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Retribution for Mughniyah

"Retribution for Mughniyah" Continued...

Hezbollah utilizes an "off the shelf" method of planning its terrorist attacks. This is very similar to the way major national military commands operate, where they make contingency war plans against potential adversaries in advance and then work to keep those plans updated. This style of sophisticated, advance planning provides Hezbollah's senior decision makers with a wide array of tactical options, and allows them to assess a number of attack plans in various parts of the world and quickly select and update a particular attack plan when they make the decision to launch it. When they do decide to pull the trigger, they can strike hard and fast.

This type of planning requires a great deal of intelligence-gathering, not only to produce the initial plans but also to keep them updated. Because it requires a lot of collection activity, this effort likely accounts for much of the operational activity that has been observed over the past year in the United States and elsewhere. These ongoing surveillance operations are not just useful for planning purposes, but they are also good for sowing confusion, creating distractions and causing complacency. If Hezbollah operatives have been seen periodically conducting surveillance around a facility and no attack has followed that activity, over time it becomes very easy for security personnel to write off all such activity as harmless-even when it might not be this time.

Not crying wolf

There are some who argue that the lack of an attack by Hezbollah since the Mughniyah assassination, combined with the fact that the group has not used its terrorist capability to conduct an attack for many years, signifies that Hezbollah has abandoned its terrorist ways and instead focused on developing its conventional warfare capability.

We do not buy this argument. First, it ignores the existence and purpose of Hezbollah's Unit 1800, which, among other things, recruits Palestinians for anti-Israeli terror operations inside Israel and the occupied territories. Second, if Hezbollah had abandoned its terrorist arm, there would be no need for the preoperational planning activity noted previously, and in our opinion, reports of such surveillance activity are too frequent and too widespread to be discounted as false sightings. Granted, such activities do cause jitters and have some effectiveness as a psychological warfare tool, but we do not believe that those limited benefits justify the time and effort being put into Hezbollah's intelligence-collection program. There is also that pesky problem of explaining the thwarted attack plots in Azerbaijan and the Netherlands. Because of this, we do not believe that the U.S. and Israeli governments (among others) are crying wolf when they provide warnings of pending Hezbollah attacks.

We continue to believe that if there is an attack by Hezbollah, it will likely come in a country where there is an existing Hezbollah support apparatus and an Iranian embassy. (Although, in a confined geographic area, operations could be supported in a third country that lacked one or both of those elements.) We also believe that such an attack is more likely in a country where there is ready access to weapons or explosives, and where there are poor law enforcement and intelligence capabilities. We wrote an analysis discussing this in some detail during the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. In that piece, we provided a matrix of the places we believed were most likely to be the site of a Hezbollah attack against Israeli targets, and one of the important criteria we considered was the presence of both an Iranian embassy and a local Hezbollah support network. When we discuss these two elements, it is important to note that in past attacks, the attackers were brought in from the outside in order to provide plausible deniability-but they did receive important support and guidance from the network and embassy.

Since we wrote that analysis in July 2006, there has been a significant increase in Iranian influence in parts of Latin America, including Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia, and Hezbollah has not been far behind. In addition to claims by the U.S. Treasury Department that Venezuelan nationals and organizations are supporting Hezbollah financially, there have been persistent rumors of Hezbollah militants and IRGC officers conducting training at camps in the Venezuelan jungles.

These reports are especially noteworthy when combined with a recent rise in anti-Semitism in Venezuela and an outright hostility toward Jews demonstrated by pro-Chavez militia groups. A pro-Chavez militia is believed to have been involved in the vandalism of the main synagogue in Caracas on the night of Jan. 30-31, 2009. We are among many who don't buy the government's official explanation that the vandalism was motivated by robbery. To us, the fact that the intruders remained in the building for several hours, made the effort to scrawl anti-Israeli graffiti inside the building, and stole databases containing personal information on congregational members seems very unusual for a simple burglary. Our suspicion is magnified by the extensive anti-Semitic statements made on the websites of some of the pro-Chavez militia leaders. All of this raises serious concerns that the Venezuelan government could turn a blind eye to Hezbollah efforts to conduct an attack on Israeli or Jewish interests in that country.

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