Linkages of Terror
© 2006 FrontLine Security (Vol 1, No 3)

Canada and her European allies had best beware of the Lebanon-based ­terrorist group Hezbollah as UN negotiations to halt Iran’s military nuclear program continue in stalemate, and tensions rise with Israel and the U.S.

On July 11, the eve of the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers that sparked the recent conflict, Ali Larijani, the head of Iran’s National Security Council, threatened European Union negotiators that Iran would harm Western interests if its nuclear program was referred back to the UN Security Council.

The following day, as fighting broke out, Larijani met with representatives of Hezbollah and Hamas, whose members staged a similar attack three weeks earlier on Israeli troops. Iran has clearly demonstrated that it is prepared to use Hezbollah, with its wide reach, to fight proxy a war with Israel, and perhaps the West.

Iranian Influence
Iranian influence within Hezbollah is significant and undeniable. They share a common bond – they have both been influenced by the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran – and Hezbollah wants to create a Shia-dominated state in Lebanon under Islamic law. Like Iran, Hezbollah is anti-West and anti-Israel and has called openly for the destruction of the Jewish state.

In their hatred of Israel, Iran and Hezbollah share a common ally in the Baathist dictatorship of Syria. In fact, Syria is the conduit through which Iran ships weaponry to Hezbollah. Hezbollah heavily protested Syria’s forced retreat from Lebanon in the last year. It was through Syrian intelligence, its troops and Hezbollah, that Syria allegedly controlled Lebanon and its government.

Hezbollah was first established in 1982 (only three years after the Iranian Revolution) to fight the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. The group is believed responsible for the mass casualty suicide attacks that destroyed the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983 (killing 200 people), and the U.S. Embassy Annex in Beirut in 1984. In 1985 it reportedly carried out the hijacking of TWA 847. It is also believed to have been responsible for kidnapping several Western hostages in Lebanon during the 1980s. In Argentina, Hezbollah is thought to have been behind the 1992 destruction of the Israeli Embassy, resulting in the deaths of 29 people, and later, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Com­munity Centre, killing 95.

Hezbollah’s head of overseas operations, Imad Mughniyeh, reportedly floats back and forth between Tehran and Syria. In March 1984, Mughniyeh kidnapped the CIA’s Beirut station chief, William Buckley. The kidnapping triggered what later became known as ‘Irangate,’ when the Americans tried to exchange Buckley and others with arms for Iran. The attempt ended in the death of Buckley and in a political fiasco that embarrassed the Reagan administration.

Mughniyeh visited Syria in January 2006, alongside President Ahmadinejad of Iran, for a summit with Syrian President Bashir Assad. Israeli reports suggested that he visited Syria and possibly Lebanon just prior to the ambush and kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers that sparked the recent Israeli incursion into Lebanon.

Getting into Politics
Hezbollah (like another Iranian client, Hamas) has begun to branch out into a mainstream political party, electing 14 members to the Lebanese Parliament in 2005, making it the fifth largest voting block in the government. In fact the Hezbollah Amal alliance took all 23 seats in Southern Lebanon for 27.3% of all seats in the election. Hezbollah also provides aide to its local civilian population, similar to Hamas. But, since 1982, it is believed to have carried out some 200 attacks, killing an estimated 800 people. Today Hezbollah is estimated to have more than 100,000 supporters and 2000 trained terrorist militia members, and is believed to operate cells in Europe, Africa, South and North America.

Funding, Training & Arms
As documented in many sources, and spelled out in some detail in the 2005 Country Reports on Terrorism of the U.S. Department of State, under Chapter 8, Iran has been the primary provider of funding, training and arms to Hezbollah. Iran provided Hezbollah with some 500 medium range (75km) Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets and, along with Syria, some 12-13000 short range Katyushas rockets. Russian-made anti-tank mines and AT-5 Spandrel anti-tank missiles, recently manufactured in Iran under Russian license, found their way onto the battlefields of Southern Lebanon this July and August. Hezbollah has routinely sent its members to Iran and the Bekaa Valley for military training.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards are alleged to have carried out the C-802 anti-ship cruise missile attack on an Israeli naval vessel off the coast of Lebanon, killing four sailors.

It is believed that Iranian-manufactured 200km range Zalzal-2 rockets were transferred to Lebanon for Hezbollah use. Iran also provided Hezbollah with a Mersad-1 unmanned aerial vehicle that conducted two reconnaissance flights of northern Israel in the last two years and could have provided targeting intelligence.

The German national daily newspaper, Die Welt, reported that Iran released Osama bin Laden’s son, Saad bin Laden, from house arrest and sent him to the Syrian-Lebanese border. According to the London-based Arabic daily, al-Sharq al-Awsat, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard set up a emergency committee in Damascus to re-arm Hezbollah during the cease-fire. Iran also reportedly constructed the bunkers that protected Hezbollah leaders and their command infrastructure. All of this, as Canada was part of UNIFIL and assisting in the “monitoring of the disarmament of Hezbollah” for over 20 years?

Syria, Iran’s ally and client-state, provided Hezbollah with the Syrian-made 220mm rocket, recently used against Israeli towns as they came off the assembly line, in direct competition to the Syrian Army which was trying to integrate the powerful rockets into its own inventory. Syria also reportedly provided intelligence to Hezbollah for their targeting of Israeli strategic facilities in and around Haifa. Iran and Syria are also believed to be providing weapons, funds and training for Muqtada al-Sadr’s Iraqi Shi’ite militia in Iraq that is a mirror image of Hezbollah.

Canadian Response
In 2002, under great pressure from the then Opposition Conservative Party, the Government of Canada added Hezbollah to its list of terrorist groups. In 2004, Naji Antoine Abi Khalil, a Canadian, was charged by the FBI with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, based on his participation in a scheme to ship goggles, infrared aiming devices, and other night-vision equipment to Hezbollah. The group has been linked to the illegal cigarette smuggling business in the American Northwest. Hezbollah has an almost global reach that has intertwined itself with criminal enterprises.

Thus, it is not without cause that the current Canadian government has soundly rejected the concept of taking Hezbollah off the list of banned terrorist entities.

Threats and Ambitions
By the end of the fighting this summer, it was hard to separate Hezbollah activities from those of Iranian Revolu­tionary Guard troops. It became clear to observers that Hezbollah was operating as an arm of the Iranian government. There is little doubt that Iran was frustrated over its military nuclear program and that Hezbollah provided a tool for lashing out.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Iranian-backed militias have been used by Iranian officials to threaten United States-backed coalitions in both Iraq and in Afghanistan, where Canada has a considerable military presence, in the event of an American strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Not surprisingly, shortly after fighting commenced on July 12th, Hezbollah cells operating in the United States were allegedly placed on alert to prepare for attacks in the continental United States.

Is Hezbollah credible among citizens of the Middle East? Note this indicator from a recent report in the Washington Post by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo: “According to the preliminary results of a recent public opinion survey of 1,700 Egyptians by the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Center, Hezbollah’s action garnered 75% approval, and Nasrallah led a list of 30 regional public figures ranked by perceived importance. He appears on 82% of responses, followed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (73%), Khaled Meshal of Hamas (60%), Osama bin Laden (52%) and Mohammed Mahdi Akef of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (45%).”

In conclusion, there is little doubt that, in the event of a showdown with the West over its nuclear ambitions, one tool of the Iranian government will be to threaten terror attacks on Western capitals and, with Canada playing an active role at the United Nations, Hezbollah presents a clear and present danger to Canadian interests at home and abroad. Do we have the means and resolve to recognize and meet this threat? Time will tell.  

Professor Joe Varner is the Chairman of the National Security Committee of the Federa­tion of Military and United Services Institutes of Canada. He is also the Academic Program Manager for Homeland Security and Emergency and Disaster Management at the American Military University.
© FrontLine Security 2006