Iranian-Backed ‘Sleeper Cell’ Militants Hibernating in U.S., Positioned for Attack

Members of Hezbollah / Getty Images

Washington Free Beacon, by Adam Kredo, April 17, 2018:

Iranian-backed militants are operating across the United States mostly unfettered, raising concerns in Congress and among regional experts that these “sleeper cell” agents are poised to launch a large-scale attack on the American homeland, according to testimony before lawmakers.

Iranian agents tied to the terror group Hezbollah have already been discovered in the United States plotting attacks, giving rise to fears that Tehran could order a strike inside America should tensions between the Trump administration and Islamic Republic reach a boiling point.

Intelligence officials and former White House officials confirmed to Congress on Tuesday that such an attack is not only plausible, but relatively easy for Iran to carry out at a time when the Trump administration is considering abandoning the landmark nuclear deal and reapplying sanctions on Tehran.

There is mounting evidence that Iran poses “a direct threat to the homeland,” according to Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee and chair of its subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence.

A chief concern is “Iranian support for Hezbollah, which is active in the Middle East, Latin America, and here in the U.S., where Hezbollah operatives have been arrested for activities conducted in our own country,” King said, referring the recent arrest of two individuals plotting terror attacks in New York City and Michigan.

“Both individuals received significant weapons training from Hezbollah,” King said. “It is clear Hezbollah has the will and capability.”

After more than a decade of receiving intelligence briefs, King said he has concluded that “Hezbollah is probably the most experienced and professional terrorist organization in the world,” even more so than ISIS and Al Qaeda.

Asked if Iran could use Hezbollah to conduct strikes on the United States, a panel of experts including intelligence officials and former White House insiders responded in the affirmative.

“They are as good or better at explosive devices than ISIS, they are better at assassinations and developing assassination cells,” said Michael Pregent, a former intelligence officer who worked to counter Iranian influence in the region. “They’re better at targeting, better at looking at things,” and they can outsource attacks to Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah is smart,” Pregent said. “They’re very good at keeping their communications secure, keeping their operational security secure, and, again, from a high profile attack perspective, they’d be good at improvised explosive devices.”

Others testifying before Congress agreed with this assessment.

“The answer is absolutely. We do face a threat,” said Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has long tracked Iran’s militant efforts. “Their networks are present in the Untied States.”

Iran is believed to have an auxiliary fighting force or around 200,000 militants spread across the Middle East, according to Nader Uskowi, a onetime policy adviser to U.S. Central Command and current visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

At least 50 to 60 thousand of these militants are “battle tested” in Syria and elsewhere.

“It doesn’t take many of them to penetrate this country and be a major threat,” Uskowi said. “They can pose a major threat to our homeland.”

While Iran is currently more motivated to use its proxies such as Hezbollah regionally for attacks against Israel or U.S. forces, “those sleeper cells” positioned in the United States could be used to orchestrate an attack, according to Brian Katulis, a former member of the White House National Security Council under President Bill Clinton.

“The potential is there, but the movement’s center of focus is in the region,” said Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Among the most pressing threats to the U.S. homeland is Hezbollah’s deep penetration throughout Latin America, where it finances its terror activities by teaming up with drug cartels and crime syndicates.

“Iran’s proxy terror networks in Latin America are run by Tehran’s wholly owned Lebanese franchise Hezbollah,” according to Ottolenghi. “These networks are equal part crime and terror” and have the ability to provide funding and logistics to militant fighters.

“Their presence in Latin America must be viewed as a forward operating base against America’s interest in the region and the homeland itself,” he said.

These Hezbollah operatives exploit loopholes in the U.S. immigration system to enter America under the guise of legitimate business.

Operatives working for Hezbollah and Iran use the United States “as a staging ground for trade-based and real estate-based money laundering.” They “come in through the front door with a legitimate passport and a credible business cover story,” Ottolenghi said.

The matter is further complicated by Iran’s presence in Syria, where it has established not only operating bases, but also weapons factories that have fueled Hezbollah’s and Hamas’s war on Israel.

Iran’s development of advanced ballistic missile and rocket technology—which has continued virtually unimpeded since the nuclear deal was enacted—has benefitted terror groups such as Hezbollah.

“Iran is increasing Hezbollah’s capability to target Israel with more advanced and precision guided rockets and missiles,” according to Pregent. “These missiles are being developed in Syria under the protection of Syrian and Russian air defense networks.”

In Iraq, Iranian forces “have access to U.S. funds and equipment in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and Iraq’s Ministry of Interior,” Pregent said.

The Trump administration has offered tough talk on Iran, but failed to take adequate action to dismantle its terror networks across the Middle East, as well as in Latin American and the United States itself, according to CAP’s Katulis.

“The Trump administration has talked a good game and has had strong rhetoric, but I would categorize its approach vis-à-vis Iran as one of passive appeasement,” said Katulis. “We simply have not shown up in a meaningful way.”

Also see:

Iran In Latin America: Identifying The Problem and How We Need To Confront It

Center for Security Policy, by Luis Fleischman, Feb. 1, 2018:

Originally posted on the London Center for policy research

Last December, Politico uncovered a story with serious and far-reaching implications.The Obama Administration undermined and blocked a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) program in its eagerness to secure a nuclear deal with Iran.This program targeted a billion dollar per year Hezbollah cocaine and arms trafficking operation in Latin America and the United States.

The Hezbollah operation also involved arms trafficking and money laundering. According to the report, cocaine trafficking originated inLatin America, specifically through Venezuela and Mexico, with profits generated in the U.S. and laundered through the purchase of used cars. According to U.S. agents involved in the investigation, the criminal operation was directed and planned by Hezbollah’s innermost circle and “its state sponsors in Iran.”

According to Politico, the money collected by Hezbollah went directly toward its military activities in the Middle East, particularly to the Assad regime in Syria where more than half a million people have been killed and millions more have been displaced. Furthermore,the drug profits aggravated issues at home; tons of cocaine were sold in the U.S.at a time when drug addiction constitutes one of America’s most pressing crises, having claimed close to 50,000 American lives in the past year alone.

The DEA sought approval to continue investigations, order arrests, extraditions and prosecutions of suspects, and impose financial sanctions on some of the operation’s major players. However, the Departments of Justice and Treasury rejected, delayed, or blocked those requests. Likewise, the State Department rejected requests to pursue cooperation with countries that could have helped target key suspects involved in those criminal activities.

The story reported by Politico is not merely about a criminal operation; rather, it follows a larger trend that has serious security implications for the entire Western Hemisphere. Iran has had a presence in Latin America for decades. However, its role in the region expanded and intensified after Hugo Chavez took the reins of the Venezuelan state in 1999. Chavez based his rule on a revolutionary transnational agenda that included a quasi-socialist authoritarian revolution at home, and an aggressive, expansionist foreign policy aimed at spreading his revolution throughout the region.

Unlike Napoleonic France or the Soviet Union, Venezuela did not have armies to expand its revolution by force. Rather, Chavez began to funnel money to candidates in different countries in the region who held views akin to his ideology and proceeded to establish alliances with regional guerilla movements to organize subversion across Latin America.Indeed, Chavez believed that to expand the revolution abroad, he needed to count on the power of asymmetric warfare. Thus, Chavez saw groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as a necessary force that could create subversion abroad and expand his so-called “Bolivarian Revolution.” The FARC took part in the rebellion that toppled the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in Bolivia. Likewise, theystrengthened relationswith the Shining Path guerrilla Maoist movement in Peru and other subversive groups in the region. Theyalso trainedmembers of the Paraguayan Popular Army (EPP) who kidnapped and murdered the daughter of a former Paraguayan president.Chavez followed the same trajectory and established relationships with other militant groups, such as the Basque ETA and most importantly, the Iranian backed paramilitary, Hezbollah.As such, the alliance between Venezuela and Iran has strong foundations. They both are anti-American and seek to reduce U.S. power in their respective regions and, if possible, in the world. Chavez defined the Islamic and the Bolivarian revolutions as “sister revolutions.” Venezuela needed Iran’s subversive capabilities and its “valuable” experience in building a totalitarian-revolutionary regime to complement what Cuba had already been doing.

Hezbollah and Iran’s IslamicRevolutionary GuardsCorps (IRGC) have also established a presence in the region, training “soldiers of the revolution” in Venezuelan camps, and even helping to design and build the ALBA school, a military training camp in Bolivia. The school’s main purpose is to ideologically indoctrinate soldiers and strengthen the bonds between the armed forces and the new Latin American revolutions. The revolution promoted a civic-military alliance, a situation that has enabled the regime to survive. Venezuela’s own Vice President,Tarek Al Aissami, has been a key liaison between Venezuela and Iran.

For its part, Iran needed Venezuela to expand its presence in Latin America. According to the late Argentinean prosecutor Alberto Nisman, Iran has a presence in 12 countries in the region including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and Uruguay. Iranhas sought to increase political alliances in the region for which Venezuela and its allies provided a great opportunity. Italso sought a strategic position in the region to increase deterring capabilities against the U.S. Additionally, Iran has aspired to reach out to the Muslim community in Latin America. Indeed, Iran has established a number of networks in the region with mosques and even a TV channel(HispanTV) in Spanish.(HispanTVhas given wide coverage to groups that promote anti-Semitic conspiracy theories). Iran also sought to use Latin American countries, particularly Venezuelan banks, to curbthe effect of international sanctions.

Moreover,Venezuela issued passports to Iranians and Hezbollah members to facilitate their free travel around the region and the world. Likewise, several Caribbean countries thatallied with Chavez established dangerous liaisons with Iran. Guyana signed an agreement with Iran in which Iran would map Guyana’s mineral resources, including uranium. Dominica signed an agreement with Iran that enabled citizens of Iran, parts of the Middle East and Central Asia to obtain a second citizenship and a passport. The islands of St. Kitts and Nevis have also sold passports to Iranians.

These could have potentially harmful consequences. In 2007, a Hezbollah member stationed in Guyana attempted to carry out a terrorist attack at Kennedy Airport.Likewise, in 2011 Iran tried to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington. Furthermore, sophisticated tunnels built along the U.S.-Mexican border have been designed in the image of the tunnels found along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Intelligence officials have raised the possibility that Hezbollah has been enlisted by drug cartels to design and improve the tunnels along America’s southern border.

These actions can place the U.S. at the mercy of terrorist attacks not just by Hezbollah, but by any other terrorist group that establishes an alliance with Iran, including the Islamic State or al Qaeda. There has been evidence of a relationship betweenIran and al Qaeda over the past several years;therefore,similar cooperation should not be ruled out in Latin America.Indeed, in August 2016 the U.S.Southern Command reported the infiltration of 30,000Sunni individuals from the Middle East, which is the equivalent of 10 percent of the total illegal smuggling coming from the southern border.

In 2016, an officer who worked in the Venezuelan embassy in Baghdad charged that the embassy sold passports to whomever would pay. The officer witnessed embassy officials selling Venezuelan passports to individuals from the Middle East, including criminals and terrorists from Iraq and Syria.Given reports of ISIS activity in these countries, it would not be surprising if some of these passports were sold to affiliated individuals.

The drug cartels also play a role in the Venezuelan and Iranian schemes. Venezuela has opened its airports and seaports to drug trafficking. Chavez, like his mentor Fidel Castro, saw drug trafficking as a means to corrupt and destabilize American society—the main consumer of drugs, as well as generating large quantities in profits.Spanish journalist Emilio Blasco has estimated that 95 percent of Colombian drugs bound for Europe and the U.S. depart from Venezuela. Blasco, who authored the book Boomerang Chavez in 2015, also claimed that Diosdado Cabello, a former general, Minister of Interior, and speaker of the Venezuelan National Assembly, directed these drug operations alongsideVice President Al Aissami and Hugo Carvajal, a former director of military intelligence.

For Iran, their involvement in drug trafficking served as a source of revenue and as a means to deepen its logistical penetration in the region. Other actions indicate that there is indeed a link. There were reports that indicated that the assassination attempt against the Saudi Ambassador mentioned above was carried out with the help of Mexico’s Los Zetas, a notoriously violent drug cartel. Furthermore, there have been reports that members of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel received weapons and explosive training in Iran.

According to Rafael Isea, a former Deputy Minister of Finance and President of the Bank of Economic and Social Development, current Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, then foreign Minister, travelled to Damascus in 2007 to meet with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The purpose of his trip was to negotiate the installation of Hezbollah cells in Venezuela. This agreement protected Hezbollah’s drug trafficking and money laundering activities as well as its arms supplies and provision of passports. These passports and visas were prepared by Ghazi Nasr El Din, a counselor in the Venezuelan embassy in Syria, who was born in Lebanon and later became a Venezuelan citizen. El Din, who was blacklisted by the FBI, helped Hezbollah raise money and repeatedly facilitated the travel of more than 300 Hezbollah members. Their role, according to Isea, was to participate in drug trafficking and money laundering to secure funding for Hezbollah.

Therefore, what was uncovered by Politico in December was not just a criminal activity aimed at securing financial support for Iran’s wars in the Middle East. This isthe tip of the iceberg. There is an ominous marriageof conveniencebetween Iran, transnational crime, and regional states led by Venezuela that may have severe consequences for the United States and the region.The Trump Administration will have to take a holistic approach by focusing its energies on Iran, Venezuela and transnational crime. In terms of Iran, I outlined a strategy in a recent article. In terms of Venezuela, Trump must extend sanctions to the entire political and military operation. However, the current policy of gradual sanctions on a handful of military officers and politicians is insufficient and ineffective. The entire military and political elite must feel the effect of economic sanctions and restriction of movement.

The Venezuelan military, like many other authoritarian regimes, has been given control of parts of the economy and food distribution. It has been reported that some officers practice “food-trafficking,” taking advantage of the people’s desperate need for food. If the army abandons Maduro, this could be a good first step towards regime change. This is why heavy sanctions must be applied over the entire armed forces, and not just on a few officers. Supporters of the regime continue to desert Mr. Maduro; it is important to make sure that more members of the military do the same.

Finally, the Trump Administration must intensify the war on drugs and cartels that operate across many countries in Latin America.  Venezuela and its ally regimes in Ecuador and Bolivia expelled the DEA years ago. The crackdown on the cartels must be uncompromising.The challenge is significant.This important fight was lost in the last decade as former president Barack Obama attempted to seek normalization with Cuba and reconciliation with Venezuela.  Part of such appeasement was to surrender to several Latin American governments that opposed the U.S war on drugs.Now, we have no choice but to confront all these challenges heads on.

Also see:

WATCH: Tillerson Says U.S. and Argentina Will Cooperate to Fight Hezbollah’s Illicit Activities in Latin America

PJ MEDIA EXCLUSIVE: Gen. McMaster Sparked a Row With the Israeli Delegation at a White House Meeting on Hezbollah

H.R. McMaster (Rex Features via AP Images)

PJ MEDIA, BY DAVID STEINBERG, SEPTEMBER 12, 2017:

During the week of August 27, an Israeli delegation met with members of the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House to discuss the current threat to Israel by the terror group Hezbollah.

Israel believes this threat is currently dire. This meeting preceded a two-week long Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) exercise to rehearse for possible war with Hezbollah. The Jerusalem Post described this exercise, which commenced on September 4 and is ongoing, as the IDF’s largest in 20 years.

Hezbollah has been a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997. However, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster reportedly brought NSC Senior Director on Counter-Terrorism Mustafa Javed Ali to the White House meeting with Israel. Ali, a McMaster appointee, is described by a senior administration source as being “opposed to Hezbollah’s designation as a terrorist organization.”

What then transpired at the meeting has been confirmed to PJ Media by several administration sources, by members of non-governmental organizations involved in national security, and by a source within the Israeli government.

The Israeli delegation demanded that Mustafa Javed Ali leave the room.

This demand was made despite the clear likelihood that Ali would later be privy to the meeting’s materials and discussion. As such, sources speculated that Israel intended the demand to serve as a message to President Trump that McMaster’s behavior has constituted a subversion of Trump’s stated Middle East policy.

Mustafa Javed Ali, second from right, attending West Point’s 2015 Senior Conference. The conference was described as having focused on “unconventional approaches to counterterrorism.”

None of the several sources were aware if Trump had been made aware of the incident.

As has been widely reported, Trump’s Chief of Staff General Kelly has instituted tight restrictions on information and contacts reaching the president. Additionally, Kelly has been said to be working closely with General McMaster on issues related to the flow of information within the administration.

Friction between General McMaster and the Israeli delegation did not end with Israel’s demand that Ali leave the room.

Sources reported that McMaster went on to explicitly dismiss the Israelis’ specific concerns about Hezbollah.

In particular, the Israelis expressed concern that the “safe zone” currently being established within Syria — an idea that had been vociferously supported by Hezbollah’s sponsor, Iran — would immediately become a safe zone for Hezbollah to operate.

McMaster was said to “blow off” this major Israeli concern, and to be “yelling at the Israelis” during the meeting.

———————————-

For months, General McMaster has been under fire regarding his personnel decisions from Trump voters and the large majority of Americans who support Israel. McMaster has fired or otherwise removed all NSC appointees who strongly supported President Trump’s Middle East campaign platform.

Trump had repeatedly promised that his administration would reject the Bush/Obama policy of denying the doctrinal Islamic roots of terror, most notably expressed by Trump’s willingness to declare jihadist attacks to be “radical Islamic terrorism.” Indeed, Trump honored this pledge early in his term via the many appointees to the NSC brought on by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and others.

Under McMaster, however, all of these voices have been removed from the NSC in what has been described as a “purge.”

In their stead, McMaster has astonishingly welcomed figures such as Kris Baumanand Robert Malley to his NSC. Bauman’s and Malley’s careers have been so objectively subversive to the Trump agenda on Israel that McMaster might as well have appointed Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter.

Mustafa Javed Ali in attendance at former President Obama’s 2010 White House Iftar Dinner. Ali worked within the FBI at the time. Per a source: “No Muslim reformers or liberals were welcome at those events.” (List of expected attendees available at link.)

Little information has previously been public about McMaster appointee Mustafa Javed Ali. Regarding Israel’s demand that he leave the meeting, a source claimed:

Israel possibly knows more about Javed Ali than [the Trump administration] does.

Earlier this year, Ali was rumored to have caused the cancellation of a scheduled talk to the NSC by Ayaan Hirsi Ali on account of her “Islamophobia.” Mrs. Ali, who escaped to the Netherlands from Kenya after fleeing a forced marriage, violence, and being a victim of female genital mutilation, is now an activist exposing Islamic doctrine. She has lived under 24/7 protection since 2004, when a Muslim murdered Dutch film director Theo van Gogh for making a film with Mrs. Ali that criticized Islam. A five-page note threatening the same fate for Ali was left pinned to van Gogh’s chest with a knife.

Sources within the Trump administration have confirmed to PJMedia that this rumor about Mustafa Javed Ali was correct: Mrs. Ali had been invited to speak to the NSC. She was later disinvited due to Javed Ali’s interference.

On August 11, Mrs. Ali published a Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizing Trump for “losing focus” on his terrorism campaign pledges. Within the op-ed, she chose to mention only the “most charitable” criticism being floated about General McMaster:

Some administration critics have blamed the loss of focus on Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who became White House national security adviser in February. The most charitable formulation of this criticism is that military men who slogged their way through wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have an aversion to the argument that we face an ideological opponent, as opposed to a series of military problems.

But I put the responsibility on Mr. Trump. With regard to radical Islam, he simply seems to have lost interest.

Yet senior administration sources are far less charitable about McMaster and his appointee Mustafa Javed Ali. As mentioned above, they described Ali as taking the breathtaking position that Hezbollah should not be a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. They described Ali as holding the same view regarding the Muslim Brotherhood.

They claimed Ali’s work within the NSC essentially amounts to him attempting to prevent the Trump administration from using any of the means at its disposal to target Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood as organizations. They claimed Ali advocates only targeting such groups’ identifiably “violent” members, and ignoring all other elements of their activities that may be subversive of U.S. interests.

These are recognizable as Obama-era policies — the “smart set” foreign policy strategies behind the Obama administration’s disastrous “Countering Violent Extremism” programs. This is the thinking that marched the Middle East to bloody catastrophe: a half-million dead in Syria.

Yet General McMaster appointed Ali as NSC Senior Director on Counter-Terrorism, and purged the NSC of voices supporting President Trump’s Mideast agenda. Then McMaster reportedly sat Ali in front of an Israeli delegation visiting the White House to share its concerns about Hezbollah.

——————–

I have previously reported here at PJMedia of an extensive public relations push — coordinated by administration supporters of General McMaster — to encourage conservative outlets and think-tanks to reject claims that McMaster is antagonistic to Trump’s foreign policy and to the State of Israel in general. That push was remarkably successful: an online search for critical McMaster stories from the right will reveal such articles virtually halted in mid-August.

The broader questions of President Trump’s continued silence are more difficult to read. None of the sources contacted for this article believe the president has fundamentally shifted his thinking.

Trump likely understands he would not have defeated Hillary Clinton without stating “radical Islamic terrorism.” Yet sources could offer only speculation as to how Trump intends to win his Middle East agenda while saddled with a National Security Council subversive to those goals.

Ruthless Iranian militia vows to turn against U.S. troops once Islamic State is defeated in Iraq

Photo by: Hadi Mizban
In a show of support, Iraqi Hezbollah scouts parade with a portrait of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran’s most violent proxy militia in Iraq has vowed to start killing Americans again once the Islamic State is expelled. (Associated Press/File)

Washington Times, by Rowan Scarborough, Sept. 7, 2017:

The U.S. military is keeping a wary eye on Iran’s most violent proxy militia in Iraq, which has vowed to start killing Americans again once the Islamic State is expelled.

With the Islamic State’s defeat in Iraq coming closer — the U.S. estimates that the once 25,000-strong terrorist group is down to a few thousand followers at most holding only pockets of resistance — the danger from the Hezbollah Brigades is fast approaching.

A commander in the Shiiite battalion, also known as Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and the largest and most ruthless Iranian-trained militia fighting in Iraq and Syria, warned Americans on Sunday that they must leave Iraq or face a new war, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported.

Said the Fars headline, “Iraqi Popular Forces Warn to Target US Forces after Defeating ISIL Terrorists.”

Spokesman Jafar al-Hosseini issued a similar threat in March. His scripted messages on Beirut’s al-Mayadeen Arab-language TV station suggest the militia is not bluffing and is preparing for that day.

A military official told The Washington Times that the U.S. has plans to counter KH if it begins attacking Americans.

“Regarding the sense of Iranian malign influence, we’re trying alert NATO, the coalition, the State Department, the U.N. and the Gulf countries,” the military official said. “It’s a really big question. We’re very aware of it. We’re watching the move to post-ISIS. What the Iranians are saying is of significant concern.”

The Hezbollah Brigades of 5,000 fighters already has American blood on its hands.

Tehran organized the group in 2007 via its Quds Force, an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to target American troops in Iraq.

Quds operatives schooled the Shiites in building improvised explosive devices and rocket systems that ultimately killed about 500 U.S. personnel, the Pentagon reported.

Analysts say Iran’s broader goal is not just the defeat of the Salafist Sunni Islamic State in Iraq but also to spread a crescent of Shiite hegemony across IraqSyria and Lebanon. Tehran finances and equips the powerful Lebanese Hezbollah.

The 2015 nuclear deal with the Obama administration provided Tehran with billions of dollars to increase the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps budget and pay various militias, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Standing in the way is the U.S. military, which wants to maintain some force presence in Iraq and nurture a more independent Baghdad not controlled by Tehran.

“With the Iranians, clearly the goal is a pathway all the way to Lebanese Hezbollah,” the military official said.

This is why scholars such as Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute say that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “has a history of saying what it means, no matter how inconvenient that might be for the wishful thinking in which so many in Washington and Europe engage.”

He added, “Iranian leaders aren’t willing to let U.S. forces stick around. They see U.S. commitment as weak, especially on the homefront, and they believe that so long as they use proxies, they can enjoy plausible deniability. After three decades of not being held to account for their actions, the Revolutionary Guards has grown cocky.”

The military official said the U.S.-led coalition’s downing of an armed drone in Syria in June shows how closely it watches Iran’s proxies. U.S. Central Command described the drone’s operators as “pro-regime.”

“Our actions speak for ourselves,” the U.S. source said. “We’ve shown that if they come even close to threatening any position, we’re going to take action in self-defense. We absolutely take it seriously.”

The official said U.S. commanders talk to the Russians about the Shiite militia activities because Russian officials “talk to people we don’t talk to.”

There is a big difference in the Iraq battlefield from what it was in 2007 and 2008. At the peak of the troop surge, over 157,000 Americans fought in Iraq, primarily against a Sunni insurgency, al Qaeda in Iraq.

Today, only about 5,000 U.S. military personnel are inside Iraq. As trainers and advisers, they maintain an arm’s length from ground combat.

“We really changed our strategy,” the official said. “The good news is there is not a lot of force presence to be targeted for that sort of thing. That makes it a little less complicated for us.”

If the Hezbollah Brigades turns from being an odd U.S. ally against the Islamic State to a direct foe, then American troops will be facing an organization so dangerous that the Obama administration added it to the official list of terrorist groups.

“Kata’ib Hezbollah is one of the biggest and most vicious and dangerous Iraqi militia and terror groups,” said Shahin Gobadi, spokesman for the Iran opposition organization People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK).

“It was one of the main Iraqi militia groups that the Quds Force dispatched to Syria to assist the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in massacring the Syrian people,” he said. “At some points, up to 2,000 of Kata’ib Hezbollah forces were sent to Syria to help Assad.”

A report by the bipartisan Counter Extremism Project states, “KH earned a reputation for planting deadly roadside bombs and using improvised rocket-assisted mortars (IRAMs) to attack U.S. and coalition forces.

“According to U.S. diplomat Ali Khedery, KH is responsible for ‘some of the most lethal attacks against U.S. and coalition forces throughout [the war.] The group is suspected of involvement in extrajudicial killings and abductions in Iraq’s Anbar province, including the May 27, 2016, abduction of more than 70 Sunni boys and men from al-Sijir, and the murder of 49 men from Saqlawiyah,” the project’s report stated.

The State Department

In June 2009, the State Department put the Hezbollah Brigades on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list, calling the group “an anti-Western establishment and jihadist ideology that has conducted attacks against Iraqi, U.S. and coalition targets in Iraq.”

“KH has ideological ties to Lebanese [Hezbollah] and may have received support from that group. KH gained notoriety in 2007 with attacks on U.S. and coalition forces designed to undermine the establishment of a democratic, viable Iraqi state. KH has been responsible for numerous violent terrorist attacks since 2007, including improvised explosive device bombings, rocket propelled grenade attacks and sniper operations. In addition, KH has threatened the lives of Iraqi politicians and civilians that support the legitimate political process in Iraq,” the State Department wrote.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who commanded troops in Iraq, said American diplomacy post-Islamic State must persuade the Iraqi government to blunt KH’s anti-American messaging in the country and make U.S. troop security a top priority.

Part of KH’s propaganda war via Iranian media is to tell Shiites falsely that the U.S. created the Islamic State and is helping it on the battlefield.

Mr. Dubik, an analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, questioned whether the Trump administration is planning for a new Iraq.

“Reading between the public statements does not lead me to conclude we have a strategy beyond ‘eject ISIS,’” he said.

He said one important agreement would be to have U.S. intelligence and special operations forces working closely with Iraq’s counterterrorism squads to track Iran’s militias.

Washington must also issue a clear warning to Tehran, Mr. Dubik said, one that would “make clear our intent to expose their nefarious actions, something that at times we refused to do, and to protect our own forces.”

The Washington Times asked the joint Iraq task force if it had plans to deal with Iran-backed militias once the Islamic State is defeated, but the statement declined to specify.

“Force protection is a critical element of coalition operations. However, in order to ensure operational security, force protection and tactical surprise, we do not confirm or deny information about capabilities, force numbers, locations, or intent for future operations, in or out of Iraq and Syria. Forces are always prepared to act in self-defense and plan accordingly,” the command said.

Why are we funneling weapons to Hezbollah?

Bilal Hussein | AP Photo

Conservative Review, by Daniel Horowitz, Aug. 16, 2017:

What if I told you we were sending military hardware to ISIS? Would you march on Washington with an outpouring of righteous indignation?

Well, we are now arming Hezbollah, which is worse than arming ISIS, given that the caliphate is on the decline and Hezbollah and Iran are gaining more power by the day. Oh, and by the way, the last time I checked, we have a Republican in the White House.

On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon announced the planned shipment of 32 M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles from America to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), at an “investment” of $100 million.

Meanwhile, our soldiers have been working with them and training them on how to use a number of other weapons systems that have been transferred to the Lebanese army over the past year. They include howitzers, grenade launchers, machine guns, mortars, hellfire missiles, night vision devices, and thermal sights technology.

At this point, any thinking person should be asking that, given that Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah, and is a client state of Iran, doesn’t this mean that we are essentially arming Hezbollah?

Everyone knows that the Lebanese government is completely at the mercy of Hezbollah and Iran. Given that Hezbollah is much stronger than the LAF, is comprised of many Shiites, and is subject to the direction and veto power of its Iranian masters, it defies logic to think that they could possibly maintain control over U.S. aid without Hezbollah confiscating it.

As Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies observes, “Hezbollah, of course, controls the Lebanese government and dictates the operations of its armed forces. Indeed, it was Hezbollah that laid out the battle plans for the current operation in northeastern Lebanon, including what role the LAF would play in it.” This is why Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that “the Lebanese army is a subsidiary unit of Hezbollah” and that Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, “is another Nasrallah operative.”

Yet, Trump embraced Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, in a recent visit to the White House and praised him as a partner in the war against terrorists. It’s yet another example of where the nuances of alliances and policy are lost on the president, which prompts him to support action that repudiates his campaign promises and stated objectives on Iran.

We were told by apologists of the Saudi arms deal that a complete embrace of Saudi Arabia was needed to combat Iran. Yet, here we are helping their strongest proxy that is directly controlled by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) figures on the ground.

This is a symptom of a broader disease inherent in our Middle East strategy over the past decade, whereby we arm multiple sides of Islamic civil wars, and often, fight ourselves and our own weapons by proxy. Aside from the immorality of ensuring that arms fall into the hands of Hezbollah, such a move has two distinct policy outcomes: It further muddles our involvement in Syria, and strengthens Hezbollah’s desire to open a second front against Israel on its eastern border.

According to the State Department, there are approximately 7,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria. They are fighting alongside the IRGC and the Assad regime against other Islamic insurgents including ISIS. The irony is that our own military is fighting ISIS as well.

Yet, at the same time, we are launching air strikes against Shiite militias allied with Hezbollah, but now we are also almost directly arming Hezbollah. Oh, and we happen to be assisting some of the very same Shiite militias in Iraq! The Hezbollah Brigades, along with fellow Shiite militias, such as the Sayyid al Shuhada Brigades and the Imam Ali Brigades, are benefiting from our support in Iraq, even though they are controlled by the Iranian Quds Force.

Is your head spinning yet? Rather than enable our enemies to fight with each other to the benefit of our security interests, we have them play ourselves against our own interests by supporting the worst elements of all sides by placing our weapons and special forces into the hands of our enemies. Two more soldiers died earlier this week in Iraq, very likely engaged in a mission that at least indirectly buttresses Iranian hegemony.

Welcome to the world of Islamic civil wars and our wrongheaded involvement on multiple and conflicting sides in each given theater, where there is no discernable strategic objective that places our interests first.

Instead, the sum of our actions is that we are directly aiding Iran in most theaters. Unlike Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, Iran is the one country in the Middle East that poses a direct threat to our interests. And if the Iranians are allowed to continue expanding their wealth and reach, they will succeed in threatening our homeland, just like North Korea.

More worrisome is that fact that Hezbollah, in its own right, poses a greater homeland security threat than the major Sunni terror groups, because it has a vast network inside our country and in Latin America. Several operatives have been arrested in recent months. Why in the world would we help them in the Middle East on numerous fronts, arm them … and then fight against them on other fronts?

Fmr. Israeli Security Chief: Iranian Land Corridor, Bases in Syria Biggest Threats to Israel

Photo: Basel Awidat/Flash90

The Tower, July 19, 2017:

Iran’s efforts to build a “direct corridor” from Baghdad to the Mediterranean Sea and further entrench itself militarily in Syria are two of Israel’s most pressing concerns, Israel’s former national security adviser said Monday.

The corridor, referred to as a “Shiite crescent” by Jordan’s King Abdullah, would place Israel’s borders in “direct connection to Iran—a long line but still very easy to move forces, capabilities and everything that the Iranians will want to build around Israel,” Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror said. Iran’s ability to project its power along this route would “change the whole geostrategic situation in this area.”

The establishment of permanent Iranian bases in Syria would pose a more immediate and direct threat to Israel, placing it at risk of simultaneous confrontation with Lebanon and Syria. “Israel might face two battlegrounds,” Amidror explained, “one in Lebanon and one in Syria in which the Iranians and Hezbollah will have their infrastructure [that] can be used against Israel, in parallel, and of course it definitely will be connected to the corridor that I just described that it makes the situation even much [more] complicated for Israel.”

These bases would act as launching pads for Iranian and Hezbollah attacks against Israel from Syria, and should be prevented “whatever will be the price,” Amidror warned.

When asked what Israel might do to prevent Iran from establishing bases in Syria, Amidror said that if the United States and Russia won’t take action, “that might lead the IDF to intervene and to destroy every attempt to build infrastructure in Syria.” While he noted that Israel would first try to handle things diplomatically, he indicated that resorting to using “military capability” could also be an option.

On the implications of the underground weapons factories Iran is believed to be building in Lebanon for Hezbollah, Amidror answered that the facilities—one of which reportedly produces Fateh 110 rockets that can carry half-ton warheads and reach most of Israel—would have to be destroyed. “Lebanon as a state does not exist. But the price will be paid by the end of the day by the Lebanese,” Amidror observed.

He elaborated:

The fact is that the Iranians and Hezbollah are spreading more than a hundred thousand rockets and missiles in Lebanon. The day will come [that] we will have to destroy them and the price will be paid by the Lebanese. So, the world is allowing Hezbollah and Iran to build huge military capabilities in Lebanon and the day will come [that] we will have to deal with it and to destroy it and the price will be paid by the Lebanese. Whoever will be complaining then about the results—the devastating situation of the Lebanese who will have to pay the price—I don’t know what percentage of Lebanon will be destroyed in this struggle, but the world will have to reply to itself. The world is not stopping that and the price will be paid by the Lebanese.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday denounced Hezbollah’s ongoing military buildup, telling reporters after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “I share Israeli concerns on the arming of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.”

Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, wrote an op-ed in May calling on the world community to take action against Hezbollah, which he said has grown stronger than most NATO nations. He urged the UN Security Council to strengthen and enforce resolution 1701, in line with Chapter 7 of the UN’s charter, which mandates peace enforcement.

According to a July 2016 report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Israeli officials believe that any future war with Hezbollah has the potential to cause “thousands of civilian deaths” in Israel. Hezbollah has, among other things, threatened to attack ammonium tanks in Haifa, which could kill tens of thousands of people.

Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explained that month that Hezbollah’s widely-reported tactic of hiding military assets in civilian areas would lead to mass casualties. Reports emerged in 2013 that Hezbollah was offering reduced-price housing to Shiite families who allowed the terrorist group to store rocket launchers in their homes. An Israeli defense official told The New York Times in May 2015 that the buildup of Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure in southern Lebanese villages meant that “civilians are living in a military compound” and that their lives were at risk. A few days later, a newspaper linked to Hezbollah bolstered the Israeli assessment.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel, a former director of Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau, said in March that another war between Israel and Hezbollah was “only a question of time” due to the Iranian proxy’s efforts to acquire “game-changing weapons.” A week later, Eisenkot assessed that Hezbollah is building up its arsenal in Lebanon, which will bear the brunt of any future conflict between the Iranian proxy and Israel. Israeli security officials warned earlier in March that the Lebanese army, which receives American military aid, will likely fight alongside Hezbollah in a war against Israel.

A complete recording of Amidror’s call is embedded following the article here.

US Congress prepares to introduce three bills against Hizbollah

Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters via a video link during a rally in Beirut’s southern suburbs on June 23, 2017. The Lebanese Shiite group faces further US sanctions through three bills set to be introduced in Congress in July 2017. Reuters

The National, by Joyce Karam, July 20, 2017: (h/t Walid Phares)

Following months of deliberations, three bills targeting Hizbollah are close to being introduced in US Congress, in a move that marks an escalation against the Lebanese armed party, The National has learned.

US and diplomatic sources in Washington said the drafts for the three bills had been finalised and could be introduced as soon as this Friday. The largest of the three is Hizbollah’s International Financing Prevention Act for 2017 sponsored by US congressman Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr Royce’s bill has been months in the works and has seen a few amendments following visits of Lebanese officials and financial delegations to Washington in the last six months. They include foreign minister Gebran Bassil, a group of parliamentarians, and executives from Lebanese banks who tried to shield the economic sector in the country from any backlash in the upcoming sanctions.

According to a final draft of the bill seen by The National, the text calls for sanctions on any foreign person “assists, sponsors, or, provides significant financial, material, or technological support” for these entities that are all affiliated with Hizbollah: Bayt Al Mal, Jihad Al Bina, the Islamic Resistance Support Association, the Foreign Relations Department of Hizbollah, the External Security Organisation of Hizbollah, or any successor or affiliate thereof; Al Manar TV, Al Nour Radio, or the Lebanese Media Group, or any successor or affiliate thereof; and “a foreign person determined by the president to be engaged in fundraising or recruitment activities” for Hizbollah.

The bill also imposes sanctions on foreign states that support Hizbollah, and targets its “narcotics trafficking and significant transnational criminal activities”.  It grants the US resident, after passage in the House and the Senate, power to waive or target individuals or entities with the sanctions.

However, the bill does not target explicitly any other group in Lebanon besides Hizbollah. The text is based on the 2015 Hezbollah’s International Financing Prevention Act but has extra measures and updates that attempt to choke the party’s internal and external funding networks. The text is based on the 2015 Hezbollah’s International Financing Prevention Act but has extra measures and updates that attempt to choke the party’s internal and external funding networks.

https://www.docdroid.net/L8hKpes/royce-047-xml.pdf

While an early draft of the bill leaked in the Lebanese press in March indicated that the Shiite group Amal would be targeted in the new measures, the new version does not make a mention of Amal. Instead the bill is hoping to isolate the Hizbollah funding networks without affecting Lebanon’s fragile economy.

The two other bills that will be introduced in Congress before the August recess are authored by senator Marco Rubio and congressman Mike Gallagher, both members of the Republican party representing Florida and Wisconsin respectively.

The Rubio bill is expected to be the harshest in its language and targeting, according to a diplomatic source who met with the senator’s office this week. For its part, the Gallagher bill will focus on Hizbollah’s use of human shields in its fighting inside and outside Lebanon.

The introduction of the bills would mark an escalation against Hizbollah ahead of a debate and a vote in September. They also precede Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri’s visit to Washington next week, where he is expected to meet president Donald Trump and key members of his cabinet.