Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God," to the Washington Institute of Near East Policy at the Cosmos Club in Washington. Based on nine years of research, it assembles the facts about the worldwide scope of the activities of this terrorist organization, which has, in turn, spawned another notorious terrorist group, Islamic Jihad, which has attacked U.S. troops in Iraq.

The overriding points Levitt argues in this book are:

1. While Hezbollah admittedly engages in political and social activities and sponsors a militia headquartered in Lebanon, these activities cannot be divorced from the international criminal syndicate that has engaged in a campaign of bombings and extended its fundraising and narcotics trafficking throughout the world, including the United States, to support Iran's nuclear program, to attack American and Israeli interests and, more recently, to avenge the killing of Imad Fayez Mughniyeh, a senior intelligence officer of Hezbollah who was indicted in the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 and in the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association cultural building attack there in 1994 that killed 85.

He has also been implicated in the killings of 58 French soldiers and 241 American Marines in Lebanon and of having killed Malcolm Kerr, president of the American University in Beirut while he was a student there in 1984, the June 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, including the beating and killing of Navy diver Robert Stethem, and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 Americans and a Saudi Arabian. Mughniyeh was killed by a car bomb in Damascus in February 2008.

2. The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nazrallah, is not a mere tool of the authoritarian Shiite regime in Iran, but rather is a "true believer" who supports that regime through terror.

3. Hezbollah has provided fighters in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and is prepared to go "all in" to support the aims of Iran as it seeks to maintain its dominant role in Syria.

4. In theory, at least, by extending the covert terrorist activities to overt military intervention in Syria, it jeopardizes its posture in Lebanon as primarily a political and social welfare organization. (However, the government of Lebanon is so weak that there is little it can do to contain the excesses of this group.)

Countries mentioned by Levitt as targets or staging grounds for Hezbollah are Argentina, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Cyprus, the Netherlands, France and Nigeria.

U.S. cities where operatives of Hezbollah have raised funds include New York, Miami, Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C.

Levitt referred to a memo dated Sept. 26, 1983, from Iran's minister of intelligence calling for "a spectacular action" against U.S. Marines. Also, Hezbollah has been implicated by the United Nations in the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, a business tycoon who served two terms as prime minister of Lebanon, which led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country. Hariri had shielded Hezbollah from U.S. demands that he hand over accused Hezbollah terrorists. Hariri himself was accused of instituting a large stimulus program that cause a spike in the country's debt and then stealing much of the money.

Frederic Hof, senior fellow with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, also delivered remarks and reinforced the point that there is no distinction between the military and civilian wings of Hezbollah. He stated that the primary objective of the organization is to support the aims of Iran against Israel and to establish a de facto Shia state covering parts of Syria and Lebanon.

Hof ended with a somewhat contradictory message that in any strike against Syria, U.S. planners should prepare for "the worst" and untoward escalation of the conflict, but he concluded that at the end of the day, it is not in the interest of the pro-Iran elements to do anything that would unite the currently fragmented opposition among the Western powers.

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Matthew Levitt, former deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Treasury, presented his new book, "Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God," to the Washington Institute of Near East Policy at the Cosmos Club in Washington.
Monday, 09 September 2013 01:35 PM
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