The single most important fact to understand about Hizballah is that its chain of command goes directly to the Iranian Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, by way of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Qods Force. That Iranian connection, as well as Hizballah’s close and long-standing relationship with al-Qa’eda, the global reach of this Shi’ite jihadist group, and above all, its extensive presence and criminal activities in the Western Hemisphere, including inside the United States, all merit a closer look. With U.S. national security directly in Hizballah’s cross-hairs, it’s more important than ever to understand what this group is, who leads it, what has motivated them along a bloody 30-year trail of terrorism, and what damage this group is capable of inflicting on American interests.
For even as Hizballah is an Islamic terror organization, an Iranian proxy for power projection, a Transnational Criminal Organization, and a Lebanese military, political, and social domestic entity, it is above all a direct threat to U.S. national security. After all, and despite a complete media blackout on the topic that prevails to this day, on Iranian orders and working together with al-Qa’eda, Hizballah participated in the worst strike ever against the American homeland: the attacks of 9/11. There is no threshold, ideological or otherwise, that Hizballah has not already crossed or would not cross again, given a direct order from Tehran.
Word out of London in late 2013 is that the U.S. is engaged in secret, indirect negotiations with Hizballah, with British diplomats acting as intermediaries. Those talks followed closely on the U.S. capitulation to Iran over its nuclear weapons program during November 2013 discussions in Geneva and reflect a White House policy of seeking to normalize relations with the regime designated by the Department of State as the number one global state sponsor of terror. Hizballah remains a designated terror organization on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list. And while the story about the U.S.-Hizballah talks in London made the Israeli and U.K. media, not one major U.S. media outlet thought it significant to report that the U.S. administration is reaching out to mend relations with what many describe as the most dangerous Islamic terror organization in the world.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called Hizballah the “A Team” and al-Qa’eda the “B Team.” Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that Hizballah makes “al-Qa’eda look like a minor league team.” And former CIA Director George Tenet testified in 2003 that Hizballah was every bit al-Qa’eda’s “equal, if not a far more capable organization.”
And yet, since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the biggest share of counterterrorism bandwidth among national security agencies and the media alike has been devoted to al-Qa’eda “and its affiliates,” as they’re often called. Current internecine civil war in Syria aside, for many years Hizballah happens to have been one of those affiliates, but many would never know that from either the media coverage or official government attention paid to this Shi’ite jihadist group that works mostly for the Iranian mullahs. So, when it’s discussed at all, as on each year’s remembrance of the October 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, Hizballah continues to be thought of primarily as a Lebanese terror outfit. However, as Tony Badran pointed out in an important historical look back in his November 25, 2013 Weekly Standard essay, “The Secret History of Hezbollah,” a critical Iranian connection has been there from the beginning.
Media coverage of the Syrian civil war that broke out in 2011 often cites Hizballah as somehow mixed up in supporting the Ba’athist regime of Bashar al-Assad against a conglomeration of al-Qa’eda- and Muslim Brotherhood-dominated militias. But what that coverage often ignores is that Hizballah’s contribution of thousands of fighters to the survival of the Assad regime is not necessarily in the best interests (or any interests) of Hizballah’s supposed home team, the Lebanese Shi’ites. The reason Hizballah fights on, even after its Syrian adventures have drawn probable Sunni al-Qa’eda retaliation deep into the very heart of its Beirut stronghold in the Dahiyeh, is because Iran wants it to.
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