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.
There’s every prospect for greater operational activity on the continent. Insufficient attention has been given to the presence of Iran in Bosnia and Balkan jihadism in general in Kosovo, Macedonia, the Sanjak, and other places that have long since been “softened up” for the toleration of holy terror by the Wahhabis.
According to independent researcher Gordon Bardos, the American and British ambassadors to Sarajevo warned Bosnian officials last August to cut their ties to Iran. Reporting on the recent convergence of Islamism and desperate Bosnian nationalism, Bardos claims that “Iran's Revolutionary Guard has eaten up much of the country's political and economic power. In September, the Sarajevo newspaper Dnevni Avaz claimed that pro-Iranian factions in the Bosnian government were “re-activating para-intelligence cells tied to the Islamist regime of the late Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic.” In October, Slobodna Bosna reported that 200 Iranian “businessmen” had been granted entry visas during the first half of 2012. Reportedly, one Iranian diplomat seen in Bosnia had been tracked by Israeli intelligence officials in Thailand, Georgia and India, that is, the places where Hezbollah/Iran has attacked Israeli citizens.
Can the European Union continue to humor Hezbollah if it shows up just outside (or just inside) the Gates of Vienna? Given that European governments surely know about Iran’s subversion in Bosnia and their lack of real response to the Burgas bus bombing, the signs are not good for a change of direction on Europe’s part regarding Hezbollah. With an end to the Syrian debacle, Hezbollah may considerably speed up Europe’s slow suicide in the face of Islamism.
Ken Jensen is associate director of the American Center for Democracy for its Economic Warfare Institute. The views expressed above are his own.