'Iran may activate US Hezbollah cells after strike'

US congressional report estimates there are several thousand sympathetic Hezbollah donors in US, with operatives probably in the hundreds.

US Capitol building 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Bourg)
US Capitol building 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Bourg)
WASHINGTON – A congressional report finds that Hezbollah fundraising cells are rampant across the United States and that the Lebanese organization could activate these cells to carry out lethal terrorist attacks.
The report, compiled under the aegis of the US House Committee on Homeland Security, estimates that there are several thousand sympathetic Hezbollah donors in the country, with operatives probably in the hundreds.
Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy, and should Iran want to carry out terrorism in the US, it could then do so through these operatives. Though many in the US intelligence community assumed after September 11 that Tehran would only use Hezbollah for attacks inside America should the US or Israel strike Iran’s nuclear sites, that thinking changed following the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington.
“It is no longer clear that Iran sees carrying out an attack in the United States as crossing some sort of red line,” according to Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He testified before the committee Wednesday at a hearing on the threat that Iran and Hezbollah pose to America.
“Hezbollah has long had a substantial base of supporters in North America,” he noted in his prepared testimony. “This includes some operatives with military and operational training and a much larger pool of sympathizers and supporters who provide funding and some logistical support to the group but could be called upon to support operational activity should the group decide to carry out an attack here.”
Levitt calculated that such a decision became more likely if the organization perceived that the US was directly targeting or seeking to undermine the group.
And he concluded that “the odds are very strong that in the event of an attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Hezbollah would retaliate.”
In addition to the possibility that it would launch rockets at Israel, he assessed “its worldwide networks would almost certainly be called upon to execute the kind of asymmetric terror attacks that can be carried out with reasonable deniability and therefore make a targeted response more difficult.”
Committee chairman Peter King (R-New York), however, said that the heightened threat of retaliation on the American homeland even from an Israeli attack doesn’t mean the military option should be taken off the table.
“I don’t think we can rule out an Israeli attack,” King told CNN ahead of the hearing. “I think we have to keep all the pressure out there.”
He continued, “The fact that there can be complications is not a reason why Israel shouldn’t do it or we shouldn’t do it. We have to make sure whatever we do that it is going to work... and realize that Iran cannot be allowed to get a nuclear weapon.”