Thursday, April 5, 2012

US must remain alert to Hezbollah threats abroad and at home

The Hill-- by Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY)

There has been a lot of talk of war with Iran, as its extremist regime comes ever closer to building a nuclear weapon.

There has been a lot of talk of war with Iran, as its extremist regime comes ever closer to building a nuclear weapon. As we face the possibility of being drawn into another military conflict overseas, Americans also face potential danger here at home from Tehran and its top proxy terror force, Hezbollah.

And so we must brace ourselves for the worst, and do more than simply pray it never comes.

Members of Hezbollah — the Lebanese Shiite terror group responsible for murdering more Americans than any other terrorists before 9/11 — live among us here in the U.S. homeland. At least 21 Hezbollah-linked cases prosecuted by the Justice Department since al Qaeda’s attacks a decade ago make that evident.

Hezbollah hates Israel and the Jewish state’s top ally, America. So we must be on guard for attacks as tensions rise over Iran’s aggressive pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

As chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I convened a hearing last week to examine potential threats to our homeland from Iran and Hezbollah, given the very real possibility that a strike on Iran could result in retaliation against the United States.

The committee received testimony from former senior Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Treasury Department officials, as well as from the New York Police Department’s director of intelligence analysis.

Most disturbingly, we learned from our own preliminary investigation before the hearing — and then from the witnesses — that there are hundreds of Hezbollah operatives already inside this country. We also studied Hezbollah’s ties with drug cartels that routinely penetrate our borders with an acute awareness of our security vulnerabilities.

We learned that there are even more Hezbollah-related cases than the 21 publicly identified by the government since 9/11. Several of the public cases involved multiple defendants, including many with Hezbollah military training and combat experience in Lebanon.

This should be concerning. Hezbollah was founded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Lebanon in 1982 as a proxy force dedicated to the destruction of Israel. However, from its beginnings, Hezbollah also has drawn American blood.

In 1983, Hezbollah destroyed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 17 Americans. Later that year, it bombed the U.S. Marine barracks there, killing 241 servicemen.

In the 1980s, Hezbollah bombed, hijacked and kidnapped U.S. personnel throughout the Middle East and Europe. They murdered U.S. airmen, a sailor, a Marine officer and the Central Intelligence Agency’s Beirut station chief.

Hezbollah attacks on the U.S. military continued into the 1990s: 19 U.S. airmen were killed in Hezbollah’s alleged bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, including one of my constituents.
Hezbollah also backed Shiite militias blamed for killing many U.S. troops in Iraq.

Hezbollah displayed its firepower in Lebanon in its 2006 war with Israel. Iran and Syria arm Hezbollah to the teeth, in defiance of the United Nation’s efforts to pacify Lebanon.

As it becomes more and more evident that a war between Iran and Israel — or even the United States — is an undeniable possibility, we must ready ourselves for the consequences here on U.S. soil.

Likely scenarios include Hezbollah rocket strikes on Israel as well as attacks on U.S. diplomatic and military outposts overseas. However, as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, I also have a duty to consider the possibility of terror here at home.

Hezbollah inside our borders has thus far primarily focused on fundraising and drug smuggling. However, Hezbollah operatives, trained by Iran in clandestine tradecraft, undoubtedly present a challenge for the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement that is more complex than the hunt for al Qaeda.

Would Hezbollah’s fundraisers and smugglers become operationally active terrorists in the event of war? We don’t know for sure.

But last October, Hezbollah’s patrons in the IRGC sought to assassinate the Saudi ambassador here by bombing a crowded Washington restaurant with aid from Hezbollah’s partners in the drug cartels. Moreover, testimony by the NYPD witness at last week’s hearing revealed that Iranian “diplomats” were caught six times since 2002 engaging in hostile surveillance of potential terror targets in New York.

Hezbollah has killed more than 300 Americans overseas since 1982. We now know that Hezbollah is also present and active in the U.S. homeland in large numbers, even as Iran’s actions inside this country are increasingly provocative.

As tensions continue to rise in the Middle East, we must remain alert about Iran and Hezbollah’s threat, both abroad and at home. As history has unfortunately demonstrated, we cannot afford to neglect a lethal and evolving danger.

King is the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

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