A top US intelligence official warned on Tuesday of “continued efforts” by Hezbollah to build an infrastructure for attacks inside the United States.
“While much of our work on the government since 9/11 has focused on al-Qaeda and more recently ISIS [the Islamic State (IS) group], in the 20 years since Hezbollah’s designation as a terrorist organisation, we have never taken our focus off of Hezbollah and the threat that it represents to the homeland,” said Nicholas Rasmussen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
Speaking at a State Department briefing on Tuesday, Rasmussen said he would not publicly discuss “specific or credible or imminent” threats to US national security, but added that the intelligence community is monitoring Hezbollah efforts to plot against the US.
He referred to the arrest of two alleged Hezbollah operatives in the United States in June.
“Those arrests serve as a stark reminder of Hezbollah’s global attack infrastructure, as well as the group’s aspirations potentially to carry attacks here on the homeland,” he said.
He added that the group is “determined to give itself a potential homeland option as a critical component of its terrorism playbook”.
Rasmussen also announced multi-million-dollar rewards for information leading to the capture of Hezbollah operatives Fuad Shukr and Talal Hamiyah.
Amer Zahr, an adjunct law professor at the University of Detroit-Mercy, cast doubt over Ramussen’s assessment, saying that Hezbollah has not threatened an attack on the US.
StateDept : National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas J. Rasmussen briefs reporters on US efforts to coun… pic.twitter.com/upCls8ThVk
— Rex Tillerson (@Secy_State_US) October 10, 2017
Fridge magnets with pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and the Russian, Syrian and Hezbollah national flags are displayed in a souvenirs shop outside the historic 7th century Umayyad Mosque, in Damascus, Syria, April 17, 2016. (AP/Hassan Ammar)
“What we do know is that the Trump administration has taken sides in the Iran-vs-Saudi Arabia fight for power and hegemony and influence in the Middle East,” Zahr told Middle East Eye.
“This is straight out of the Saudi Arabian playbook – riling up fear of Iran and Iran’s subsidiaries, which is how Hezbollah is seen.”
Zahr added that intensifying the rhetoric against Hezbollah is linked to Trump’s possible move to decertify the Iran nuclear deal.
“It displays a really elementary and superficial understanding of the Arab world and Muslim World. All these things are related: wanting to decertify the Iran deal and pushing for some normalization between some Gulf states and Israel,” he said.
Poster of Hezbollah operatives released by the US State Department
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah recently warned Israel of “heavy losses” if it underestimates his organization’s capabilities. Last month, Israel held the largest military exercise in 20 years along the Lebanese border in preparation for a possible war with Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has warned of an all-out regional war in the case of a confrontation with Hezbollah.
“The next war in the north will not only be the Lebanese front, but rather a united front made up of Syria and Lebanon,” Lieberman said. “The Lebanese army has lost its independence and has become an integral part of Hezbollah.”
He added that Israel is trying to prevent the possibility of war, but the scenario is not unlikely.
Although Lieberman has blurred the line between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Lebanese army has received $1.5bn in military assistance from Washington since 2006.
Top photo | This Saturday, July 29, 2017 photo, a Hezbollah fighter stands at a watchtower at the site where clashes erupted between Hezbollah and al-Qaida-linked fighters in Wadi al-Kheil or al-Kheil Valley in the Lebanon-Syria border. (AP/Bilal Hussein)