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July 31, 2006

Lebanon

The Hizballah Surprise

By Dan Darling | July 31, 2006

With all the discussion, analysis, commentary, and recrimination that has surrounded U.S. intelligence failures in Iraq, it is surprising that so few parallels have been drawn to the situation in Lebanon. As in the case of Iraq, it appears there was an intelligence failure of some magnitude. This time, to be sure, it was an underestimate of the size and quality of the enemy's arsenal. But the sophistication of Hizballah's Iranian-built missiles, stockpiled since the 2000 Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, appears to have "caught the United States and Israel off guard," the New York Times reports, "and officials in both countries are just now learning the extent to which the militant group has succeeded in getting weapons from Iran and Syria."

From the Iranian variants of the Chinese Silkworm missile to more conventional Syrian-made warheads--innovatively filled with ball bearings so as to maximize damage to humans and property--Hizballah's rockets have proved more formidable than expected. Moreover, combat between Hizballah and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in southern Lebanon has revealed the degree to which the terrorist organization improved the abilities of its irregular troops--to the point where the reported casualty ratios released by the Israeli government and various media outlets suggest that Hizballah's fighters are more capable than the vast majority of conventional Arab armies.

Hizballah owes all these improvements to generous support from Syria and Iran. What does it say about the state of Western intelligence that these nations were able to provide such support, including sophisticated missiles
and training, without our knowledge?

One thing it points to is a pattern of intelligence failures--or of an intrinsic inability of the intelligence community to perform at the level policymakers expect. In the post-Cold War era alone, numerous examples can be cited, including the failure to predict the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the advanced status of the Iraqi nuclear program at the time of that invasion, the successes of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs, the extent of Libya's weapons of mass destruction programs, the activities of the Abdul Qadeer Khan proliferation network, and so on. In light of this history, the overestimation of Iraq's WMD program at the time of the 2003 U.S. invasion stands out as an unusual exception to the recent rule, which has been one of underestimating our opponents. In deed, as more information has become available regarding the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, it appears increasingly clear that both are further along than U.S. intelligence initially assessed them to be.

If there is one productive development from the fighting in Lebanon, it would be the insight it has given us into the views of the Iranian leadership on a number of topics, ranging from terrorism to their willingness to deliver sophisticated weaponry to nonstate actors. And all of it appears to add up to a disturbing portrait that the United States and its allies will need to factor into their calculations of how to deal with Iran.

With regard to terrorism, Iran appears quite willing to use Hizballah as its proxy, continuing to support the group with advanced weapons, training, and some unknown number of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps personnel from the elite Qods Force unit. All of this suggests that the Iranian leadership has embraced revolutionary hostility toward Israel.

However the Iranian regime regards its economic and political ties with European governments, it appears that these ties are of no consequence when it comes to persuading the Tehran regime to end its support of one of the world's most infamous terrorist groups. Indeed, Iran appears to have boosted rather than cut back its support for Hizballah in recent years. It's hard, therefore, to see a rational basis on which engagement with Iran can be expected to deter it from employing terrorism as a tool of statecraft, particularly if the Islamic Republic suffers no consequences from its role in the current fighting in Lebanon.

This is not an abstract consideration, given Iran's continued role in issues directly related to U.S. national security. For instance, as recently as June 23, the Washington Post quoted General George Casey, commander of the allied forces in Iraq, as saying, "We are quite confident that the Iranians, through their covert special operations forces, are providing weapons, IED [Improvised Explosive Device] technology, and training to Shia extremist groups in Iraq, the training being conducted in Iran and in some cases probably in Lebanon through their surrogates." Casey went on to say that the Iranians were "using surrogates to conduct terrorist operations in Iraq, both against us and against the Iraqi people." The extremist groups referred to by Casey are, among others, Moktada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army, members of which have cut a bloody swath of sectarian violence through Baghdad in recent weeks.

Likewise, National Journal recently reported that "U.S. officials have openly accused Iran of offering safe harbor to top al-Qaeda officials who escaped the U.S. dragnet in neighboring Afghan istan"--among them the organization's de facto ministers of war and propaganda. National Journal quoted the former head of the CIA's Usama bin Laden unit as saying "there is no denying that Tehran allowed al-Qaeda fighters to transit its territory and offered them occasional sanctuary for R&R. . . . It's a reminder that the Iranians have always been very clever in determining exactly what level of terrorist support they can blithely engage in without putting themselves in our bull's-eye."

Supporting Shi'a extremist groups in Iraq and harboring key members of the surviving al-Qaeda leadership is alarming enough. But the ease with which Iran has been able to amplify the capabilities of Hizballah without drawing the attention of Western intelligence agencies means one must wonder whether Iran is engaged in even more alarming activities both in Iraq and with regard to al-Qaeda. How would we know?

Similarly, Iran's willingness to provide sophisticated missile technology to Hizballah belies the common argument among both diplomats and intelligence officials that the regime considers such weapons too valuable to hand out to proxy groups. According to the New York Times, "Western intelligence services did not know that Iran had managed to ship C-802 missiles to Hezbollah." (The C-802 is the sophisticated Chinese antiship missile used by Hizballah in its attack on an Israeli warship on July 14.)

If Iran is willing to transfer such weaponry to Hizballah, where does it draw the line? Would it one day do the same with a nuclear warhead? For that matter, what about its existing chemical and biological weapons stockpiles? Such a scenario may seem alarmist, but given the intelligence failures that have occurred to date with regard to Hizballah's arsenal, can anyone in the intelligence community offer believable assurances that this will not occur? Or that we would be aware of such transfers before it was too late?

Ultimately, one lesson policymakers should draw from the fighting in Lebanon is that they will never have the degree of certainty about intelligence that they would like. There will always be what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld termed "known unknowns," i.e., those things that we know that we don't know with regard to the capabilities of our enemies. Another lesson is that if we prepare for the worst, the surprises we encounter are more likely to be pleasant.

[The Hizballah Surprise is reprinted courtesy The Weekly Standard]

July 28, 2006

Pakistan

The Zawahiri Proclamation: One Ummah, One Jihad

By Steve Schippert | July 28, 2006

It is difficult to come away from al-Qaeda operational commander Ayman al-Zawhiri’s latest message without finding the broader message as anything other than a call for unity among Sunni and Shi’a in support of Hizballah’s hot war with Israel. It is also clear that the Hizballah-Israel fight is not viewed as isolated or limited by borders, but rather an integral part of a greater battle between, as Zawahiri and al-Qaeda believe, Muslims and the ‘Crusader league’ in which he explicitly includes Russia, India, Israel, the United States and its coalition partner nations as well as the current Iraqi government.

With a unified Sunni-Shi'a call to jihad as the intended message, this should serve to further and definitively dispel the notion that al-Qaeda would not cooperate with Shi’a terrorist groups and states such as Hizballah and Iran. This even though groups like al-Qaeda are heavily influenced by salafist or wahhabi teachings and have regarded and still regard the Shi'a as outside the fold of Islam. Former al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi referred to them as ‘apostates.’. However, the common enemy today is greater than their differences, which can be dealt with among themselves at a later time.

The technical aspects of the video indicate a well-equipped and skilled al-Qaeda media operation and demonstrate an effective ability to not only disseminate public messages but also exercise effective command and control of terror operations. (The al-Jazeera broadcast of Zawahiri's message is downloadable here.)

The Video: Sophisticated Media Operation on Display

The video itself, aside from the message it delivers, demonstrates the sophisticated media production capabilities of as-Sahab, al-Qaeda's video production house. The video is of professional quality, interestingly including ‘green screening,’ a technology that allows an individual to sit before a precisely toned green background, which can be digitally edited out and replaced with either a static or moving image. This is the technology used by news organizations to display a meteorologist over a map or satellite image background for forecasts. This technology does not necessarily require a professional studio and, as in this case, can actually be used to give the appearance of being filmed in one.

Several aspects of the video indicate telltale signs of green screening. The most telling is early on in the message where the image of Zawahiri appears to slightly shift horizontally. The brief image shift is rigid and lacks the analog properties that would be present if the camera were physically moving. If it were, the background image would shift as well, but it does not, indicating that the background is an edited-in image, seemingly a photograph of a studio set likely not constructed at Zawahiri’s filming location. The shift appears digital in nature and a likely byproduct of post-production editing.

Further indicators of the usage of ‘green screening’ include the presence of a thin dark line between the contrast of his upper shoulders and the background images of Muhammad Atta and Muhammad Atef and lighting differences between Zawahiri and the background. It should be noted, however, that the video clip viewed for this analysis – though still of relatively high quality - is an unknown-generation copy of the al-Jazeera broadcast. Production analysis of the original supplied to al-Jazeera would be far more definitive.

The presence of this quality video and the usage of professional editing skills and technology indicates two things primarily. First, it suggests that the al-Qaeda leadership – at least Zawahiri – is not necessarily holed up in a cave and isolated.

Second, it also suggests that al-Qaeda leadership is still effectively able to extend command and control to the degree that they may desire to do so. Zawahiri’s eyes are clearly following a teleprompter, suggesting that the camera in use is a studio-quality production camera complete with teleprompter technology. A closer examination by enhancing the reflection in Zawahiri’s glasses on the tape may very well reveal the square face of a broadcast studio production camera. This camera need not be in a studio in order to be used. The use of ‘green screening’ makes a more subtle filming location infinitely more possible.

While not a ‘controlled technology,’ a studio-production video camera with teleprompter technology in front of the lens is not something that can be obtained by purchase through the local electronics store, so to speak. In order to obtain this, Zawahiri and the al-Qaeda leadership must not be in a position where they are isolated and without connections to the point of feeling they cannot trust anyone. If they can acquire such equipment in trust without fear of tracking and/or reprisal, via black market or locally connected broadcast collaborators, it must be assumed that they can also effectively lead and direct terror operations through similar means and channels.

The Message: One Ummah, One Jihad

A primary analysis of Zawahiri’s message must first begin with the greater overall message. The general message imparted is clearly a call for unity among the Ummah – uniting Sunni and Shi'a - against a common enemy: Israel, the United States and their allies. The Shi’a Hizballah war is recognized as legitimate jihad by Sunni al-Qaeda, or part of one in which the entire world is the battlefield. Specifically, Zawahiri links the “liberation of Palestine” to the restoration of Islamic rule to “every land that used to be a territory of Islam, from Spain to Iraq.” Linking the “liberation of Palestine” to the current jihad waged by Hizballah in Lebanon, Zawahiri imparts that this is the beginning of that restoration, which should spread through the efforts of those who would hear his message.

"The entire world is an open field for us, so just like they attack us everywhere we will attack them everywhere, and just like they united to fight us, our Ummah [Nation], we will unite to fight them." Again, Zawahiri includes the Shi'a expressly with the usage of ‘us’ and ‘we’ within the context of both Gaza (Sunni) and Lebanon (Shi'a) being hit by the ‘Zio-Crusaders.’

Zawahiri calls the Shi’a Hizballah brothers, saying to Muslims everywhere, “We cannot remain silent and cringe while watching these missiles pouring fire on our brothers in Gaza and Lebanon.”

He also draws the current Israeli conflict with both Hamas (et al) and Hizballah into his vision of unified jihad by referring to “ten thousand hostages in Israeli prisons,” germane to the demands of a prisoner exchange by both Hizballah and Hamas. By contrasting that number with three Israeli soldiers held by the terrorists, Zawahiri crafts an image of an Israeli aggressor and a defensive Ummah victim comprised of both Sunni and Shi’a alike.

Further stressing unity in purpose, Zawahiri then encourages unity by addressing the Ummah as descendants of both Sunni and Shi'a heritage. "How can we remain silent, and we are the sons of Abi Bakar, Othman, Hamza, Ja’afar, Ali, al-Hussein, Sa’ad, Khaled, Talha, al-Zobier, Akrama, Salah al-Din, Yusef ibn-Tashfeen, and Muhammad the Conqueror. We are the sons of the ones who confronted the apostates, opened the world, and transformed the people from darkness of polytheism to the light of unification, and from worshiping humans to worshiping Allah." Clearly, the early Shi'a are not considered apostates here, but al-muminin. In this message, Zawahiri includes them as “brothers.”

Message: al-Qaeda in Iraq as the Fountain of Jihad into Palestine

This brotherhood between Sunni and Shi'a now sought by al-Qaeda for the purpose of facing their common enemy as defined makes the inclusion of Zarqawi as a “martyr Imam - as we consider him” an interesting usage. While Zarqawi is likely used as an inspirational figure for influencing Zawahiri’s principal audience, an Arab Sunni population, this is done at the risk of alienating the Shi'a at the same time.

Zarqawi had named the Shi'a ‘apostates’ as his principle enemy, even above the infidel Americans in Iraq, and was himself responsible for the deaths of many Shi'a. This is a point surely not lost to other Shi’a that Zawahiri also considers part of his audience. Zarqawi is a liability in this respect.

To be sure, for Zawahiri and his call for unity under one banner of “jihad fi sabillillah”, Zarqawi is far less a liability now in the silence of his death than he otherwise would have been in life. This is particularly apparent when one considers that Zarqawi would most likely have opposed such a show of unity.

Zawahiri's use of 'jihad fi sabillillah' is an attempt to draw the Muslim listener into his view that war, and more specifically this war, is of the greater jihad as opposed to being a lesser jihad or specifically 'jihad bis sayf' - the jihad of the sword.

Even damaged as it is by American and Iraqi military attacks and counterterrorism operations, al-Qaeda in Iraq is still considered by Zawahiri to be the strongest and most important arm of al-Qaeda. Further, he appeals to the Shi’ia to support the jihad in Iraq as he calls upon Sunni to support Hizballah’s jihad in Lebanon, suggesting that al-Qaeda in Iraq will be a fountain of jihad warriors into Palestine.

“By Iraq being near Palestine it is an advantage; therefore the Muslims should support its Mujahideen until an Islamic Emirate of jihad is established there. Subsequently it would transfer the jihad to the borders of Palestine with the Aid of Allah, then the Mujahideen in and out of Palestine would unite and the greatest conquest would be accomplished.”

It should also be noted that in Zawahiri’s eyes, his al-Qaeda’s jihad to install an Islamist government in Iraq takes priority over the Palestinian issue, as the fountain of would flow to the Levant only after this objective is met. But to bridge that gap and immediately following the reference to Zarqawi within that context, Zawahiri deftly brings Lebanon and Hizballah into the fold by saying “Perhaps the events of the Zio-Crusaders’ attack on the Muslims [Hizballah in Lebanon] may push the traitors in Iraq [current elected government] to swallow their shame and their disloyalty…”

The Message: World Call to Jihad on Israel, US, Russia, India

Again stressing unity of purpose among the Shi’ite and Sunni Ummah, Zawahiri addresses all when he says, “Dear Muslim brothers everywhere” twice in succession. He listed both Sunni and Shi’ite conflicts in calling for attacks on “Jewish and American targets everywhere.” But in listing the conflicts (Chechnya, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon) where he calls on all Muslims to fight as a required “according to the Islamic Shari’a,” and implicitly then includes Russia, India and all American Coalition allies. These nations are therefore part of the “Crusader league” and accordingly necessary targets of the One Ummah’s One Jihad.

As was stated earlier by Zawahiri, the war with Israel cannot be decided by “a treaty, cease fire, Sykes-Picot Treaty agreements, patriotism or disputed borders.” It is “jihad for the Cause of Allah until the entire religion is for Him only.” Some might also see this as an additional indication of Zawahiri's desire to see a unified body of the faithful - “until the entire religion is for Him only” - as this could reasonably be a means to implore the faithful to give up their differences and interests and seek to fulfill the will of Allah alone.

Conclusion

The Zawahiri broadcast is an open message of support for Hizballah in their war with Israel and recognition of it as not only a legitimate jihad, but as part of a greater jihad ideally fought as a unified Ummah, Sunni and Shi'a alike. This jihad is against not only Israel and America and her coalition allies or the implicitly included Russia and India, but also includes the “governments of the Arabic and Islamic countries” described as “inefficient and conniving.” These nations are condemned for their lack of effective support of Hizballah and for their conniving – a reference to the two faced approach that many of these states practice.

This message also could be intended as a reciprocal activation call to al-Qaeda cells around the world, following the same call reportedly made by Hizballah to its international cells. Whether or not that is the case, the video message demonstrates both a sophisticated technical media capability as well as al-Qaeda leadership's desire to exert effective command and control of its network.

Zawahiri’s primary audience being Arab Sunni and his clear call for them to follow his lead and recognize and engage in one jihad presents a further attempt by al-Qaeda to remain at the forefront of the war against the West. But he also clearly addresses the Shi’a as well, appealing for the same from them. In addressing both, by referring to the Ummah as the sons of both Sunni and Shi’a historical figures, Zawahiri has made a significant gesture of al-Qaeda's leadership against the West and its purported allies in the Middle East.

This does not mean that any ‘merger’ is taking place or even being sought, necessarily. But it is at the minimum a message that hopes to impart upon all Muslims the idea of one single jihad against a multitude of enemies, one indistinguishable from another by association. This also equates to an improved cooperation to the extent that Sunni-Shi'a rifts are shelved, at least temporarily.

This presents a curious dilemma for al-Qaeda with regards to Iraq, as the stated goal is to ‘establish an Emirate of jihad’ in Baghdad. To-date, the strategy employed to this end has been to foment the very sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi’a in Iraq that Zawahiri now seeks to apparently shelve (at least for the rest of the region).

For both al-Qaeda in Iraq and the larger Ummah, squaring this inconsistency may prove problematic. The non-Sunni Islamists may not get past this and as such disregard Zawahiri’s call to a large extent. And what then of the sectarian strategy in Iraq? Will al-Qaeda in Iraq abandon it for the ‘greater cause’ of One Jihad as Zawahiri implores of the Shi'a? If so, what strategy will take its place that can effectively rock the elected Iraqi government? Or will adhering to his own call prove simply to damaging to al-Qaeda’s Iraq mission, which to Zawahiri supersedes the Palestine/Israeli issue strategically?

Another possible course in Iraq might be that both the Sunni and Shi'a insurgencies work to destabilize the existing government while limited their attacks on one another. The point here being to bring about an end to the elected government and present an opportunity for the creation of a jihadist alternative.

To that end, the message from Zawahiri also serves as a simpler recruiting call to Arab Sunnis regardless of the eventual effective level of al-Qaeda’s adherence to their own public suggestion of one Ummah, One jihad. By assailing Arab regimes as corrupt collaborators of the Zio-Crusader league, he appeals to their sense of oppression as inspiration to stand and join the jihad against their regimes, such as those in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Outside the region, Russia, India, the United States and her allies have once again been put on notice by al-Qaeda, as Zawahiri makes pointed reference – prominently in both word and image - to both the attacks of 9/11 and the terrorists who planned and executed them, promising double the number on the next strike.

The difference is that now al-Qaeda is appealing not simply to fellow Sunni, but to Shi’a as well, to engage in and support such attacks and recognize one Ummah and one Jihad.

What matters most, however, is not what Western observers analyze and think, including this writing, nor even what Zawahiri himself thinks and aims to achieve. What is most important is how this message is received by both the Shi'a and Sunni target audiences. Can the Shi'a square the inconsistencies within the message and can the Sunni accept the Shi'a into their vision of the Ummah? Or, conversely, will it amount to little more than a recruiting video at the end of the day? In this regard the message may prove to be an indicator of Zawahiri’s leadership and influence.

Pakistan

Where the Taliban Still Rule

By Dan Darling | July 28, 2006

Recent events in Afghanistan, notably the temporary seizure of the Afghan towns of Garmser and Naway-i-Barakzayi, have once again provoked a wave of speculation concerning a renewed Taliban offensive. The ability of the Taliban and their allies in al-Qaeda and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami to organize such attacks suggests that they have succeeded at establishing a new safe haven--in northern Pakistan.

Contrary to the optimistic pronouncements of the Pakistani military, the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies have been able to establish control of a broad swath of territory across northern Pakistan, particularly in the Waziristan region that was described to Newsday by American and Afghan officials in February 2006 as "the primary engine of the continued Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan." Quoting Pakistani journalist Behroz Khan, Newsday reported that "The Taliban controls the roads, acts as the police force and judicial authority and openly runs offices to recruit fighters to their ranks." These claims appear to be verified by Taliban propaganda distributed both online and via CD, which according the Italian news agency Adnkronos International, shows the following:

Thousands of young men wearing turbans are seen moving with their weapons. Their commanders select a squad among them to carry out a guerrilla mission to attack the US base in the south-eastern Afghan province of Khost. The men are seen wearing headbands bearing the slogan: "There is no God but one God, Mohammed is the messenger of God".

The youths then emerge out from their bases in the night and attack a US base in Khost. After a 30-minute battle, the US base is in flames and the members of the squad return to their base.

Their animosity has not been limited to the United States. Taliban and al-Qaeda propaganda outlets have begun distributing execution videos of individuals purported to be thieves, drug dealers, or American agents. Yet while other governments might be concerned by the establishment of a known terrorist sanctuary on their soil, the Pakistani response has been surprisingly lax, particularly in comparison to how they dealt with the ethnic-based insurrection in neighboring Baluchistan. Even while the Pakistani military has been actively fighting the Taliban in North Waziristan, the local newspaper Daily Times reports that "Local Taliban in South Waziristan have been allowed to establish an office in Wana to "help restore law and order" in the area" and that their leader Maulvi Abbas "was wanted by the government until he signed an agreement last year not to participate in or encourage attacks on security forces." Yet despite this agreement, the problem remains to such an extent that in April 2006 Federal Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao was reported as having stated that:

The local Taliban have killed as many as 150 pro-government tribal leaders [Maliks] in North and South Waziristan and openly challenging the writ of the federal government and engaging a number of security forces' personnel in the area.

. . . So great has been the impact that the local "Maliks" and political administration have all been limited to their houses and offices, reports the Daily Times.

"The Taliban's sphere of influence has expanded to DI Khan, Tank and the Khyber Agency, where clerks of the area have started to join them. There has been a sharp increase in attacks on heavily-defended military targets in these areas as well," said Sherpao.

. . . The local Taliban have taken control of most of North and South Waziristan and enforced a strict Islamic code, including a ban on sale of music and films. They have also ordered the men to not shave off their beards.

While they have established an Islamic court in Wana, headquarters of South Waziristan, replacing the traditional jirga, in Miramshah, capital of North Waziristan, curfew has been imposed after bloody clashes between federal forces and alleged Al Qaeda militants.

The Taliban continue to retain their alliance with al-Qaeda. The Daily Times reported last month that Maulana Faqir Muhammad, the leader of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz Shariah Muhammad and a major figure within the Pakistani Taliban, narrowly escaped the American missile attack on Damadola, which targeted a number of al-Qaeda leaders (including bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri). And while both al-Zawahiri and Muhammad survived the Damadola attack, Abu Khabab, the head of al-Qaeda's WMD program, did not. The fact that Muhammad and other senior members of the Pakistani Taliban continue to openly associate with both their Afghan brethren and some of the most wanted terrorists on the planet is evidence enough that their rise to power inside Pakistan constitutes a threat. For instance, one of the senior Taliban commanders killed by the Pakistani military in March 2006 was the Chechen Emir Asad; other senior commanders of note within the group include Tahir Yuldashev of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Sheikh Essa al-Masri of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, both of which are tied to al Qaeda's international jihad.

It is time to acknowledge the continuing threat of al-Qaeda's rear bases and discuss how to deal them, whether or not it makes the Pakistani government uncomfortable.

[Where the Taliban Still Rule is reprinted courtesy The Weekly Standard.]

July 25, 2006

Lebanon

Mind of Mugniyeh

By Dan Darling | July 25, 2006

The name Imad Fayez Mugniyeh is probably not familiar to most Americans, but it is never been far from the minds of most international security experts. As the fighting between Hizballah and Israel continues, analysts and observers would do well to remember Mughniyeh, who may have been the architect of the Hizballah raid that killed eight Israeli soldiers, captured two others, and sparked the current crisis.

Details of Mughniyeh's origins are fragmentary. He is believed to have served as a member of Force 17, Yasser Arafat's personal bodyguard unit, before joining Hizballah. There he acted first as a bodyguard for the group's spiritual leader, Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, and eventually rose to his current role as the group's operations chief. His official role in Hizballah is unclear, with various sources describing him as the current head of Hizballah's security section, a member of the group's Jihad Council, the director of its intelligence apparatus, or its external operations chief.

He likely serves as all of the above, but whatever the case, one thing is clear: He has been at the heart of every major Hizballah terrorist attack for the better part of the last 25 years.

Mughniyeh's long and bloody résumé includes: the April 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon; the October 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine and French paratrooper barracks in Beirut; the 1984 bombing of the U.S. Embassy annex in Lebanon; the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847; numerous kidnappings of Westerners in Beirut throughout the 1980s; the 1992 and 1994 bombings of the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires; the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing; and the 2000 kidnappings of 3 Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon and of Israeli Colonel Elchanan Tenenbaum, who was lured to Kuwait under false pretenses and then taken to the Hizballah enclave in southern Lebanon.

Given the extent his role not only in Hizballah's terrorist operations and kidnappings in particular, there is good reason to suspect that Mughniyeh was involved in the Hizballah attack that sparked the latest round of violence.

Mughniyeh's ties to the worst elements of the Iranian regime should also serve to expose any lingering doubt concerning Iranian complicity in the recent violence. For instance, despite his status as a leading member of Hizballah, the majority of the reporting on Mughniyeh's location in recent years have placed him not only in Lebanon but also at various locations inside Iran, where he is said to be under the protection of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Ministry of Intelligence and Security. According to the Associated Press, Mughniyeh met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his January visit to Damascus. In his explanation of Hizballah decision-making, Dr. Magnus Ranstorp writes:

Hizballah's decision to kidnap the two IDF soldiers was taken by Sheikh Hassan Nasserallah and the other six members of the Shura Karar, its supreme decision-making body. Additionally there are two Iranian representatives (from the Iranian embassy in Beirut/Damascus) that provide a direct link on matters that require strategic guidance or Iranian assistance or arbitration. The file for handling special operations of this kind is usually left to Imad Mughniyeh, the elusive terrorist mastermind for Hizballah, who stands with one foot within Hizballah (reporting to Nasserallah directly) and with one foot in Iran inside the architectures of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the al-Qods unit within the Iranian Pasdaran. Mughniyeh is strictly reserved for special occasions (like the Buenos Aires bombing in 1992 to avenge the Israeli assassination of the previous leader Sheikh Abbas al-Musawi) and his primary mission over the last decade has been to forge qualitative 'military' guidance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives inside Gaza and the West Bank.

Denials of this partnership from Iranian officials, and particularly members of the country's Foreign Ministry, should be understood as being part of a deliberate strategy. As ICT researcher Yael Shahar explained in a January 2003 paper:

The election of President Mohammed Khatami in May of 1997 was seen at the time as the harbinger of greater liberalization and democratization in Iran's public life, as well as the beginning of a more acceptable foreign affairs policy.

... Khatami's influence on Iran's foreign policy has been expressed chiefly in trips abroad. These travels helped to strengthen the country's diplomatic standing, but failed to lead to palpable change of Iranian policy regarding its involvement in international terrorism.

The only change that did occur in the Iranian terrorism scene in recent years has been essentially a tactical one. Iran has been careful to adjust its terror policy to international circumstances, in the realization that such activity does not play well to a Western audience. Iran does everything possible to ensure that its own actions are not perceived to be part of international terrorism. Iranian agents rarely take an active part in terror attacks; instead, missions are "out-sourced" to proxy organizations, such as the Hizballah, a regular contractor and central player in Iran's terror strategy. Often terrorist groups active in the target country are trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards and commissioned to carry out terrorist acts against common enemies.

While Khatami is no longer in office and the organized reformist movement inside of Iran has been suppressed and marginalized in favor of hardline extremist movements like Ahmadinejad's E'telaf-e Abadgaran-e Iran-e Eslami ("The Alliance of the Cultivators of an Islamic Iran"), the strategy pursued by the Iranian security services remains much the same.

Unfortunately, Western governments have often played into this strategy by refusing to recognize Mughniyeh's ties to Iran. For instance, take the explanation offered in a recent New York Times article on the Bush administration's unwillingness to discuss the role played by members of Iran's Qods Force in Hizballah's recent use of missiles against Israel:

The Bush administration has long sought to focus attention on Iranian missile proliferation, and regularly discusses with journalists intelligence evidence of those activities. But American officials in Washington made clear this week that they were reluctant to detail Iran's arming of Hezbollah in the current conflict.

The reason, according to officials across the government, was a desire by the Bush administration to contain the conflict to Israeli and Hezbollah forces, and not to enlarge the diplomatic tasks by making Iranian missile supplies, or even those of Syria, a central question for now.

Such an approach may make diplomatic sense if the goal is to end the current fighting in Lebanon, but it could also serve to embolden Iran by demonstrating that it can continue to employ its proxy warfare strategy against Israel using Hizballah. Given long-standing U.S. and Iraqi concerns of Iranian support for both the Iraqi insurgency and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, the United States might want to think twice about sending this message.

[Mind of Mugniyeh is reprinted courtesy The Weekly Standard.]

July 22, 2006

Lebanon

Hizballah's Arsenal

By Dan Darling | July 22, 2006

As the conflict between Israel and Hizballah continues to escalate in Lebanon, one of the most alarming discoveries since the beginning of the fighting has been the variety, as well as the capabilities, of the weaponry employed by Hizballah.

Under the apt headline "Arming of Hizballah Reveals U.S. and Israeli Blind Spots," the New York Times recently provided a sense of just how powerful Hizballah has become since the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. As the Times explained, "the power and sophistication of the missile and rocket arsenal that Hizballah has used in recent days has caught the United States and Israel off guard . . . both countries are just now learning the extent to which the militant group has succeeded in getting weapons from Iran and Syria."

There is good reason to be concerned. Since the fighting began, Hizballah has inflicted more damage on Israel than Saddam Hussein's Iraq was able to inflict on Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Hizballah has deployed a range of extremely sophisticated weapons against Israel. The most notable has been the Iranian C-802 Noor (Tondar) variant of the Chinese Silkworm missile that was used against an Israeli gunship off the Lebanese coast. Four Israeli sailors were killed, and the gunship was put out of commission.

The Associated Press reports that "Iran is believed to have supplied Hizballah with up to 120 Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets, with ranges of 22 miles and 45 miles respectively," noting that it was a Fajr-3 that is thought to have been responsible for an attack on Haifa that killed 8 civilians. More recently, Israeli military officials have sought to destroy sites in Lebanon believed to house long-range Zelzal missiles of Iranian manufacture that they suspect are capable of hitting Tel Aviv. And while early reports that an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was responsible for the attack on the Israeli warship were inaccurate, Hizballah is still assumed to possess several UAVs.

Nor is Iran Hizballah's only source of weaponry. The New York Times quoted anonymous officials as saying that "some of the rockets in Hizballah's arsenal--including a 220-millimeter rocket used in a deadly attack on a railway site in Haifa on Sunday--were built in Syria. . . . Officials have since confirmed that the warhead on the Syrian rocket was filled with ball bearings--a method of destruction used frequently in suicide bombings but not in warhead technology." An intelligence official was quoted in the article as saying, "We've never seen anything like this."

Given the apparent intelligence failure surrounding both Hizballah's acquisition of this advanced weaponry and the willingness of Iran and Syria to supply it, the question whether the capabilities displayed to date by Hizballah represent the full extent and scope of its arsenal may be worth raising.

Moreover, even the group's more mundane weapons have undergone numerous improvements. The Times reports that U.S. and Israeli intelligence were "surprised by the advances that Hizballah had made in improving what had been crude rockets--for example, attaching cluster bombs as warheads, or filling an explosive shell with ball bearings that have devastating effect." While some of these advances have come about through experience and murderous innovation, it is undeniable that Hizballah would not be able to threaten Israel to the degree that it does without the full and active support of Syria and Iran. Clearly, contrary to the prognostications of many, state sponsorship still plays a major role in the amount of force that a terrorist group like Hizballah can bring to bear against Israel. This is particularly true if, as Time magazine reported on its website in June, Hizballah's long-range weapons are "under the direct command of officers of Iran's Revolutionary Guards," the elite branch of the Iranian military. According to the New York Times' unnamed intelligence sources, Revolutionary Guards probably "trained Hizballah fighters on how to successfully fire and guide the missiles."

Given the sophistication and variety of Hizballah's weapons and the role of Syria and Iran in supplying them, any lasting solution to the situation in Lebanon must involve the full disarmament or destruction of Hizballah's arsenal, with a firm understanding that it will not be reconstituted.

The Times reported that the administration was reluctant to detail the role of Iran because of "a desire by the Bush administration to contain the conflict to Israeli and Hizballah forces, and not to enlarge the diplomatic tasks by making Iranian missile supplies, or even those of Syria, a central question for now." While such reticence may make good diplomatic sense in the short term, no agreement that fails to address these issues will last.

The point is not to make Iranian missile supplies to Hizballah central to our diplomacy--it is to prevent "the A-Team of Terrorists" from continuing to possess such weapons. If Hizballah is allowed to retain its arsenal in return for a cease-fire, what guarantee is there that it will refrain from using them again?

[Hizballah's Arsenal is reprinted courtesy The Weekly Standard.]

July 19, 2006

Lebanon

Hizballah's Options

By Dan Darling | July 19, 2006

One of the more surprising aspects of the conflict between Israel and Hizballah has been the fact that, to date, neither side has been willing to deploy all of the assets at their disposal to destroy the enemy. While this is easy enough to understand in regard to Israel, given that the Jewish state belongs to the civilized community of Western nations, it is less understandable in the case of Hizballah. While Hizballah's leadership, most notably Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, have threatened "open war" against Israel, his organization's actions do not yet appear to have reached that point.

This is not to say that Hizballah has exercised restraint, but rather to acknowledge that the organization possesses at its disposal an international terrorist network every bit as ruthless and as deadly as Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda. According to the 2005 Patterns of Global Terrorism report issued by the State Department, Hizballah has "established cells in Europe, Africa, South America, North America, and Asia," cells that could be called upon to act against Israeli or Jewish targets worldwide. In the past Hizballah has been implicated (along with its Iranian backers) for the Buenos Aires bombings of an Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in 1992 and 1994 respectively. These attacks, which killed 90 civilians, demonstrate the broad reach of Hizballah even inside countries that do not possess large Muslim or Shiite populations. In 1999, Argentina issued an arrest warrant for Hizballah operations chief Imad Mugniyeh in connection with both attacks, but he remains at large.

Nor should it be assumed that U.S. targets are necessarily safe. At least one member of Lebanese Hizballah is alleged by the U.S. government to have assisted in the bombing of Khobar Towers, which killed 19 Americans. The ability of Hizballah to operate with ease in countries such as Argentina and Saudi Arabia is a testament to their capabilities. It is also worth recalling the 1998 indictment of Osama bin Laden which alleged that al Qaeda "forged alliances . . . with the government of Iran and with its associated group Hizballah to 'work together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States.'" Given the claims in the 9/11 Commission's final report that "there are also signs that al Qaeda played some role, as yet unknown" in the Hizballah-supported Khobar Towers bombing, it is not unreasonable to suggest that al Qaeda might at some point assist Hizballah.

So from a strategic perspective, why has Hizballah not pulled out all the stops? The answer may lie in the group's organizational decision-making process, the clearest picture of which is given in the 2001 indictment of the Khobar Towers plotters. As the indictment makes clear, surveillance for potential Hizballah targets was reported to Iranian officials; the planning for terrorist attacks was supported and directed by serving members of the Iranian military, likely the elite Qods Force unit charged with carrying out Iran's extra-territorial operations. A similar patterns emerges in the investigations into the Buenos Aires bombings. The decision-making apparatus for Hizballah is most likely located not in Lebanon, but in Tehran.

The likely Iranian rationale for keeping the focus of the conflict on the Levant has more to do more with their desire to retain Hizballah's international terrorist arm as a reserve force (in case of an attack against their nuclear facilities) than with their eagerness to keep the violence from spreading.

July 18, 2006

Iran

Raad Warriors

By Dan Darling | July 18, 2006

As Israel continues to come to grips with Hizballah's missile strike on the northern Israeli city of Haifa, it is important to fully appreciate the implications of this attack. While Hezbollah, like other terrorist and guerrilla organizations worldwide, has long been known to possess a number of Katyushas with a range of up to 10-20 kilometers, the two missiles fired at Haifa are believed to be Iranian-produced Raad-1s, which have an estimated range of as much as 150 kilometers. While attacks by Katyusha rockets (like their Qassem counterparts that are favored by Hamas) have long been a problem for northern Israel, the grim implications of the use of Raad-1s against Haifa were best spelled out in a headline by Ynet News: "2 million Israelis under threat." The reach of Hizballah's missiles, once believed to be confined to the northern border, has now spread to encompass the vast majority of Israel.

The introduction of Raad missiles should also clear up any lingering doubts among analysts as to the Iranian complicity in the latest violence. While the relationship between Hizballah and the senior echelons of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) have long been clear enough to make it the quintessential textbook definition of state-sponsored terrorism, the increasingly sophisticated weapons being used by the terrorist group leave little doubt that Iran is complicit in the recent violence.

In an eerie parallel to the current situation, Time magazine discussed Hizballah's relationship with Iran in a recent article in which it noted:

Hizballah officials have publicly said that the group possesses some 13,000 rockets. Most of them are believed to be standard Katyushas, which have a 12-mile range. But, Israeli officials say Hizballah also maintains a supply of 220mm and even larger rockets from Iran, a "strategic threat" capable of hitting targets in Haifa--20 miles inside Israel--and beyond. "They can target all of the north and go as far afield as Haifa, threatening one million inhabitants of Israel. It must be considered by Israel's leaders at all times," the Israeli military intelligence official says.

Israeli officials reportedly allege that the long-range rockets are under the direct command of officers of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which Israel alleges has lately expanded its presence along the border. This charge, too, is denied by Hizballah, and has not been independently confirmed.

The Time article also goes on to discuss the continued financial support that Hizballah enjoys from Iran, reporting that "one Western diplomat in Beirut estimated the figure at between $20 million and $40 million a month." These continued logistical and financial ties further highlight the absurdity of denying the clear-cut patron-client relationship that exists between Iran and Hizballah. That this relationship continues in spite of Hizballah's recent attacks leaves little doubt that Iran at least approved of, if not ordered, the current violence.

It is worth noting that Israel and the United States share a common foe with regard to Iran. For instance, as recently as June 23 the Washington Post quoted General George Casey as saying "We are quite confident that the Iranians, through their covert special operations forces, are providing weapons, IED [Improvised Explosive Devices] technology and training to Shia extremist groups in Iraq, the training being conducted in Iran and in some cases probably in Lebanon through their surrogates." Casey went on to say that the Iranians were "using surrogates to conduct terrorist operations in Iraq, both against us and against the Iraqi people." The extremist groups being referenced by Casey undoubtedly refer at least in part to Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army, members of which have caught a bloody swath of sectarian violence through Baghdad and the surrounding areas in recent weeks. Americans would do well to remember these facts as Israel confronts Hizballah and their Iranian allies.

[Road Warriors is reprinted courtesy The Weekly Standard.]

July 17, 2006

Israel

Long War or Long Wars?

By Dan Darling | July 17, 2006

In a recent New York Times story assessing the recent spike in terrorist-related incidents including the death of Chechen terrorist leader Shamil Basayev, the commuter train bombings in Mumbai, and recent attacks on Israel by Hamas and Hizbollah, argued that "The far-flung extremists share an ideology of violent Islamic militancy, hostility to the West and a vicious intolerance of other creeds" but that "the notion of "global terrorism," and the war against it, may be strategically misleading," noting the numerous differences between the various terrorist organizations and how they operate.

If only it were that simple.

To begin with, take the Times's claim that "no Chechen militants are known to have schemed to attack the United States." While this is true, it also misses the point, which is that the Taliban could have made the exact same claim on September 11 and could probably still make it today if one interprets "attack the United States" to be the continental United States, as opposed to the thousands of American troops currently stationed in Afghanistan. Rather, the Taliban were involved in a local struggle for control of Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance and had a reciprocal relationship with al-Qaeda that was to its benefit in that struggle. So while the Taliban had no direct role in the September 11 attacks, the Cole bombing, or the 1998 embassy bombings, they certainly didn't have a problem with actively assisting, facilitating, and supporting the people who did. Even when confronted with American demands to turn over the perpetrators of September 11 or face the destruction of their regime, the Taliban still chose to face down the United States rather than turn on their long-time patron and ally.

This formula appears to have held up fairly well with both Pakistani and Chechen terrorists that were mentioned in the Times article as well. It would seem fair to say after September 11 and the subsequent American-led response, every terrorist and guerrilla group on the planet is now fully aware of the implications of getting involved with al-Qaeda, yet it is also equally clear that many such groups have not been deterred by these implications. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted in a speech at the National Press Club last February, "No fewer than 18 organizations loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda are conducting terrorist acts in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Somalia, Algeria, Russia, Indonesia and elsewhere." The inclusion of Russia as a target of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorism in the Defense Secretary's remarks was almost certainly intended to refer to the followers of Basayev, who was linked to al-Qaeda by the U.S. government. And while India was not mentioned by name as a target of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorism, the United States has long accepted the very clear links between al-Qaeda and its affiliated Pakistani terrorist organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed, the former of which appears to be the most likely perpetrator of the Mumbai train bombings.

How these affiliations with al-Qaeda play out varies from group to group, but in the cases of both Basayev's followers and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, they run deeper than merely "an ideology of violent Islamic militancy, hostility to the West and a vicious intolerance of other creeds." In addition to the obvious financial, strategic, logistical, and ideological cooperation, since September 11 both groups assisted in the flight of senior members of al-Qaeda following their expulsion from Afghanistan, providing them with sanctuaries and in some cases terrorist training facilities.

(The same is also true in the case of al-Qaeda ally Ansar al-Islam which, contrary to the assertions of former Clinton administration official Daniel Benjamin in the Times article, was quite active inside Iraq prior to the coalition invasion--and according to the September 11 Commission's final report this activity was tolerated by Saddam Hussein's regime.)

Don't forget that senior al-Qaeda leaders such as Saif al-Islam el-Masry and Abu Zubaydah were captured at known strongholds of the Chechen terrorists and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, respectively. The Somali Islamic Courts Union (ICU), fresh from their endorsement by Osama bin Laden and the presence of noticeably non-Somali Arab fighters in their propaganda material, currently appears to be serving much the same function for al-Qaeda in East Africa, protecting those members of the group believed to be responsible for terrorist attacks against American and Israeli targets in Nairobi and Mombasa respectively.

The argument that al-Qaeda affiliate groups possess "local agendas" that do not affect the United States and hence should be distinguished from the core network for reasons other than those of strategy was another argument that was also advanced in the Times article. But an ample amount of evidence exists connecting "local" groups such as the Algerian GIA and GSPC or the Moroccan GICM to terrorist attacks in Europe; Lashkar-e-Taiba members have been arrested or captured as far afield as Australia and Iraq (locations quite removed with their primary purported goal of evicting India from Kashmir); and while no Chechen terrorist is believed
to have schemed to attack the United States, French anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere has described Chechnya as "an aircraft carrier" bringing Islamist terrorism to Europe. This phenomenon of internationalized Islamist terrorism is chiefly a by-product of al-Qaeda influence, though it should be noted that al-Qaeda was itself originally based around the "local agenda" of establishing Islamist theocracies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia before concluding that the best way to do so was to initiate a global terrorist campaign against the West.

The idea that you do everything you can to disrupt, interdict, and destroy the operations of the enemy has long been a staple of warfare. To ignore large groups of self-professed al-Qaeda allies or to leave terrorist support infrastructure and logistics intact on the grounds that the groups in question possess merely "local" agendas is absurd.

[Long War or Long Wars? is reprinted courtesy The Weekly Standard.]

July 16, 2006

Iran

Fruitless Negotiation Strategy: Iran Reverts to Form

By Steve Schippert | July 16, 2006

Late in the week, Iran was once again referred back to the UN Security Council amid persistent rejections from Iran of the July 12 deadline for accepting the ‘P5+1' proposal that called for Iran to halt its enrichment program in exchange for Western-built nuclear reactors, atomic fuel and lifted US sanctions.

Today, running contrary to the unwavering stance that any proposal that calls for the cessation of enrichment is unacceptable, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, declared that the unchanged P5+1 offer is now deemed an “acceptable basis” for negotiations. Said Asefi, “We consider this package an appropriate basis, an acceptable basis . Now is an appropriate opportunity for Iran and Europe to enter detailed negotiations.”
But what is it that Iran wants to negotiate?

Asefi’s next sentence reveals Iran’s motive for this sudden apparent change of heart, as he states that "Sending the dossier to the U.N. Security Council means blocking and rejecting talks."

Iranian president Ahmadinejad insisted that Iran would offer a response to the P5+1 proposal no sooner than mid-August. Suddenly, Iran gives a response well ahead of that date that on the surface is intended to appear conciliatory and inviting.

The reason for this is clear. The intent behind Ahmadinejad’s adamant statement that Iran would not respond to the P5+1 nuclear offer was not for review, as Iran claimed. They knew and understood full well the contents and details of the offer. The reason was simply to buy time. Time utilized by the Iranian mullahcracy to continue their nuclear progress unhindered by inspections or interference. The reason for the sudden declaration that the proposal is now an “acceptable basis” to begin talks is precisely the same: To buy time.

Though much of the world expends considerable energy condemning the Israeli response to Hizballah's attacks, Iran is concurrently being openly called to account as well for its funding, arming, training and direction of the Lebanese Shi'ite terrorist group. It’s recent denial of supplying missiles and rockets to Hizballah in response to the charges have been laughed off by all involved as a tragic comedy.

Also, this pressure accompanied by the relatively swift Security Council resolution on North Korea, demanding that Iran's missile technology partner halt its ballistic missile tests and requiring members to prevent North Korea's proliferation, was a sudden jolt to the Iranians.

These pressures have spurred the mullahs and Ahmadinejad to abandon their current strategy of delay through inaction and revert back to one of delay through fruitless negotiation, thereby regaining positive control of the process.

While Asefi was instructed to proclaim that it is now time for “negotiations,” it is absolutely important to recognize that he was decidedly not instructed to declare that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is now deemed negotiable. Iran has consistently said for several years that its right to nuclear enrichment was non-negotiable. That position has not changed regardless of Asefi’s call for negotiations.

Short of such a position, any negotiation will prove meaningless insofar as resolving the nuclear crisis is concerned, as Iran watches the clock throughout while its sprint for nuclear weapons continues unabated.

Further indicating that Asefi’s general comments are disingenuous in nature, it was only one day prior to his statement that Ali Larijani's deputy secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council telegraphed the Council's true views on halting enrichment. Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli said that “In the West’s proposal, two preconditions are raised: suspending nuclear activities and responding to [IAEA] questions. The leadership has reached the conclusion that it will not accept the precondition set by the Europeans.”

The West, already strapped to an unthinkable offer of their own design to the principal state sponsor of terrorism, would be well advised to reject any offer of negotiation short of an express declaration that their enrichment process is on the table. Further, any such negotiations, ill-advised as they are, should be accompanied by a very short timetable.

July 13, 2006

Lebanon

Israel's Enemy is America's

By Dan Darling | July 13, 2006

While the repercussions of Hezbollah's attack on northern Israel, which left eight IDF soldiers dead and two more taken prisoner, continue to mount, the Lebanese terrorist organization seems determined to maintain its reputation as the world's second most dangerous terrorist group. But as Israel continues to respond to Hezbollah's attacks on its territory (including the recent firing of Katyusha rockets at Nahariya that left one dead and eleven wounded), it is important for Americans to recognize that this organization is not just an enemy of Israel.

Hezbollah was founded by Lebanese Khomeinists and members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Lebanon in the 1980s. Prior to September 11 it was supported by Syria and Iran and was responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other terrorist group. Hezbollah is believed responsible for having taken part in the simultaneous suicide bombing of U.S. marine barracks and French paratrooper headquarters in Beirut on April 18, 1983, an attack that killed 241 Marines and 58 French soldiers, the highest loss of life among servicemen either nation had suffered since the Vietnam and Algerian wars, respectively. According to press reports and government documents, it was the execution and impact of these attacks, combined with the subsequent withdrawal of the U.S.-led Multinational Forces from Lebanon, which later served as an inspiration to Osama bin Laden.

References to cooperation between al Qaeda and Hezbollah abound in the September 11 Commission's final report, suggesting that the boundary between Shiite and Sunni is not as pronounced as some analysts and academics might otherwise believe. Or as the commission itself noted within the context of cooperation between al Qaeda and Hezbollah's Iranian masters, "In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan between al Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to cooperate in providing support--even if only training--for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States."

The commission's final report goes on to detail how several of al Qaeda's "top military committee members and several operatives who were involved with the Kenya cell [which later perpetrated the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi] . . . were sent to Hezbollah camps in Lebanon."

Other references of al Qaeda cooperation with Hezbollah in the final report include the attendance of Hamas and Hezbollah delegations in bin Laden's proto-al Qaeda Islamic Army Shura in Sudan, continued contacts--as well as "advice and training"--between senior al Qaeda and Hezbollah operatives over the years even after bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, and "circumstantial evidence that senior Hezbollah operatives were closely tracking the travel of some of these future muscle hijackers into Iran in November 2000," with the lattermost being an area that the commission believed "requires further investigation by the US government."

No discussion of the continuing threat posed to U.S. interests by Hezbollah would be complete without a mention of Imad Mughniyeh. A former member of Yasser Arafat's Force 17 bodyguard unit, Mughniyeh has served as Hezbollah's operations chief for more than two decades, during which time he was linked to nearly every act of Hezbollah and Iranian-sponsored terrorism worldwide, including the Beirut bombings, the hijacking of TWA 847, and the kidnapping and murder of U.S. military, intelligence, and diplomatic officials in Lebanon, the bombings of the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994. (He was also suspected of direct involvement in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.) More recently, the Daily Telegraph reported in April 2004 that "Intelligence officials in Iraq have uncovered evidence that Mughniyeh has been helping to train the self-styled al-Mahdi army set up by Moqtada al-Sadr," whose followers are believed to have been responsible for the recent outbreak of sectarian violence in Iraq.

In his book Inside Al Qaeda, Rohan Gunaratna alleges that Mughniyeh "helped al Qaeda to develop its agent-handling systems" and that it is the CIA's nightmare "that Osama, the leading Sunni terrorist, and Mughniyeh, the leading Shia terrorist, would combine their forces." While such an ecumenical terrorist alliance has yet to emerge, the informal understanding that exists between the two groups appears to serve their purposes well enough for the time being. In August 2003, CNN cited "U.S. and coalition intelligence officials" as alleging that Mughniyeh had "forged an alliance with al Qaeda members against U.S. forces in Iraq."

As Israel continues to engage in military operations against Hezbollah in the hopes of retrieving its captive soldiers, it is important for U.S. observers and policymakers to keep in mind that the danger posed by Hezbollah is not merely an outgrowth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but is the result of a calculated design by a ruthless terrorist organization that has killed Americans in the past and continues to support and assist those organizations that seek to kill Americans today.

In the case of Hezbollah, Israel's enemy is our own.

[Israel's Enemy is America's is reprinted courtesy The Weekly Standard.]

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