Are we watching Hezbollah closely enough these days? Probably not. Given events in Syria and the Balkans, it appears that we’re in for a whole new set of problems to be presented by Iran’s favorite proxy.
Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria on behalf of Bashar al-Assad and Iran continues to grow with the party of God in pitched battle with the Syrian rebels. With that has come such new complications as the rebel killing of Gen. Hassan Shateri of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Qods Force, who was a senior Iranian representative in Lebanon. When Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah expressed his dismay at the loss, he noted that Shateri was not the first Iranian to be killed on a mission with Hezbollah.
Hezbollah is also reported to be giving haven in Lebanon to Alawite officers and their families, putting them up in style and paying them, in the hope that the Alawites will be helpful to Hezbollah whatever happens. According to a recent report by Israeli analyst Shimon Shapira, the Lebanese militia, “is particularly interested in officers who are highly experienced in the use of Russian-made weapons systems such as long-range rockets and surface-to-air missiles. Hezbollah’s initiative has been coordinated with the Qods Force, which is responsible for the training of Hezbollah’s forces in Lebanon and Iran.”
The struggle for Syria is a struggle for survival for some parties and power for others. Iran and Hezbollah will survive. The question is, what will Hezbollah do if Assad falls, and what will it do elsewhere when it’s no longer occupied with the Syrian front? Hezbollah is thoroughly entrenched in Lebanon, although if Michael Totten is right, the Party of God may wind up fighting its Sunni rivals in the near future. But will Lebanon be enough of a toehold in the Middle East (and a sufficient threat to Europe and the rest of the world) for its Iranian patron if Assad falls? Perhaps we’ll see an expansion of Hezbollah’s depredations elsewhere.
Of course, there’s always more to be done in Latin America, where Hezbollah’s involvement with drug cartels and anti-American governments means that despite Chavez’s passing, Venezuela is likely to remain a significant base for Hezbollah’s Western Hemisphere operations. Argentina’s recent move to get closer to Iran may also suggest that Hezbollah might gain an even more free hand in the tri-border region than it already has. Then there are the recent reports of Hezbollah bases in northern Nicaragua and Belize.
Another possibility is Africa. Iran has long been active in East Africa, Sudan, Nigeria, East Africa, and even in the Sahel, spying and supplying arms and ammunition. Despite al Qaeda’s surge there, surely the continent has more than enough room for Hezbollah to attack Western interests. After all, it’s been running South American cocaine out of West Africa, across the Sahara, and into Europe for years.
Hezbollah in Europe has been in the news lately on two accounts. First came the Bulgarian government’s fingering Hezbollah for last year’s Burgas bus bombing that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver. It remains to be seen whether or not the EU will designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Second, there’s a trial underway in Cyprus charging Hezbollah operative Hossam Taleb Yaacoub with planning terrorist actions similar to the Burgas bombing. Given that Yaacoub has been willing to talk, he has provided a rare look into Hezbollah operations in Europe.
Yesterday the Bulgarian government announced the results of its investigation into the July 18, 2012 bus bombing that killed 5 Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver in the city of Burgas. At least two members of what appears to have been a three-man team belong to Hezbollah. More specifically, explained Bulgaria’s interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, they were part of Hezbollah’s “military wing”—a peculiar turn of phrase that hints at the political implications of the Bulgarian investigation, which may have a major impact on European Union foreign policy as well as Hezbollah’s ability to operate on the continent. And yet the most serious repercussions may be felt inside Lebanon, where Hezbollah is already feeling the pressure.
Informed sources are confirming reports that there was a major explosion at a uranium enrichment plant at an Iranian nuclear facility in Fordow last week. However, the White House believes the reports are not credible and Iran denies that anything is amiss, but a variety of news items coming out of Israel and Iran point to the likelihood that something significant is happening in the region.
In a sharply worded letter to Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee to be the next secretary of defense, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana takes issue with Hagel's past statement that “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here…. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.” Hagel made that statement in a 2006 interview.
Last week THE WEEKLY STANDARD published my article, “Smugglers Galore: How Iran Arms its Proxies.” It seems that part of it may have found its way onto the reading list of Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah.
NBC’s Middle East correspondent Richard Engel was released yesterday after being held for five days in Syria. When his kidnappers came to a rebel checkpoint, they were engaged in a firefight with a Free Syrian Army unit that allowed Engel and his colleagues to go free. NBC’s statement said he was taken by an “unknown group,” but Engel himself said he has a “very good idea” that the kidnappers are members of the shabbiha.
Twenty-nine years ago yesterday, December 12, 1983, Hezbollah and operatives of the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite group Da’wa carried out a series of seven coordinated bombings in Kuwait, killing six people and wounding nearly ninety more. The targets included the American and French embassies, the Kuwait airport, the grounds of the Raytheon Corporation, a Kuwait National Petroleum Company oil rig, and a government-owned power station. An attack outside a post office was thwarted.
Yesterday, the Treasury Department designated Ali Musa Daqduq, “a senior Hizballah commander responsible for numerous attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq, including planning an attack on the Karbala Joint Provincial Coordination Center (JPCC) on January 20, 2007, which resulted in the deaths of five U.S. soldiers.”
To many Lebanese, the massive car bomb attack in Beirut on Friday that killed the Sunni Muslim head of internal security Wissam al Hassan and seven others evoked the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri.
Yesterday a car bomb in Beirut killed a senior Lebanese security chief along with seven others, while wounding hundreds in Ashrafiyeh, a busy neighborhood in Christian-majority East Beirut. The target, Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, was close to former prime minister Saad Hariri and his late father, Rafik Hariri. Yesterday evening, Hariri supporters, mostly Sunnis, closed down roads and burned tires in protest against the assassins, almost certainly tied to the Syrian regime and their Lebanese ally Hezbollah.