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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 08, 2003

THE CUTTING EDGE: THE GRASSROOTS POLITICS OF HEZZBOLLAH

An article by Adam B. Kushner in The Columbia Political Review gives the history of this terror groups and states "Hezbollah is, in short, Syria’s proxy in the low-grade war against Israel. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Hezbollah’s militia takes orders directly from Damascus."
[...]Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told an audience last year that “Hezbollah may be the A-Team of terrorists and maybe al Qaeda is actually the B-Team. They’re on the list and their time will come,” he said, adding colorfully that “we’re going to go after these problems just like a high school wrestler goes after a match. We’re going to take them down one at a time.” Senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.) chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee during the 107th session and favored “dealing” with Hezbollah and Syria before Iraq. “According to our intelligence community,” he told me, “Hezbollah is a more capable terrorist organization than al Qaeda, with a state supporter—Iran—that possesses weapons of mass destruction and a track record of attacking Americans and American interests.”

Although Hezbollah’s level of involvement with the Buenos Aires and Khobar Towers bombings is not clear, the group is known to have an international fundraising network which may be capable of training and concealing terrorists. The Triple Frontier between Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, for example, is a haven for Shiite businessmen, Arab self-exiles, and international smugglers. Hezbollah has an elaborate charity racket established there, where it extorts money, mafia-style, from small businesses and black-market traders. Other cells exist in Thailand, Somalia, and even the United States until just after September 11, when prominent Muslim charities based in Michigan and North Carolina were shut down. The other bulk of Hezbollah’s money, about half, comes in the form of an annual $100 million stipend from the government of Iran. That sum does not include the regular arms shipments.

In recent years, though, the group’s terror activity has ebbed significantly, giving way to increased guerilla activity. Hezbollah has focused its paramilitary endeavors on a puny 25-acre sprawl that Israel uses as a buffer between it and southern Lebanon, called the Shebaa Farms. The Farms have traditionally belonged to Syria, but Syria claims that by using it, Israel is occupying Lebanese land. The United Nations has dismissed this argument, though Syria maintains it gave Lebanon the Farms in 1951.

From the Farms, Hezbollah launches its occasional Katyusha attacks on positions in northern Israel. (Katyusha rockets are small missiles that can be loaded onto the back of a truck; they can travel between four and 12 miles.) Some military analysts have suggested that the Katyusha arsenal could hit targets as far south as Haifa, 30 miles away, but so far they haven’t even come close.

Much more worrying are three recent developments. First, in January 2002, the Israeli Navy intercepted the Karine A—a cargo ship that Hezbollah had loaded with Iranian mortars, anti-tank weapons, grenade launchers, and short-range rockets—before it could dock in Gaza City. The weapons weren’t meant for Islamic Jihad or Hamas; they were earmarked for the Palestinian Authority, whose chairman, Yasser Arafat, has denied involvement. Second, within the last year, transports from Damascus have delivered several hundred Iranian-made Fajr-5 rockets, capable of soaring far into Israel and decimating the country’s main oil refinery south of Haifa, as well as any target in between. And third, Hezbollah has stepped up its anti-American rhetoric since the invasion of Iraq. “The people of the region will receive [America] with rifles, blood, arms, martyrdom, and martyrdom operations,” Nasrallah said in a speech delivered before the war began. His remarks were covered by Hezbollah’s satellite news network, Al Manar, “the lighthouse.” Hezbollah officials declined to comment for the article. [more]