‘Hezbollah, the Qods Force and Iran’s Shadow War against the West’

By

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Senior Fellow and Director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

6 – 7pm, Wednesday 7th November 2012

Committee Room 6, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA

To attend please RSVP to:katie.hassall@henryjacksonsociety.org

In light of the growing instability within the Middle East, the impact of the Iranian regime’s actions – alongside those of its surrogate Hezbollah – on the already febrile atmosphere in the region has been thrown into sharp focus. The rattling of Lebanon’s fragile calmness through the recent sectarian attack on the Lebanese Christian community, the perpetuation of hostilities in Syria and the continuous campaign of terrorism conducted across international borders highlight the severe danger to national, regional and global security that is consequential of the malevolent activities of Hezbollah, working at the behest of Iran’s totalitarian regime.

By kind invitation of James Morris MP, The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to a discussion with Dr. Matthew Levitt, Senior Fellow and Director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. As a former senior official within the U.S. Treasury’s terrorism and financial intelligence branch, Dr. Matthew Levitt is in a unique position to provide insight into the scope and scale of illicit funding operations employed by terrorist organisations, and the potential security repercussions of not choking such funding. In particular, Dr. Matthew Levitt will discuss Hezbollah’s growing global criminal funding enterprises, from weapons smuggling and fencing stolen goods to drug trafficking and money laundering, all of which have complimented the extensive financial support it receives from Iran and expanded the terrorist organisation’s capabilities. What lessons can be learned from decades of experience in working to constrict terrorism sponsored by Iran? How should we react to the diversification of terrorist funding techniques?

TIME: 6 – 7pm

DATE: Wednesday 7th November 2012

VENUE: Committee Room 6, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA

To attend please RSVP to: katie.hassall@henryjacksonsociety.org

Biography

Dr. Matthew Levitt is a senior fellow and director of The Washington Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. He is also a professorial lecturer in international relations and strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). From 2005 to early 2007, he served as deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In that capacity, he served both as a senior official within the department’s terrorism and financial intelligence branch and as deputy chief of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, one of sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies coordinated under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. During his tenure at Treasury, Dr. Levitt played a central role in efforts to protect the U.S. financial system from abuse and to deny terrorists, weapons proliferators, and other rogue actors the ability to finance threats to U.S. national security. In 2008-2009, he served as a State Department counterterrorism advisor to the special envoy for Middle East regional security (SEMERS), General James L. Jones.

From 2001 to 2005, Dr. Levitt served the Institute as founding director of its Terrorism Research Program (now renamed as above), which was established in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Previously, he served as a counterterrorism intelligence analyst at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), where he provided tactical and strategic analytical support for counterterrorism operations, focusing on fundraising and logistical support networks for Middle Eastern terrorist groups. During his FBI service, Dr. Levitt participated as a team member in a number of crisis situations, including the terrorist threat surrounding the turn of the millennium and the September 11 attacks. He has earned numerous awards and commendations for his government service at both the FBI and the Treasury Department.

Dr. Levitt holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Yeshiva University, as well as a master’s degree in law and diplomacy and a doctorate from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He was a graduate research fellow at Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation, and has taught at both Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Levitt has served as an expert witness in several criminal and civil cases, lectured on international terrorism on behalf of the Departments of State, Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security, consulted for various U.S. government agencies and private industry, and testified before the Senate and House on matters relating to international terrorism. He had held fellowships with the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Homeland Security Policy Institute at the George Washington University. He is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and serves as a member of the international advisory board for both the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel and the International Centre for Political Violence & Terrorism Research in Singapore.

Dr. Levitt has written extensively on terrorism, countering violent extremism, illicit finance and sanctions, the Middle East, and Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, with articles appearing in peer-reviewed journals, policy magazines, and the press, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and numerous other publications. He is also a frequent guest on the national and international media, and the author of several books and monographs, including Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad (Yale University Press, 2006); Negotiating Under Fire: Preserving Peace Talks in the Face of Terror Attacks (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008); and the forthcoming Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God (Georgetown University Press).

 

Transcript

James Morris MP

Thank you very much for coming to this very important discussion. I am delighted to introduce Dr. Matthew Levitt to you. I’m sure he has known many of you. He is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Stein Program on Counter Terrorism and Intelligence at the Washington institute for Near East Policy. Dr. Levitt was from 2005 to early 2007, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the US Department of the Treasury, where he played a central role in efforts to protect the US financial system from abuse and to deny terrorists, weapons proliferators and other rogue actors the ability to finance threats to US national security. In 2008/9 he served as a state department counter terrorism advisor to a special envoy for Middle East regional security. Dr. Levitt has also served as a counter terrorism intelligence analyst at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified before the Senate and House on matters relating to international terrorism and written and lectured extensively on the subject. So, without further preamble, over to you Dr. Levitt.

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Thank you very, very much. Thank you for chairing this, Davis and, The Henry Jackson Society, thank you for making this possible. Thank you, you all for taking the time. Thank you especially for reading a shorter version of the bio I have on the website. The full version on the website is actually only intended for my mother and she’s not here so I can dispense with that. It’s a pleasure to be here.

You know I just finished a book on Hezbollah and traipsing around Europe, a little too much my wife says, talking to people about it, because I think that there is a renewed opportunity here to do more on an adversary that is increasing its illicit conduct around the world. At home in Lebanon, in the region and internationally, both in terms of its organised criminal activities and its activities in support of its terrorist activities, recruitment, funding, procurement of weapons and dual use items like night vision goggles and now most recently acts of terrorism, including acts of terrorism here in Europe. And as I meet with European Union officials and I meet with EU member state officials on an issue that I have been talking to them about, frankly to a brick wall for several years now because only the UK has designated the terrorist and military wings of Hezbollah, the only other country in the EU, the Netherlands has designated all Hezbollah. Usually I am speaking to a brick wall. The past few weeks I’ve had greater reciprocity than ever before. Let me share with you how I think about this issue. The book is not about Hezbollah in Lebanon mind you. Not because Hezbollah is not an important actor in Lebanon- it is. It’s an important part of the social fabric, and the political fabric of Lebanese society, it’s a political party duly elected to office, that is why some are uncomfortable designating the entire group or movement as a terrorist organization. It provides social welfare support, it has a standing militia which is larger and better armed than most sovereign countries armies, in violation of UN security council resolutions but all of those things you can read about, there’s lots of books and articles that you can read, some of them are even worth reading, but there is nothing out there until soon, I hope, on Hezbollah’s activities worldwide – from terrorism to finance et cetera.

Let me tell you about the four baskets that I’m looking at as I have these conversations with European countries in particular, but not only. The first is Hezbollah’s increasing role in international terrorism and here is really where the title that we threw together, “Hezbollah, the Kudz Force and our shadow war against the West”, comes in. Then we will talk about the second basket – Iran’s increasing international criminal activity the Hezbollah’s actions contributing to regional instability in the Middle East, the United Kingdom is a major player in the region, the EU is a major player in the region, both for regional stability because we are concerned about 30,000 people being killed in Syria, because we are concerned about efforts to do more on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and then Hezbollah’s actions destabilising Lebanon.

Let’s start at the beginning. In 1980s-early 90s, Hezbollah was extremely and aggressively involved in acts of international terrorism all over the world, including here in Europe. You are probably familiar with the spate of around fifteen bombings in 1985 and 1986 in Paris, but you may not be aware of the bombing in Copenhagen, and you may not be aware of the four different plots which were thwarted in Germany, and you may not be aware of the arrests in Italy and Switzerland et cetera. But Hezbollah put that on ice by the mid-1990s after the bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and especially so after 9/11 when it worked very, very hard to stay out of the cross hairs of what we were then calling the war on terrorism. It is now back in that business and for two separate reasons.

The first has to do with the assassination in February 2008 of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s arch terrorist who ironically was… whose existence was denied by Hezbollah until the day he died and then warmly embraced. I had a long and running argument with a fairly prominent Lebanese academician who said there was no way that Imad Mughniyeh exists, he’s a fabrication of the American Zionist conspiracy and it took all of my self-restraint not to send this person an email in February 2008 saying ‘and now we are both right, because he did and now doesn’t exist’. Once he was killed, Hassan Nasrallah the secretary general of Hezbollah stated at his funeral that Israel was responsible and pledged open war against Israel. Mughniyeh’s wife didn’t agree by the way and still believes that Syria was behind the assassination, it’s probably the case that the Israelis were, the Israelis are certainly happy to let everyone think they were, that kind of deterrence is something they like to have. In any event Hezbollah has tried to carry out several attacks targeting significant individuals of stature from Israel, diplomats, current and former military intelligence personnel, because they want it to be sort of tit-for-tat, someone of equal stature to Imad Mughniyeh the first was a failed attack in Baku Azerbaijan in 2008. The second was using a network that was already in existence in Egypt that was funnelling weapons to Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah leaders tasked that network since they were there anyway with conducting surveillance of Israeli interests to see if it may be possible to carry out an attack there.

The Egyptians have not been so interested in acting against the group so long as it was only moving weapons to the Gaza Strip, once they saw the group conducting surveillance for a possible attack on Egyptian soil that got their attention and they arrested the individuals and the third and perhaps most importantly was the first of now a series of attempted attacks on Turkey this one in September 2009. After the first two failures Iran decided to help Hezbollah, clearly their operational capabilities had kind of rusted, kind of rotted on the vine as they had scaled back their international terrorist activities post 9/11 to kind of stay out of those cross hairs and so they provided much more significant logistical support to the September 2009 plot in Turkey. That too was thwarted which led to significant finger pointing between Iran and Hezbollah over whose fault that was. Meanwhile as they decided how to move forward over which was then this one strain of carrying out attacks to avenge the assassination of Mughniyeh events started changing on the ground. Iranian scientists started to be killed in Iran, Stuxnet virus was found, IRGC officials started to defect and sensitive procured material from the Iranian nuclear programme, centrifuge pieces in particular were arriving and failing, and the assumption, I hope correctly, was that western intelligence had mucked around with it and the Iranians were quite upset. Suddenly the Iranians had an interest in carrying out attacks against Israel and the West of their own not only because of the assassination of Mughniyeh and so what they did is they told Hezbollah here is how it’s going to be. You will renew your international terrorism capabilities because they are not as good as they once were and Hezbollah took off seven or eight months and did just that, recruiting people from their military wing the elite  to go into their terrorist wing in particular.

Meanwhile Iran said we are going to have a three tiered strategy and you are going to take one of those tiers. The first tier, the Kudz Force (that we are going to call unit 400, not us in this room but Iran called Unit 400) is going to target diplomatic official entities mostly Israeli but not only and so you are all familiar I’m sure with the February 2012 attacks in Thailand, in Georgia and in India, you’re aware of those three in particular but there was supposed to be five and they were supposed to be as close to the February 12th anniversary of Imad Mughniyeh assassination as possible. A fourth was in Baku was thwarted, a fifth was in Thailand and was delayed and thwarted a month later. Second, the Kudz Force was going to target semi-official targets having to do with the Israeli or Jewish targets, there’s a long history of Iran and Hezbollah both making no real distinction between Israeli and Jewish targets – think, for example, of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires, and so you had plots in Baku targeting a Jewish school, in Baku targeting a rabbi, one of those February 2012 attacks targeted a Georgian citizen who happened to work at the Israeli embassy as a foreign service national and according to the intelligence officials I have been talking to that was not a mistake they knew full well who he was, this was not a mistake that they thought he was an Israeli, they targeted him even though they knew he was a Georgian citizen.

In the case of the Hezbollah operation that was thwarted in Thailand, which by the way that operation and one of the two operations in Cyprus were being carried out by European citizens who were Hezbollah operatives, both Swedes, dual national Lebanese and Swedish nationals. The individual led the authorities there to a fairly large explosives cachet where they were putting together a precursor explosives they had already put them into crystalized form which is the first step into making them into the explosive. Some of it apparently was being intended to be shipped abroad, that’s why intelligence believes this too, like in Egypt, was a pre-existing network which was putting together explosives to be shipped elsewhere and that Hezbollah told them “well you’re there we need to carry out attacks against Israeli tourists, do that” and when they did that they also found information about interest in the Israeli shipping lines et cetera. So that’s the second tier not only formal targets but kind of informal targets representative of the Israeli government like the shipping line representative of Jewish communities, a rabbi and a Jewish school. And the third was going to be Hezbollah’s responsibility and that is targeting Israeli tourists in Thailand, in Cyprus twice, in Bulgaria twice, at the Johannesburg Airport, in Ukraine, in Greece et cetera.

Now there is a lot of discussion, how much do we know about these different attacks and in particular the attack in Burgos, Bulgaria, the one to succeed and thankfully so far only one has succeeded. Let’s be clear, we have to let the investigation run its course. I started my career in FBI counter terrorism, I am well familiar, I will tell you that I do not have high hopes that we will be able and this is not just the Bulgarians who are working hard on this but we collectively will be able, and the UK is involved in this, the US is involved in this, to put this together at an open evidentiary level simply because Hezbollah did a very good job and there is not a whole lot of evidence left behind. But it has also remained very clear to me that on the intel side there’s absolutely no daylight, no delta, no question that this was Hezbollah and there has actually been some stuff out in the open source about the fact that someone, I presume the Israelis, but maybe somebody else was up on phones in Lebanon and there was some pretty significant signals intelligence about phone calls increasing between those Hezbollah phone lines in Beirut and phones in Bulgaria leading up to the attack et cetera.

So we have these three different streams of threats, one of which involves Hezbollah. That means that Hezbollah is now involved in terrorism, including terrorism here in the European Union, including terrorism using European operatives on the one hand at the behest of Iran and on the other to exact revenge for Mughniyeh. International security, I don’t see how we can deny the fact that there is now a renewed, acute clear and present danger of a Hezbollah threat to security today, A.

B, internationally organized crime and this is not a terrorism thing necessarily, there is certainly no politics involved in this, this is simply enforcing our own laws. Hezbollah has been involved in more criminal activity than almost any other terrorist group out there period, with the exceptions possibly of once upon a time the IRA and the FARC in Colombia. The IRA itself is not what it once was, there are still splinter groups which are very dangerous, the FARC is now a drugs trafficking organisation that also engages in terrorism as opposed to a terrorism group that also engages in drugs. Hezbollah therefore today is the largest, most significant terrorist group involved in criminal activity out there, period. That’s always been the case but, for many years, it was really more the case that you had people who supported Hezbollah who were criminals and the support, the financial support that they gave to Hezbollah was from their business, the proceeds of their business which happens to be illicit. Now you have Hezbollah as an organisation involved in criminal activity of a much larger nature. We are not just talking about credit card fraud and cigarette smuggling anymore, though that happens at a very high percentage and pace still today. We are now talking about Hezbollah as an organisation not producing drugs but moving, transferring drugs and laundering the proceeds of drugs and though Hezbollah is not designated as a terrorist group within the European Union when US or other authorities approach Southern European countries and point out the evidence that Hezbollah is moving products across the tenth parallel, what we call highway ten – that narrowest point between South America and West Africa and then up north into Southern Europe, some to stay in Europe and some to go on into the Middle East. Believe-you-me that gets their attention and they may not target those individuals for their Hezbollah affiliation but they will do plenty for them moving drugs into their countries which they take personal offence at.

The problem is you have to come at adversaries like that from both angles. You can’t assume that you will always uncover their activities simply by looking for when they violate the law, you also have to come at this from an intelligence function and, as John Brennan the White House Terrorism Advisor said in a speech a week ago Friday, in Ireland, many European countries cannot do that by virtue of the fact Hezbollah is not recognised as a terrorist organisation within the EU or in their domestic systems. The UK is an exception, I wish the UK would designate all of Hezbollah and I’m happy to describe why during the questions and answers if you like. But at least the UK has dedicated the terrorism and military wings and is able therefore to target those and it does so vociferously.

International security threat, international crime and now Hezbollah is and it’s not entirely new, but in a new way under mining national security hand over [inaudible]. It’s not entirely new because look, for example, what Hezbollah was doing in Iraq during the Iraq war. It was Hezbollah’s activity in Iraq not anything Hezbollah was doing against Israel, anything it was doing in Lebanon, anything it was doing here in London that led the UK to expand its designation from the Hezbollah ESO, the terrorist wing to the Hezbollah military wing, it’s what Hezbollah was doing in Southern Iraq, targeting British forces in the Basra area not just training Shia, Iraqi Shia militants in Iran and in Lebanon but actually overseeing, helping to plan and helping to carry out plots for example, a specific plot to kidnap British soldiers as they went to the bathroom, which they came very close to succeeding at doing.

That is just one example that hits home for you, but what Hezbollah is doing in Syria is more significant than anything else. In his speech in Ireland Brennan also pointed out that Hezbollah is apparently moving weapons to the Hutu rebels in Yemen at the behest of Iran, but what they are doing in Yemen, they are now part of Assad’s killing machine. Hezbollah is now helping the Assad regime butcher Syrian people – this is beyond any pale. Thirty-thousand people are dead and Hezbollah’s contributing, not just training, not just know-how, but we believe now snipers, we believe they have cases of shooting short range rockets from the Lebanon side of the border across the border at villages that are no longer controlled by the regime. Susan Rice at the UN has been very explicit, Hezbollah is part of Assad’s killing machine. And when my former office at the Treasury Department designated Hezbollah again, it has been designated as a terrorist group for many years but designated again several weeks ago to expose its support for the Assad regime, it declassified intelligence as the treasury always does in its press statements on two critical issues and if I have scars on my face still it’s because when I was at the treasury that was part of my job to work with the intelligence community to declassify and sanitise, so as to protect sources and methods enough information that would then be useful for the policy makers to have a conversation with their constituents as a true western democracy which was often a painful thing for both sides. The intelligence community didn’t want to give anything as they wanted to protect their sources and methods and the policy community always wanted more and my face was in the middle, but what they declassified in this particular instance was two really interesting things.

First, perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom that this is not new, what is new is the expansion, growth of the support. What is not new is the support that Hezbollah had been providing, the support it had been providing from the very beginning of this crisis and much more significantly, and significantly I would say for the UK too because you have not designated all of Hezbollah, because there is still here I think a misplaced concern about the potential of what it would mean to designate Hezbollah as such even though it has been elected to government in Lebanon. That the person who is overseeing Hezbollah’s activities in Syria is Hassan Nasrallah himself the Secretary General, the head of the political branch of Hezbollah, this is not a rogue operation, this is not the terrorist wing or the military wing and I beg you to look at what Hezbollah says, don’t listen to Matt Levitt the American, listen to what the Lebanese Shia, Hezbollah officials themselves say Naim Kassim the deputy secretary general said just two or three weeks ago, there is no such thing as distinct wings, we don’t have a political wing and a military wing, this is a convenient distinction that some governments make but let’s just call a spade a spade that’s all it is. It does not reflect reality and until we make Hezbollah choose between its legitimate activity,I won’t ever agree with Hezbollah’s platform. Its anti-Semitic, it calls for the destruction of another country, I’m not so in favour. But if all it did was have a political platform, was a political entity, engaged in social welfare activity but it wasn’t trying to blow up busloads of civilians and fire rockets at communities and engaging in international organised crime it would be a whole different thing. We aren’t forcing Hezbollah to make that choice and that’s on us and because of what it’s doing in Syria. Hezbollah is now, and this is just the most recent example, under mining stability in Lebanon, one of the things people tell me all the time is “Matt, we can’t designate Hezbollah as such because it is part of the political entity in Lebanon, we need to be able to have conversations with it, it is duly elected and it would undermine stability in Lebanon”.

The Hezbollah led coalition government in Lebanon has an official policy of non-intervention in Syria and yet Hezbollah is part of the killing machine of the Assad regime. We are not the ones who are making this uncomfortable distinction Hezbollah is forcing this uncomfortable moment on us because they muddy the waters between politics and terrorism and militant activity and its activities in Syria are already spilling across the border into Lebanon. I have Lebanese Shia coming to see me all the time wanting to make sure I understand that it is not the case that all Lebanese Shias support Hezbollah. Hezbollah has been indicted by the Special Tribunal in Lebanon, the UN Tribunal for assassinating Rafic Haririthe former Prime Minister, the de facto head of the Sunni community. In what way, in what alternate universe, can that possibly be described as being in the interest of Lebanon? That is destabilising to Lebanon in the most immediate sense and, when the government of New Zealand designated the military and terrorist wings of Hezbollah, one of the thresholds that they used to do so wasn’t just Hezbollah’s terrorist activities abroad -they cited that too – but it was also Hezbollah’s takeover of downtown Beirut in 2008 when they turned the weapons that they reportedly collect “only” and I put that in quotes for the resistance against the Zionist entity, and turned them against fellow Lebanese shooting bullets and rockets killing Lebanese which, according to the government of New Zealand, fits their definition of terrorism.

When I sit back and I look at Hezbollah today I see an acute international security threat and when I talk to my friends in Europe, friends like you, I remind them they are doing it here in Europe now. They are recruiting people here in Europe now. The Israelis just thwarted a plot in Israel, where Hezbollah recruited someone in Denmark, an Israeli Arab in Denmark and recruited him to carry out an attack in Israel possibly, they believe, targeting a senior Israeli official maybe as part of their revenge for Mughniyeh. Recruiting people here, dispatching people who have European citizenship to carry out attacks in Europe, such as Cyprus parenthetically holds the rotating presidency of the EU, in Bulgaria. I see a massive international criminal enterprise. I see a party which is destabilising the region, that is undermining the slim (I grant you) prospects for peace and is doing frankly almost everything it can. That’s not true, there is more it can do and I fear it might to destabilise Lebanon. That’s all I ask you – what more exactly would Hezbollah have to do for us to be serious about designating Hezbollah as a terrorist group in whole or in part at the European Union?

Now I am kind of preaching to the choir here, the UK is already leading this within Europe to your credit and I know they are working very closely with the US State Department to the UK’s credit. I have told people in the EU privately and I will tell you and I say it publicly too to you, for lots of reasons I feel it is much more important to designate Hezbollah at large but at a minimum if we don’t want to do that, if we feel we can’t do that because they are a political entity and they are duly elected and at a minimum we have a moral and ethical basic human right obligation to designate as you have the military and terrorist wings at a European Union level. In what way is telling Hezbollah that blowing up busloads of civilians or shooting rockets at civilian communities, in what parallel universe is that controversial?

My 8 year old son said to me recently “Dad I don’t understand your job, why is it complicated to explain to people that terrorism is bad?” From the mouths of babes. So I think we have an opportunity now and when I have conversations with the EU and membership states they are not necessarily saying let’s do that now but they are not saying no. They are saying ‘we need the US, we need the UK to give us information, we need to know more’ and I think there is an opportunity now there is so much going on and I think this is an important issue. It’s an important issue for all the issues I already laid out and it’s an important issue separately because of all the other things that are going on with Iran. I will just conclude with this – because this Iran-Hezbollah relationship is critical, you might ask yourself – why is Hezbollah doing all these things that put its stance in Lebanon at risk? Why did Hezbollah just take credit for flying a drone over southern Israel? And whether it’s truth or bravado, Iran just claimed that they got the intelligence take from that drone of military bases. Why would they possibly do that when, although in fact what happened was that the Israelis showed tremendous restraint, Hezbollah had to assume that the Israeli Air Force would very likely retaliate, and they would retaliate against Lebanon, why would they do that? Why would they do something at Iran’s behest that would put Lebanese and Lebanon at risk? And the answer is very clear I think and US intelligence has now stated this very clearly. The US Director of National Intelligence has testified to this publicly and the Director of National Counter Terrorism Centre has testified this publicly, that the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah is no longer a proxy-patron relationship. It is, and I quote, “a strategic partnership.”

If you don’t appreciate the fact that senior leaders in Hezbollah believe that the supreme leader of Iranis the Vilayat-e Faqih, the rule of the jurisprudent, then you don’t fully understand Hezbollah. Hezbollah has multiple and competing identities to be sure. It’s not only a proxy of Iran, a partner of Iran, it is also a regional Shia organisation and it is also a Lebanese organisation but it is doing things all over the place at Iran’s behest that challenge that persona that it has worked so hard to build of being Lebanese first. I think that says a lot about who and what Hezbollah is today, again I want to thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedules to chair this, all of you for taking the time to be here today, Davis I appreciate you making this possible and I look forward to having a conversation with you. Thank you.

James Morris MP

Well thank you Dr. Levitt for a very comprehensive overview, a very thought provoking address. I’m just conscious that there is three of my parliamentary colleagues in the room and I wanted to offer them the opportunity to ask you questions first. I don’t know, Rob…Madeleine?

Madeleine Moon MP

What influence do you think Hezbollah has wider in the Gulf and the MENA region outside of Lebanon and outside of Syria and Iran? Do they have any influence elsewhere and how much are they a key political player in terms of inciting a Shia insurgency across the Gulf and the Middle East.

Dr. Matthew Levitt

You know from the headlines of today’s newspapers a critical question. Now I mentioned before that Hezbollah officials have been indicted at the tribunal at The Hague. The key individuals been indicted is Mustafa Badr Al Din, Imad Mughniyeh’s brother-in-law and the man who succeeded him as head of the military wing and the terrorist wing. Mustafa Badr Al Din was involved with Mughniyeh in the Beirut bombings 29 years ago almost to the day, that anniversary was two weeks ago and then served time several years in a Kuwaiti jail for his role in a series of plots targeting Kuwaiti, American and other interests in the 1980s with a series of bombings plots and then an attack on  the Emir of Kuwait  and only was convicted, sentenced to death, that was never carried out and then when Iraq invaded Kuwait the Iranians helped him to escape and he is back in Lebanon. Those relationships go way, way back. It shouldn’t surprise then that during the course of the Iraq war Hezbollah was brought in to do some training. A, they had these relationships going way back with the Iraqi militants and b, to be perfectly blunt the Iraqis didn’t appreciate fact that the Iranians would talk down to them, want to give them, let me teach you about religion and frankly didn’t speak very good Arabic.

It’s not just in Iraq though, it’s very hard to say how true what the Bahrainis are saying right now. Is it true that Hezbollah is behind some of the bombings, these recent bombings? It’s hard to say, not because there isn’t precedent – there is -there was a Bahraini Hezbollah. There are several historical examples of Lebanese Hezbollah partnering with them and with the Kuwaiti Hezbollah of course there was the Khobar towers attack where the Lebanese Hezbollah cooperated with the Saudi Hezbollah, Hezbollah [Al-]Hejaz in that attack. But there is a complicated situation in Bahrain right now. The regime has an interest in saying that anything is Iran and anything is Hezbollah and, frankly, I have a hard time figuring out where to draw the line, to be honest. It’s interesting though that the Arbabsiar plot in the United States, where the Kudz Force plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in down town Washington D.C. targeting a restaurant at lunch time that was known to be frequented by US senators, he just plead guilty which was shouldn’t surprise as we had him on the phone with his cousin and Kudz Force general who was in charge of the operation. That whole plot came right on the heel of the Saudi intervention in Bahrain and reports that a senior Bahraini radical had just spent time with Lebanese Hezbollah in Lebanon and some interpret this as Iran seeing what was going on in Bahrain as the latest effort in [inaudible]to attack in and restrain its interests.

So, on the one hand, yes -Hezbollah does have very strong relations with Shia groups in the region. That doesn’t mean that everything that happens there is Lebanese Hezbollah driven. A lot of these guys spend time and have spent time in Lebanon especially Bahraini and Kuwaiti militants. I think about six months ago the Kuwaitis arrested a bunch of Lebanese and other Shia militants accusing them of a whole bunch of plots. But it’s not just that, the UN monitoring committee reported that in July 2006 during the war of July 2006, not only were Iraqi militants trapped in Lebanon, who were there to receive training, so were people who were there to receive training from the Somali al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabaab, Which is very much contrary to conventional wisdom al-Shabaab and alQaeda don’t particularly love each other. But in fact there is a long history of Hezbollah providing one-off training to different Sunni extremists from time to time. So there is a relationship but it doesn’t mean that Hezbollah is behind everything in the MENA region.

Unknown

Are there any circumstances in which you believe, notwithstanding obviously the particular views you have been given, that you think it is right for governments or individuals to be engaging with Hezbollah in dialogue?

Dr. Matthew Levitt

I would prefer that dialogue be behind closed doors and through an intelligence channel as opposed to a political policy channel, otherwise as I said, we do not communicate to Hezbollah that there’s any cost whatsoever to its muddying the waters and engaging in overt and otherwise legitimate political activity and murder at the same time and I have a real problem with that. Hezbollah is a very important driver of politics in Lebanon, it’s undeniable and it’s an important part of the social fabric, not just political fabric of Lebanon. But as I said I have people come to me, Shia, certainly non-Shia, but Shia from Lebanon saying “Why do you guys embrace Hezbollah all the time? They don’t speak for me.” These people came and say to me…

Unknown

I wouldn’t say people are embracing Hezbollah, but I think people are…

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Well this is what, I’m not putting words in your mouth and I’m not saying it myself. I mean this is what, people come and, this is what they and other Shia in Lebanon interpret it. So the question is also what is the conversation? Are we in these conversations insisting on some type of threshold; is there a give and take? Is there a cost to Hezbollah in order to have this conversation, or is it completely free? I would prefer that it be done if it has to be done through less overt channels and I would much prefer that we force upon Hezbollah the need to make a choice and I don’t think, and I think the US circumstances is quite clear here. Hezbollah is banned every way to Tuesday in the States, that has not I don’t believe in any way mitigated our ability to work with the Lebanese government even when Hezbollah runs the coalition. We do a whole lot of stuff in Lebanon, I was just talking to some very senior US officials who came back from there, the Lebanese were just in Washington. It’s not the case that if you say to Hezbollah, “I can’t talk to you and I can’t have you here.” Think of Mr Musawi who wanted to come here and DCLG had an issue about whether or not they were going to deny him entry. My feeling was that the answer to Mr Musawi should have been “Listen I know that you say that you are political Hezbollah and you have nothing to do with the terrorism or military side of Hezbollah, but your own Deputy Secretary General Naim Kassim insists publically that there is no such thing and therefore he and you are putting us in a very uncomfortable position and I think that it would be perfectly legitimate for the UK to say then “I can’t let you into the country so long as you, the leader of your party says that there is no distinction between you and the military wing”. Separate from the fact, by the way, that Musawi has since been tied to a whole big synthetic drug conspiracy. I think that there has to be a better explanation for the benefit to us, the need to engage in a cost free dialogue with Hezbollah, I just don’t see the need.

James Morris MP

Right I am going to open it up. I think this gentleman here, I think I’ll take two questions at the same time so one here and then the gentleman here. Can you just say who you are and where you are from as a preamble?

Colin Jake

Colin Jake, just a member. It seems to me that both Iran and Hezbollah are goading Israel into an attack and that Netanyahu is wanting to accept the challenge. How would you, Dr, Levitt, advise the Israelis to act?

James Morris MP

The gentleman here.

Bernard

Bernard, permanent member of the society. In Europe we have a growing Muslim minorities in virtually every country, with many increasingly radicalised. Does Hezbollah consciously attempt to radicalize them or use them as a shield for their activities?

James Morris MP

Do you want to take those two together and then…

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Thank you both for the questions. Colin, perhaps, perhaps Iran and Hezbollah are goading Israel to attack. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, I think Iran is not hoping to be attacked but I understand why people see it that way. In part because Iran, some people think that they are irrational. I don’t accept that I think Iran is very rational. But it’s a different rationality than how we tend to look at things in the West and in part it is different because it is much more aggressive, whereas we tend to be risk averse and it’s just a different way of thinking. I do think that Iran is willing to push the envelope and they are willing to take greater risks including the risk that Israel will do something and I do think that Iran feels that they certainly could survive that, not only the country but the nuclear program and it would probably in a sense be good for the regime though not the country that it would circle the wagon, people would get very nationalistic about it. I don’t think that the Israeli government even the Netanyahu government is eager to do this and I have gone there and I have had conversations with people there about it. I do get the impression, and I have no special insight here, but this is from my conversations with them. I do get the impression that if they believe that it is the eleventh hour and that Iran is about to cross a threshold and how they define that threshold and different people will define that threshold differently is a whole conversation unto itself, but if they believe that is going to happen, that they will attack. I also get the extremely clear impression across the political spectrum, I did not speak to Netanyahu about this, I spoke to people who are close to that sphere, that they have no interest in doing it, that they are supremely aware of the costs of doing it, that it would not solve the problem, that it delays the problem, that it would have all kinds of political diplomatic and other costs associated with it. But if they feel that there is no other alternative, that they will.

As it happens right now the Israelis have called early elections, which is a clear sign that they don’t intend to do something tomorrow and they have also started taking publically about how sanctions are having a greater impact than previously intended. In fact, they have even been making comments about the fact that it’s having such an impact that it appears that it’s affecting Iran’s ability to maintain the same level of support for Hezbollah, which has happened at least once before. I’ve written about this in Foreign Affairs, that in 2009 Iran had to for a short period of time curtail Hezbollah’s budget by about 40%, and if you’re Hezbollah you would much rather Iran say I’m going to ship you know 8000 fewer rockets rather than I’m going to cut back your money and you have to fire people and curtail your social welfare activities, so that’s how I see that.

Bernard, in terms of your question on Muslim minorities in Europe and whether Hezbollah’s radicalising them or using them as a shield – you know the first thing to say of course is that it’s not the case that all Muslim communities are radical, and not even that all Shia communities are radical. But, it is unfortunately the case that Hezbollah supporters, and there is a broad spectrum of people who are highly trained military operatives of Hezbollah at one end to people don’t really love Hezbollah for its terrorism, but provide some money to Hezbollah either because they feel it stands up to Israel, or that it’s the only organisation that really stands up for the Shia community in Lebanon, a variety of different things and everything in between that, within Shia communities, people who support Hezbollah and different places on that spectrum are able to hide in plain sight.

That is not an indictment of those communities in any way, it’s not those communities’ fault and that is a big concern we see that in the United States, which I can speak to with much greater authority than, I don’t have a great deal of insight into the nature of your Shia communities in Europe, some but not much, we also see it significantly in South America and in Africa. Interestingly, the good news on the issue of countering violent extremism is that the kind of home grown violent extremist threat so far has been limited to Sunni extremist communities and that’s a big enough problem as it is. There have been a small number of cases of radical Shia who have kind of been home or self-radicalised, we had some cases in the United States that were far and few between, but that is a possibility. It is a definite possibility. My concern at a macro level is that what Hezbollah and others are doing in Syria and not Hezbollah from the Shia perspective, but other groups from the Sunni side too. There are some pretty bad Sunni actors involved in this too Jabhat al-Nusrah, Fatah al-Islam, not quite but pretty much al-Qaeda type organisations. But that what’s happening there and what Hezbollah is, the fires, the flames that Hezbollah is fanning will lead to something that is no longer a rebellion or a civil war but it is a sectarian conflict that will certainly not stop at the Syrian-Lebanese border, it won’t stop at the Levant and if that happens you will have a much greater likelihood of home grown extremism within the Sunni community, Shia community as well.

James Morris MP

Fine, more questions. The gentleman here and then the gentleman there, can you just say who you are?

Stephen Noti

Stephen Noti, I’m a retired journalist. Let me ask you, let me take you back to [Inaudible]. Now you said that British troops discovered that Hezbollah was acting against them, now was any Hezbollah man arrested, and if there were any arrested were they taken to Guantanamo? What was their status? Were they actually exchanged? That’s one thing. The other thing is, what is the legal status of Hezbollah and when they actually are arrested in third countries. Obviously I’m talking about the military wing of Hezbollah.

James Morris MP

Gentleman over here.

[Inaudible]

[inaudible] I’m a member of the society. Chemical weapons, which Syria is believed to have but, what is the likelihood of Hezbollah getting their hands on this, if there is a real risk, what can be done to prevent this from happening?

Dr. Matthew Levitt

The danger of speaking to an informed crowd is that they ask pointed and difficult questions. Actually I enjoy it and I appreciate your questions both.

On the first issue for instance what was happening in Basra was anybody arrested, with their status, were they at Guantanamo et cetera. Yes, Ali Musa Daqduq was a senior Hezbollah commander who was arrested actually by British forces in a night raid (Special Forces) he was handed over to coalition authorities, when the coalition left he was handed over after a long negotiation to Iraqi authorities the Iraqis have so far refused to put him on trial. That is causing no small amount of tension between them and the US and I assume between them and the UK since it was operations targeting the UK. We have asked for his extradition and I believe that authorities in the United States are ready to try him. Now there’s a political football in the United States as I’m sure you are aware over how to deal legally with terrorism suspects. The administration, well I guess of today I can still say the administration, the administration in its first term wanted to bring  him to the United States and have him stand trial in civilian court, which I personally thought was a good idea. There was ample evidence against him, we have tried terrorists in civilian courts before and we have done quite well.

That will not always be the case, there are cases where you cannot put together the evidence and then a civilian trial may not be possible. That’s always my preference though. Others on the other side of the political isle wanted him to be sent to Guantanamo. So far Guantanamo has not been used for anybody outside of the al-Qaeda Taliban family of Sunni radicals, and that was open to conversation. I think the administration would have preferred that he go and serve in, have a military commission in Guantanamo than nothing at all, but frankly it has been a moot point because the Iraqis have refused to hand him over. Last I heard he was still in detention in Iraq but I don’t know if that has changed. It’s a very significant sticking point and if you go to the Washington Institute’s website, the Washingtoninstitute.org, I’ve written about him extensively. Do a search for him – Daqduq – and you will find plenty of material about that. In terms of the legal status of Hezbollah operatives when they are arrested in third countries, that depends country by country, how each country understands the Hezbollah issue and what the particular individual was doing in that country.

So, for example, if a country sees Hezbollah in whole or in part as a terrorist group then there is legal predicatefor holding them even if they haven’t broken any other laws because they are members of a banned terrorist group. In many countries that is not the case, and so in many countries when they are detained they are for some type of criminal violation and almost always there is some, whether it’s some type of fraud or they are travelling on a false fraudulent passport or something like that. There has been some significant progress in this area and I’ll just give you one case. There was a series of three major Hezbollah cases in Philadelphia over the last few years. In one of them a major Hezbollah procurement officer, who is a German citizen and was procuring and shipping items for Hezbollah through his company in Slovakia was involved, and a sister case to that there was an individual who lived in New Jersey for a while, in Brooklyn, New York for a while and just before he could be arrested when the case came to a close he fled the country back to Lebanon. The guy was not particularly sharp though because he decided that he could leave Lebanon and he’d be safe from extradition to the United States if he went to South America, the tri-border area where Hezbollah has quite a strong footprint. Tri-border is where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet – it’s kind of a mecca of crime – and Hezbollah has a very significant presence there. And I guess, because of that, he felt that he would be safe. But he was a fugitive of justice, he had been indicted in the United States not for Hezbollah stuff per se, but for a whole host of criminal, explicitly criminal activities. Though, we did mention the H word – Hezbollah word – in the indictment, and therefore there was a red notice, an Interpol red notice, out for his arrest and Paraguay when it was brought to their attention that he was there to their credit detained him and ultimately extradited him to the United States where he is currently incarcerated. So there’s all kind of cases but the bottom line it depends country by country.

The problem, to be diplomatic, about the Syrian weapons, the chemical weapons programme is a huge worry and a headache. Syria has, by some accounts, the largest, some say the second largest, but one of the largest chemical weapons programmes in the region, perhaps in the world – and how secure are they today? So A, in other words, could people go and get into those bases and just take the stuff and, B, under what circumstances, if Assad is so pushed into the corner might he decide to lash out and one last hurrah by providing, either using the chemical weapons or providing them to groups like Hezbollah, this is a real worry and without getting into things that we shouldn’t get into in a public domain and I’m not in government so I know very little about this anyway to be honest, but it has been discussed publically that US Special Forces are on the ground in Jordan, in the north of Jordan along the border with Syria and in Turkey along the south along the border with Syria working with both countries, among other things, to be prepared to secure those cachets of chemical weapons. I have no idea if that’s the case but frankly I hope that they are doing things of a covert nature, not waiting until the actual fall of the regime to go and secure them today because that is a nightmare scenario and I can’t tell you if it’s going to happen or what the likelihood is. So long as Assad is in power he doesn’t want to give that stuff to Hezbollah because then it’s out of his control and, if Hezbollah uses it, he’ll be held accountable. But it’s getting to the point where he has done so much bad, he’s been held accountable for so much already, that maybe he’s already been pushed too far into a corner, I don’t know. Under what circumstances this might happen, this is a huge concern of all of ours, I know of the UK’s as well.

James Morris MP

OK we’ve got about five minutes left, time for about maybe two or three questions. This gentleman here and the lady there.

Charles Brown

Charles Brown, [inaudible] at Corporate Risk Advisory. Just a quick update on [inaudible]. In the event of an Iranian attack on Iran, what would you see as a potential counter role for Hezbollah, if there was one, increased action or business as usual and, in response generally, what would Hezbollah’s response be if there was to be involved in, if that’s specifically actions against Israeli and or Jewish holdings?

James Morris MP

Lady over here.

Sophie

My name is Sophie and I’m a student. Thank you for your talk. I just wanted to ask you to what extent do you think Hezbollah was implicit in the bombings in Africa two weeks ago.

James Morris MP

I think if we just take two more questions from over here, the gentleman here and then the gentleman at the back.

[inaudible]

[inaudible] from the Netherlands. I have a colleague who works on [inaudible] the subject of the EU and he told me that the reasons being held up is mostly because of Germany and France by [in audible] special relations with Lebanon. I was wondering if maybe you could say more about that [inaudible].

No name given

Thank you very much for your talk, you mentioned that Hezbollah has no ideology except for making money, as it is an organized crime organization. So the reason they are working for Assad is they are paying them good money and they are working for Iran because they are offering this money. My question is, why can’t we hire them[?], the business community of Israel [inaudible].

James Morris MP

And actually, let’s just take this final gentleman here, and then so we’ll have five questions. Sorry I’m just conscious of the division bell is going to ring at seven because there is a vote coming so we… OK let’s just get the …

No name given

Dr. Levitt you’ve assembled a very clever jigsaw but, if you were to assemble the jigsaw in a different way… I’m not being [inaudible] but you could make the same argument for the provisional IRA and the activities [inaudible] the United States government for a long time and particularly congress opposed and there are still people who [inaudible] the UK Terrorism Act.  I think sometimes when you explain your jigsaw, why haven’t you done something about it? Then I would say you didn’t do it with the Provisional IRA for a long time.

James Morris MP

OK thanks very much.  Quite a few, five questions there in a short period of time.

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Put on your seatbelts, here we go. Erm the second you said your involvement in risk I knew exactly what question you were going to ask. We don’t have the time to go into this in detail I will again refer you to the Washington Institute website where we have done a whole bunch of analysis about this, myself and my colleague Mike Eisenstadt actually just put out a long paper on this. But the bottom line is, it will be a mix, it will involve asymmetric warfare, interest in the region, it will involve asymmetric terrorism attacks abroad of the type we are already seeing but much more, it will likely involve some measure of Hezbollah and or Hamas rockets that hit Israel from the south or north though personally I think that those will be more limited. You’ll see some numbers of rockets but not tens of thousands of rockets. Again, Nasrallah’s not ready or eager for that big war today, I think he’s aware that the Israelis are better prepared today than they were in 2006. But it will have massive implications for risk assessment, for business, for the ability to move oil and all kinds of other things, that’s one of the many things the Israelis recognize – that this would be messy, this would definitely be messy, and could involve mining the Gulf and all kinds of things like that. I could spend the whole time just answering that question so I’m not trying to evade.

Sophie I have no information whatsoever, I’m sorry, on whether or not they are involved with [inaudible] it doesn’t mean they’re not, I think probably not, but some of their allies, I would certainly imagine, were.

Yes, I just came from Germany. On this issue it is about Germany and France and I told them in no uncertain terms, this will happen only in Germany and France get involved, I think the Germans are more amenable than ever before and they demonstrated, I they didn’t need to do this, they have banned the Hezbollah television station, they have banned the orphan welfare project that was part of working with Hezbollah’s martyrs foundation, it’s a question of how to do it. France, more than I could ever pressure, more than I could ever convince France there is already a process under way right now because Saad Hariri has escaped to France he has the ear of some pretty prominent French officials and he is saying in a message that makes mine look soft. But the French are concerned, they have very large Syrian and Lebanese populations also have interest. All the countries that have forces in UNIFIL worry that Hezbollah may target out forces according to the US State Department Hezbollah targeted French UNIFIL officers, some civilians, some military already in 2011.

James Morris MP

Dr. Levitt, just before you move on I have to go and vote in a division in the house now, I just wanted to thank you very much for coming to talk to us and just to show you my appreciation as I leave and Davis, I think, will take over. I think we can then complete the discussion but I just wanted to thank you on behalf of the audience for coming, thank you very much for giving such an interesting presentation.

Dr. Matthew Levitt

 I really do very much appreciate the opportunity and thank you.

James Morris MP

No problem.

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Just to answer the last two questions I disagree with the premise. I did not say and if I did I did not mean to say that Hezbollah has no ideology and works just for money. If that were the case you’d be right and it would be a much easier adversary to deal with. What makes it different from the IRA is that it does have an ideology, it’s a religious ideology, it’s tied to a foreign state which the IRA never was and it calls for the destruction of another country, the IRA never called for the destruction of the United Kingdom. If it were only the case of a question of money, now where you are right, is outside the upper echelons of the organisation, in its many supporters, in its outside diasporas you have people who are basically criminals, who also happen to support Hezbollah, and they might be people that we could deal with in different ways in a non-terrorism type of way, through traditional law enforcement or other means.

In terms of the last question I agree with you 110% I think it’s a shame on the United States that the United States didn’t act more on the support for IRA. I grew up in Boston, I will make no qualms about it. I think it’s uncomfortable for many that there is an individual who had one of the Homeland Security Committees who once talked about how those organisations were OK and is now head of the Homeland Security Committee on the republican side talked about other groups that are not OK. That provokes no small amount of discomfort for many. On the one hand I would say, as I would say to my four sons, just because you did something wrong doesn’t mean that you now get to do something wrong. I say yes mea culpa. I’m older than I look but I’m not that old so it wasn’t me, but yes, and I would suggest that the UK not make the same mistake that we made. But I also think that this is a much broader international threat. Not to downplay in the least the threat that the IRA posed then, that its splinter groups continue to pose now. Not to undermine that in the least. But it was not the transnational threat that Hezbollah is. You did not have the IRA trying to blow up things all over the world. It was partnered with all kinds of groups all over the world and training and other things too I understand, but this is a different beast. Again I don’t say that to downplay the troubles at all but I think that the comparison between Hezbollah and the IRA is flawed on so many levels and leads to some very, very poor policy judgments. But the simple and short answer to your question is, you are right.

Davis Lewin

Well if I can just say before I thank you again, my colleague will be on the other side of that door with a number of copies of Matt’s latest paper that deals with some of these issues and I do hope you’ll pick up a copy. All that remains for me to say is thank you again for a fascinating talk. I think that we can all agree that that was a masterly tour of why we should be banning Hezbollah and of course the Henry Jackson Society entirely agrees with you and we will be continuing to educate people about the dangers that exist from that terrorist movement. Thank you all for coming.

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Thank you all for coming.

 

James Morris MP

Thank you very much for coming to this very important discussion. I am delighted to introduce Dr. Matthew Levitt to you. I’m sure he has known many of you. He is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Stein Program on Counter Terrorism and Intelligence at the Washington institute for Near East Policy. Dr. Levitt was from 2005 to early 2007, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the US Department of the Treasury, where he played a central role in efforts to protect the US financial system from abuse and to deny terrorists, weapons proliferators and other rogue actors the ability to finance threats to US national security. In 2008/9 he served as a state department counter terrorism advisor to a special envoy for Middle East regional security. Dr. Levitt has also served as a counter terrorism intelligence analyst at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified before the Senate and House on matters relating to international terrorism and written and lectured extensively on the subject. So, without further preamble, over to you Dr. Levitt.

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Thank you very, very much. Thank you for chairing this, Davis and, The Henry Jackson Society, thank you for making this possible. Thank you, you all for taking the time. Thank you especially for reading a shorter version of the bio I have on the website. The full version on the website is actually only intended for my mother and she’s not here so I can dispense with that. It’s a pleasure to be here.

You know I just finished a book on Hezbollah and traipsing around Europe, a little too much my wife says, talking to people about it, because I think that there is a renewed opportunity here to do more on an adversary that is increasing its illicit conduct around the world. At home in Lebanon, in the region and internationally, both in terms of its organised criminal activities and its activities in support of its terrorist activities, recruitment, funding, procurement of weapons and dual use items like night vision goggles and now most recently acts of terrorism, including acts of terrorism here in Europe. And as I meet with European Union officials and I meet with EU member state officials on an issue that I have been talking to them about, frankly to a brick wall for several years now because only the UK has designated the terrorist and military wings of Hezbollah, the only other country in the EU, the Netherlands has designated all Hezbollah. Usually I am speaking to a brick wall. The past few weeks I’ve had greater reciprocity than ever before. Let me share with you how I think about this issue. The book is not about Hezbollah in Lebanon mind you. Not because Hezbollah is not an important actor in Lebanon- it is. It’s an important part of the social fabric, and the political fabric of Lebanese society, it’s a political party duly elected to office, that is why some are uncomfortable designating the entire group or movement as a terrorist organization. It provides social welfare support, it has a standing militia which is larger and better armed than most sovereign countries armies, in violation of UN security council resolutions but all of those things you can read about, there’s lots of books and articles that you can read, some of them are even worth reading, but there is nothing out there until soon, I hope, on Hezbollah’s activities worldwide – from terrorism to finance et cetera.

Let me tell you about the four baskets that I’m looking at as I have these conversations with European countries in particular, but not only. The first is Hezbollah’s increasing role in international terrorism and here is really where the title that we threw together, “Hezbollah, the Kudz Force and our shadow war against the West”, comes in. Then we will talk about the second basket – Iran’s increasing international criminal activity the Hezbollah’s actions contributing to regional instability in the Middle East, the United Kingdom is a major player in the region, the EU is a major player in the region, both for regional stability because we are concerned about 30,000 people being killed in Syria, because we are concerned about efforts to do more on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and then Hezbollah’s actions destabilising Lebanon.

Let’s start at the beginning. In 1980s-early 90s, Hezbollah was extremely and aggressively involved in acts of international terrorism all over the world, including here in Europe. You are probably familiar with the spate of around fifteen bombings in 1985 and 1986 in Paris, but you may not be aware of the bombing in Copenhagen, and you may not be aware of the four different plots which were thwarted in Germany, and you may not be aware of the arrests in Italy and Switzerland et cetera. But Hezbollah put that on ice by the mid-1990s after the bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and especially so after 9/11 when it worked very, very hard to stay out of the cross hairs of what we were then calling the war on terrorism. It is now back in that business and for two separate reasons.

The first has to do with the assassination in February 2008 of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s arch terrorist who ironically was… whose existence was denied by Hezbollah until the day he died and then warmly embraced. I had a long and running argument with a fairly prominent Lebanese academician who said there was no way that Imad Mughniyeh exists, he’s a fabrication of the American Zionist conspiracy and it took all of my self-restraint not to send this person an email in February 2008 saying ‘and now we are both right, because he did and now doesn’t exist’. Once he was killed, Hassan Nasrallah the secretary general of Hezbollah stated at his funeral that Israel was responsible and pledged open war against Israel. Mughniyeh’s wife didn’t agree by the way and still believes that Syria was behind the assassination, it’s probably the case that the Israelis were, the Israelis are certainly happy to let everyone think they were, that kind of deterrence is something they like to have. In any event Hezbollah has tried to carry out several attacks targeting significant individuals of stature from Israel, diplomats, current and former military intelligence personnel, because they want it to be sort of tit-for-tat, someone of equal stature to Imad Mughniyeh the first was a failed attack in Baku Azerbaijan in 2008. The second was using a network that was already in existence in Egypt that was funnelling weapons to Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah leaders tasked that network since they were there anyway with conducting surveillance of Israeli interests to see if it may be possible to carry out an attack there.

The Egyptians have not been so interested in acting against the group so long as it was only moving weapons to the Gaza Strip, once they saw the group conducting surveillance for a possible attack on Egyptian soil that got their attention and they arrested the individuals and the third and perhaps most importantly was the first of now a series of attempted attacks on Turkey this one in September 2009. After the first two failures Iran decided to help Hezbollah, clearly their operational capabilities had kind of rusted, kind of rotted on the vine as they had scaled back their international terrorist activities post 9/11 to kind of stay out of those cross hairs and so they provided much more significant logistical support to the September 2009 plot in Turkey. That too was thwarted which led to significant finger pointing between Iran and Hezbollah over whose fault that was. Meanwhile as they decided how to move forward over which was then this one strain of carrying out attacks to avenge the assassination of Mughniyeh events started changing on the ground. Iranian scientists started to be killed in Iran, Stuxnet virus was found, IRGC officials started to defect and sensitive procured material from the Iranian nuclear programme, centrifuge pieces in particular were arriving and failing, and the assumption, I hope correctly, was that western intelligence had mucked around with it and the Iranians were quite upset. Suddenly the Iranians had an interest in carrying out attacks against Israel and the West of their own not only because of the assassination of Mughniyeh and so what they did is they told Hezbollah here is how it’s going to be. You will renew your international terrorism capabilities because they are not as good as they once were and Hezbollah took off seven or eight months and did just that, recruiting people from their military wing the elite  to go into their terrorist wing in particular.

Meanwhile Iran said we are going to have a three tiered strategy and you are going to take one of those tiers. The first tier, the Kudz Force (that we are going to call unit 400, not us in this room but Iran called Unit 400) is going to target diplomatic official entities mostly Israeli but not only and so you are all familiar I’m sure with the February 2012 attacks in Thailand, in Georgia and in India, you’re aware of those three in particular but there was supposed to be five and they were supposed to be as close to the February 12th anniversary of Imad Mughniyeh assassination as possible. A fourth was in Baku was thwarted, a fifth was in Thailand and was delayed and thwarted a month later. Second, the Kudz Force was going to target semi-official targets having to do with the Israeli or Jewish targets, there’s a long history of Iran and Hezbollah both making no real distinction between Israeli and Jewish targets – think, for example, of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires, and so you had plots in Baku targeting a Jewish school, in Baku targeting a rabbi, one of those February 2012 attacks targeted a Georgian citizen who happened to work at the Israeli embassy as a foreign service national and according to the intelligence officials I have been talking to that was not a mistake they knew full well who he was, this was not a mistake that they thought he was an Israeli, they targeted him even though they knew he was a Georgian citizen.

In the case of the Hezbollah operation that was thwarted in Thailand, which by the way that operation and one of the two operations in Cyprus were being carried out by European citizens who were Hezbollah operatives, both Swedes, dual national Lebanese and Swedish nationals. The individual led the authorities there to a fairly large explosives cachet where they were putting together a precursor explosives they had already put them into crystalized form which is the first step into making them into the explosive. Some of it apparently was being intended to be shipped abroad, that’s why intelligence believes this too, like in Egypt, was a pre-existing network which was putting together explosives to be shipped elsewhere and that Hezbollah told them “well you’re there we need to carry out attacks against Israeli tourists, do that” and when they did that they also found information about interest in the Israeli shipping lines et cetera. So that’s the second tier not only formal targets but kind of informal targets representative of the Israeli government like the shipping line representative of Jewish communities, a rabbi and a Jewish school. And the third was going to be Hezbollah’s responsibility and that is targeting Israeli tourists in Thailand, in Cyprus twice, in Bulgaria twice, at the Johannesburg Airport, in Ukraine, in Greece et cetera.

Now there is a lot of discussion, how much do we know about these different attacks and in particular the attack in Burgos, Bulgaria, the one to succeed and thankfully so far only one has succeeded. Let’s be clear, we have to let the investigation run its course. I started my career in FBI counter terrorism, I am well familiar, I will tell you that I do not have high hopes that we will be able and this is not just the Bulgarians who are working hard on this but we collectively will be able, and the UK is involved in this, the US is involved in this, to put this together at an open evidentiary level simply because Hezbollah did a very good job and there is not a whole lot of evidence left behind. But it has also remained very clear to me that on the intel side there’s absolutely no daylight, no delta, no question that this was Hezbollah and there has actually been some stuff out in the open source about the fact that someone, I presume the Israelis, but maybe somebody else was up on phones in Lebanon and there was some pretty significant signals intelligence about phone calls increasing between those Hezbollah phone lines in Beirut and phones in Bulgaria leading up to the attack et cetera.

So we have these three different streams of threats, one of which involves Hezbollah. That means that Hezbollah is now involved in terrorism, including terrorism here in the European Union, including terrorism using European operatives on the one hand at the behest of Iran and on the other to exact revenge for Mughniyeh. International security, I don’t see how we can deny the fact that there is now a renewed, acute clear and present danger of a Hezbollah threat to security today, A.

B, internationally organized crime and this is not a terrorism thing necessarily, there is certainly no politics involved in this, this is simply enforcing our own laws. Hezbollah has been involved in more criminal activity than almost any other terrorist group out there period, with the exceptions possibly of once upon a time the IRA and the FARC in Colombia. The IRA itself is not what it once was, there are still splinter groups which are very dangerous, the FARC is now a drugs trafficking organisation that also engages in terrorism as opposed to a terrorism group that also engages in drugs. Hezbollah therefore today is the largest, most significant terrorist group involved in criminal activity out there, period. That’s always been the case but, for many years, it was really more the case that you had people who supported Hezbollah who were criminals and the support, the financial support that they gave to Hezbollah was from their business, the proceeds of their business which happens to be illicit. Now you have Hezbollah as an organisation involved in criminal activity of a much larger nature. We are not just talking about credit card fraud and cigarette smuggling anymore, though that happens at a very high percentage and pace still today. We are now talking about Hezbollah as an organisation not producing drugs but moving, transferring drugs and laundering the proceeds of drugs and though Hezbollah is not designated as a terrorist group within the European Union when US or other authorities approach Southern European countries and point out the evidence that Hezbollah is moving products across the tenth parallel, what we call highway ten – that narrowest point between South America and West Africa and then up north into Southern Europe, some to stay in Europe and some to go on into the Middle East. Believe-you-me that gets their attention and they may not target those individuals for their Hezbollah affiliation but they will do plenty for them moving drugs into their countries which they take personal offence at.

The problem is you have to come at adversaries like that from both angles. You can’t assume that you will always uncover their activities simply by looking for when they violate the law, you also have to come at this from an intelligence function and, as John Brennan the White House Terrorism Advisor said in a speech a week ago Friday, in Ireland, many European countries cannot do that by virtue of the fact Hezbollah is not recognised as a terrorist organisation within the EU or in their domestic systems. The UK is an exception, I wish the UK would designate all of Hezbollah and I’m happy to describe why during the questions and answers if you like. But at least the UK has dedicated the terrorism and military wings and is able therefore to target those and it does so vociferously.

International security threat, international crime and now Hezbollah is and it’s not entirely new, but in a new way under mining national security hand over [inaudible]. It’s not entirely new because look, for example, what Hezbollah was doing in Iraq during the Iraq war. It was Hezbollah’s activity in Iraq not anything Hezbollah was doing against Israel, anything it was doing in Lebanon, anything it was doing here in London that led the UK to expand its designation from the Hezbollah ESO, the terrorist wing to the Hezbollah military wing, it’s what Hezbollah was doing in Southern Iraq, targeting British forces in the Basra area not just training Shia, Iraqi Shia militants in Iran and in Lebanon but actually overseeing, helping to plan and helping to carry out plots for example, a specific plot to kidnap British soldiers as they went to the bathroom, which they came very close to succeeding at doing.

That is just one example that hits home for you, but what Hezbollah is doing in Syria is more significant than anything else. In his speech in Ireland Brennan also pointed out that Hezbollah is apparently moving weapons to the Hutu rebels in Yemen at the behest of Iran, but what they are doing in Yemen, they are now part of Assad’s killing machine. Hezbollah is now helping the Assad regime butcher Syrian people – this is beyond any pale. Thirty-thousand people are dead and Hezbollah’s contributing, not just training, not just know-how, but we believe now snipers, we believe they have cases of shooting short range rockets from the Lebanon side of the border across the border at villages that are no longer controlled by the regime. Susan Rice at the UN has been very explicit, Hezbollah is part of Assad’s killing machine. And when my former office at the Treasury Department designated Hezbollah again, it has been designated as a terrorist group for many years but designated again several weeks ago to expose its support for the Assad regime, it declassified intelligence as the treasury always does in its press statements on two critical issues and if I have scars on my face still it’s because when I was at the treasury that was part of my job to work with the intelligence community to declassify and sanitise, so as to protect sources and methods enough information that would then be useful for the policy makers to have a conversation with their constituents as a true western democracy which was often a painful thing for both sides. The intelligence community didn’t want to give anything as they wanted to protect their sources and methods and the policy community always wanted more and my face was in the middle, but what they declassified in this particular instance was two really interesting things.

First, perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom that this is not new, what is new is the expansion, growth of the support. What is not new is the support that Hezbollah had been providing, the support it had been providing from the very beginning of this crisis and much more significantly, and significantly I would say for the UK too because you have not designated all of Hezbollah, because there is still here I think a misplaced concern about the potential of what it would mean to designate Hezbollah as such even though it has been elected to government in Lebanon. That the person who is overseeing Hezbollah’s activities in Syria is Hassan Nasrallah himself the Secretary General, the head of the political branch of Hezbollah, this is not a rogue operation, this is not the terrorist wing or the military wing and I beg you to look at what Hezbollah says, don’t listen to Matt Levitt the American, listen to what the Lebanese Shia, Hezbollah officials themselves say Naim Kassim the deputy secretary general said just two or three weeks ago, there is no such thing as distinct wings, we don’t have a political wing and a military wing, this is a convenient distinction that some governments make but let’s just call a spade a spade that’s all it is. It does not reflect reality and until we make Hezbollah choose between its legitimate activity,I won’t ever agree with Hezbollah’s platform. Its anti-Semitic, it calls for the destruction of another country, I’m not so in favour. But if all it did was have a political platform, was a political entity, engaged in social welfare activity but it wasn’t trying to blow up busloads of civilians and fire rockets at communities and engaging in international organised crime it would be a whole different thing. We aren’t forcing Hezbollah to make that choice and that’s on us and because of what it’s doing in Syria. Hezbollah is now, and this is just the most recent example, under mining stability in Lebanon, one of the things people tell me all the time is “Matt, we can’t designate Hezbollah as such because it is part of the political entity in Lebanon, we need to be able to have conversations with it, it is duly elected and it would undermine stability in Lebanon”.

The Hezbollah led coalition government in Lebanon has an official policy of non-intervention in Syria and yet Hezbollah is part of the killing machine of the Assad regime. We are not the ones who are making this uncomfortable distinction Hezbollah is forcing this uncomfortable moment on us because they muddy the waters between politics and terrorism and militant activity and its activities in Syria are already spilling across the border into Lebanon. I have Lebanese Shia coming to see me all the time wanting to make sure I understand that it is not the case that all Lebanese Shias support Hezbollah. Hezbollah has been indicted by the Special Tribunal in Lebanon, the UN Tribunal for assassinating Rafic Haririthe former Prime Minister, the de facto head of the Sunni community. In what way, in what alternate universe, can that possibly be described as being in the interest of Lebanon? That is destabilising to Lebanon in the most immediate sense and, when the government of New Zealand designated the military and terrorist wings of Hezbollah, one of the thresholds that they used to do so wasn’t just Hezbollah’s terrorist activities abroad -they cited that too – but it was also Hezbollah’s takeover of downtown Beirut in 2008 when they turned the weapons that they reportedly collect “only” and I put that in quotes for the resistance against the Zionist entity, and turned them against fellow Lebanese shooting bullets and rockets killing Lebanese which, according to the government of New Zealand, fits their definition of terrorism.

When I sit back and I look at Hezbollah today I see an acute international security threat and when I talk to my friends in Europe, friends like you, I remind them they are doing it here in Europe now. They are recruiting people here in Europe now. The Israelis just thwarted a plot in Israel, where Hezbollah recruited someone in Denmark, an Israeli Arab in Denmark and recruited him to carry out an attack in Israel possibly, they believe, targeting a senior Israeli official maybe as part of their revenge for Mughniyeh. Recruiting people here, dispatching people who have European citizenship to carry out attacks in Europe, such as Cyprus parenthetically holds the rotating presidency of the EU, in Bulgaria. I see a massive international criminal enterprise. I see a party which is destabilising the region, that is undermining the slim (I grant you) prospects for peace and is doing frankly almost everything it can. That’s not true, there is more it can do and I fear it might to destabilise Lebanon. That’s all I ask you – what more exactly would Hezbollah have to do for us to be serious about designating Hezbollah as a terrorist group in whole or in part at the European Union?

Now I am kind of preaching to the choir here, the UK is already leading this within Europe to your credit and I know they are working very closely with the US State Department to the UK’s credit. I have told people in the EU privately and I will tell you and I say it publicly too to you, for lots of reasons I feel it is much more important to designate Hezbollah at large but at a minimum if we don’t want to do that, if we feel we can’t do that because they are a political entity and they are duly elected and at a minimum we have a moral and ethical basic human right obligation to designate as you have the military and terrorist wings at a European Union level. In what way is telling Hezbollah that blowing up busloads of civilians or shooting rockets at civilian communities, in what parallel universe is that controversial?

My 8 year old son said to me recently “Dad I don’t understand your job, why is it complicated to explain to people that terrorism is bad?” From the mouths of babes. So I think we have an opportunity now and when I have conversations with the EU and membership states they are not necessarily saying let’s do that now but they are not saying no. They are saying ‘we need the US, we need the UK to give us information, we need to know more’ and I think there is an opportunity now there is so much going on and I think this is an important issue. It’s an important issue for all the issues I already laid out and it’s an important issue separately because of all the other things that are going on with Iran. I will just conclude with this – because this Iran-Hezbollah relationship is critical, you might ask yourself – why is Hezbollah doing all these things that put its stance in Lebanon at risk? Why did Hezbollah just take credit for flying a drone over southern Israel? And whether it’s truth or bravado, Iran just claimed that they got the intelligence take from that drone of military bases. Why would they possibly do that when, although in fact what happened was that the Israelis showed tremendous restraint, Hezbollah had to assume that the Israeli Air Force would very likely retaliate, and they would retaliate against Lebanon, why would they do that? Why would they do something at Iran’s behest that would put Lebanese and Lebanon at risk? And the answer is very clear I think and US intelligence has now stated this very clearly. The US Director of National Intelligence has testified to this publicly and the Director of National Counter Terrorism Centre has testified this publicly, that the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah is no longer a proxy-patron relationship. It is, and I quote, “a strategic partnership.”

If you don’t appreciate the fact that senior leaders in Hezbollah believe that the supreme leader of Iranis the Vilayat-e Faqih, the rule of the jurisprudent, then you don’t fully understand Hezbollah. Hezbollah has multiple and competing identities to be sure. It’s not only a proxy of Iran, a partner of Iran, it is also a regional Shia organisation and it is also a Lebanese organisation but it is doing things all over the place at Iran’s behest that challenge that persona that it has worked so hard to build of being Lebanese first. I think that says a lot about who and what Hezbollah is today, again I want to thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedules to chair this, all of you for taking the time to be here today, Davis I appreciate you making this possible and I look forward to having a conversation with you. Thank you.

James Morris MP

Well thank you Dr. Levitt for a very comprehensive overview, a very thought provoking address. I’m just conscious that there is three of my parliamentary colleagues in the room and I wanted to offer them the opportunity to ask you questions first. I don’t know, Rob…Madeleine?

Madeleine Moon MP

What influence do you think Hezbollah has wider in the Gulf and the MENA region outside of Lebanon and outside of Syria and Iran? Do they have any influence elsewhere and how much are they a key political player in terms of inciting a Shia insurgency across the Gulf and the Middle East.

Dr. Matthew Levitt

You know from the headlines of today’s newspapers a critical question. Now I mentioned before that Hezbollah officials have been indicted at the tribunal at The Hague. The key individuals been indicted is Mustafa Badr Al Din, Imad Mughniyeh’s brother-in-law and the man who succeeded him as head of the military wing and the terrorist wing. Mustafa Badr Al Din was involved with Mughniyeh in the Beirut bombings 29 years ago almost to the day, that anniversary was two weeks ago and then served time several years in a Kuwaiti jail for his role in a series of plots targeting Kuwaiti, American and other interests in the 1980s with a series of bombings plots and then an attack on  the Emir of Kuwait  and only was convicted, sentenced to death, that was never carried out and then when Iraq invaded Kuwait the Iranians helped him to escape and he is back in Lebanon. Those relationships go way, way back. It shouldn’t surprise then that during the course of the Iraq war Hezbollah was brought in to do some training. A, they had these relationships going way back with the Iraqi militants and b, to be perfectly blunt the Iraqis didn’t appreciate fact that the Iranians would talk down to them, want to give them, let me teach you about religion and frankly didn’t speak very good Arabic.

It’s not just in Iraq though, it’s very hard to say how true what the Bahrainis are saying right now. Is it true that Hezbollah is behind some of the bombings, these recent bombings? It’s hard to say, not because there isn’t precedent – there is -there was a Bahraini Hezbollah. There are several historical examples of Lebanese Hezbollah partnering with them and with the Kuwaiti Hezbollah of course there was the Khobar towers attack where the Lebanese Hezbollah cooperated with the Saudi Hezbollah, Hezbollah [Al-]Hejaz in that attack. But there is a complicated situation in Bahrain right now. The regime has an interest in saying that anything is Iran and anything is Hezbollah and, frankly, I have a hard time figuring out where to draw the line, to be honest. It’s interesting though that the Arbabsiar plot in the United States, where the Kudz Force plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in down town Washington D.C. targeting a restaurant at lunch time that was known to be frequented by US senators, he just plead guilty which was shouldn’t surprise as we had him on the phone with his cousin and Kudz Force general who was in charge of the operation. That whole plot came right on the heel of the Saudi intervention in Bahrain and reports that a senior Bahraini radical had just spent time with Lebanese Hezbollah in Lebanon and some interpret this as Iran seeing what was going on in Bahrain as the latest effort in [inaudible]to attack in and restrain its interests.

So, on the one hand, yes -Hezbollah does have very strong relations with Shia groups in the region. That doesn’t mean that everything that happens there is Lebanese Hezbollah driven. A lot of these guys spend time and have spent time in Lebanon especially Bahraini and Kuwaiti militants. I think about six months ago the Kuwaitis arrested a bunch of Lebanese and other Shia militants accusing them of a whole bunch of plots. But it’s not just that, the UN monitoring committee reported that in July 2006 during the war of July 2006, not only were Iraqi militants trapped in Lebanon, who were there to receive training, so were people who were there to receive training from the Somali al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabaab, Which is very much contrary to conventional wisdom al-Shabaab and alQaeda don’t particularly love each other. But in fact there is a long history of Hezbollah providing one-off training to different Sunni extremists from time to time. So there is a relationship but it doesn’t mean that Hezbollah is behind everything in the MENA region.

Unknown

Are there any circumstances in which you believe, notwithstanding obviously the particular views you have been given, that you think it is right for governments or individuals to be engaging with Hezbollah in dialogue?

Dr. Matthew Levitt

I would prefer that dialogue be behind closed doors and through an intelligence channel as opposed to a political policy channel, otherwise as I said, we do not communicate to Hezbollah that there’s any cost whatsoever to its muddying the waters and engaging in overt and otherwise legitimate political activity and murder at the same time and I have a real problem with that. Hezbollah is a very important driver of politics in Lebanon, it’s undeniable and it’s an important part of the social fabric, not just political fabric of Lebanon. But as I said I have people come to me, Shia, certainly non-Shia, but Shia from Lebanon saying “Why do you guys embrace Hezbollah all the time? They don’t speak for me.” These people came and say to me…

Unknown

I wouldn’t say people are embracing Hezbollah, but I think people are…

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Well this is what, I’m not putting words in your mouth and I’m not saying it myself. I mean this is what, people come and, this is what they and other Shia in Lebanon interpret it. So the question is also what is the conversation? Are we in these conversations insisting on some type of threshold; is there a give and take? Is there a cost to Hezbollah in order to have this conversation, or is it completely free? I would prefer that it be done if it has to be done through less overt channels and I would much prefer that we force upon Hezbollah the need to make a choice and I don’t think, and I think the US circumstances is quite clear here. Hezbollah is banned every way to Tuesday in the States, that has not I don’t believe in any way mitigated our ability to work with the Lebanese government even when Hezbollah runs the coalition. We do a whole lot of stuff in Lebanon, I was just talking to some very senior US officials who came back from there, the Lebanese were just in Washington. It’s not the case that if you say to Hezbollah, “I can’t talk to you and I can’t have you here.” Think of Mr Musawi who wanted to come here and DCLG had an issue about whether or not they were going to deny him entry. My feeling was that the answer to Mr Musawi should have been “Listen I know that you say that you are political Hezbollah and you have nothing to do with the terrorism or military side of Hezbollah, but your own Deputy Secretary General Naim Kassim insists publically that there is no such thing and therefore he and you are putting us in a very uncomfortable position and I think that it would be perfectly legitimate for the UK to say then “I can’t let you into the country so long as you, the leader of your party says that there is no distinction between you and the military wing”. Separate from the fact, by the way, that Musawi has since been tied to a whole big synthetic drug conspiracy. I think that there has to be a better explanation for the benefit to us, the need to engage in a cost free dialogue with Hezbollah, I just don’t see the need.

James Morris MP

Right I am going to open it up. I think this gentleman here, I think I’ll take two questions at the same time so one here and then the gentleman here. Can you just say who you are and where you are from as a preamble?

Colin Jake

Colin Jake, just a member. It seems to me that both Iran and Hezbollah are goading Israel into an attack and that Netanyahu is wanting to accept the challenge. How would you, Dr, Levitt, advise the Israelis to act?

James Morris MP

The gentleman here.

Bernard

Bernard, permanent member of the society. In Europe we have a growing Muslim minorities in virtually every country, with many increasingly radicalised. Does Hezbollah consciously attempt to radicalize them or use them as a shield for their activities?

James Morris MP

Do you want to take those two together and then…

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Thank you both for the questions. Colin, perhaps, perhaps Iran and Hezbollah are goading Israel to attack. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, I think Iran is not hoping to be attacked but I understand why people see it that way. In part because Iran, some people think that they are irrational. I don’t accept that I think Iran is very rational. But it’s a different rationality than how we tend to look at things in the West and in part it is different because it is much more aggressive, whereas we tend to be risk averse and it’s just a different way of thinking. I do think that Iran is willing to push the envelope and they are willing to take greater risks including the risk that Israel will do something and I do think that Iran feels that they certainly could survive that, not only the country but the nuclear program and it would probably in a sense be good for the regime though not the country that it would circle the wagon, people would get very nationalistic about it. I don’t think that the Israeli government even the Netanyahu government is eager to do this and I have gone there and I have had conversations with people there about it. I do get the impression, and I have no special insight here, but this is from my conversations with them. I do get the impression that if they believe that it is the eleventh hour and that Iran is about to cross a threshold and how they define that threshold and different people will define that threshold differently is a whole conversation unto itself, but if they believe that is going to happen, that they will attack. I also get the extremely clear impression across the political spectrum, I did not speak to Netanyahu about this, I spoke to people who are close to that sphere, that they have no interest in doing it, that they are supremely aware of the costs of doing it, that it would not solve the problem, that it delays the problem, that it would have all kinds of political diplomatic and other costs associated with it. But if they feel that there is no other alternative, that they will.

As it happens right now the Israelis have called early elections, which is a clear sign that they don’t intend to do something tomorrow and they have also started taking publically about how sanctions are having a greater impact than previously intended. In fact, they have even been making comments about the fact that it’s having such an impact that it appears that it’s affecting Iran’s ability to maintain the same level of support for Hezbollah, which has happened at least once before. I’ve written about this in Foreign Affairs, that in 2009 Iran had to for a short period of time curtail Hezbollah’s budget by about 40%, and if you’re Hezbollah you would much rather Iran say I’m going to ship you know 8000 fewer rockets rather than I’m going to cut back your money and you have to fire people and curtail your social welfare activities, so that’s how I see that.

Bernard, in terms of your question on Muslim minorities in Europe and whether Hezbollah’s radicalising them or using them as a shield – you know the first thing to say of course is that it’s not the case that all Muslim communities are radical, and not even that all Shia communities are radical. But, it is unfortunately the case that Hezbollah supporters, and there is a broad spectrum of people who are highly trained military operatives of Hezbollah at one end to people don’t really love Hezbollah for its terrorism, but provide some money to Hezbollah either because they feel it stands up to Israel, or that it’s the only organisation that really stands up for the Shia community in Lebanon, a variety of different things and everything in between that, within Shia communities, people who support Hezbollah and different places on that spectrum are able to hide in plain sight.

That is not an indictment of those communities in any way, it’s not those communities’ fault and that is a big concern we see that in the United States, which I can speak to with much greater authority than, I don’t have a great deal of insight into the nature of your Shia communities in Europe, some but not much, we also see it significantly in South America and in Africa. Interestingly, the good news on the issue of countering violent extremism is that the kind of home grown violent extremist threat so far has been limited to Sunni extremist communities and that’s a big enough problem as it is. There have been a small number of cases of radical Shia who have kind of been home or self-radicalised, we had some cases in the United States that were far and few between, but that is a possibility. It is a definite possibility. My concern at a macro level is that what Hezbollah and others are doing in Syria and not Hezbollah from the Shia perspective, but other groups from the Sunni side too. There are some pretty bad Sunni actors involved in this too Jabhat al-Nusrah, Fatah al-Islam, not quite but pretty much al-Qaeda type organisations. But that what’s happening there and what Hezbollah is, the fires, the flames that Hezbollah is fanning will lead to something that is no longer a rebellion or a civil war but it is a sectarian conflict that will certainly not stop at the Syrian-Lebanese border, it won’t stop at the Levant and if that happens you will have a much greater likelihood of home grown extremism within the Sunni community, Shia community as well.

James Morris MP

Fine, more questions. The gentleman here and then the gentleman there, can you just say who you are?

Stephen Noti

Stephen Noti, I’m a retired journalist. Let me ask you, let me take you back to [Inaudible]. Now you said that British troops discovered that Hezbollah was acting against them, now was any Hezbollah man arrested, and if there were any arrested were they taken to Guantanamo? What was their status? Were they actually exchanged? That’s one thing. The other thing is, what is the legal status of Hezbollah and when they actually are arrested in third countries. Obviously I’m talking about the military wing of Hezbollah.

James Morris MP

Gentleman over here.

[Inaudible]

[inaudible] I’m a member of the society. Chemical weapons, which Syria is believed to have but, what is the likelihood of Hezbollah getting their hands on this, if there is a real risk, what can be done to prevent this from happening?

Dr. Matthew Levitt

The danger of speaking to an informed crowd is that they ask pointed and difficult questions. Actually I enjoy it and I appreciate your questions both.

On the first issue for instance what was happening in Basra was anybody arrested, with their status, were they at Guantanamo et cetera. Yes, Ali Musa Daqduq was a senior Hezbollah commander who was arrested actually by British forces in a night raid (Special Forces) he was handed over to coalition authorities, when the coalition left he was handed over after a long negotiation to Iraqi authorities the Iraqis have so far refused to put him on trial. That is causing no small amount of tension between them and the US and I assume between them and the UK since it was operations targeting the UK. We have asked for his extradition and I believe that authorities in the United States are ready to try him. Now there’s a political football in the United States as I’m sure you are aware over how to deal legally with terrorism suspects. The administration, well I guess of today I can still say the administration, the administration in its first term wanted to bring  him to the United States and have him stand trial in civilian court, which I personally thought was a good idea. There was ample evidence against him, we have tried terrorists in civilian courts before and we have done quite well.

That will not always be the case, there are cases where you cannot put together the evidence and then a civilian trial may not be possible. That’s always my preference though. Others on the other side of the political isle wanted him to be sent to Guantanamo. So far Guantanamo has not been used for anybody outside of the al-Qaeda Taliban family of Sunni radicals, and that was open to conversation. I think the administration would have preferred that he go and serve in, have a military commission in Guantanamo than nothing at all, but frankly it has been a moot point because the Iraqis have refused to hand him over. Last I heard he was still in detention in Iraq but I don’t know if that has changed. It’s a very significant sticking point and if you go to the Washington Institute’s website, the Washingtoninstitute.org, I’ve written about him extensively. Do a search for him – Daqduq – and you will find plenty of material about that. In terms of the legal status of Hezbollah operatives when they are arrested in third countries, that depends country by country, how each country understands the Hezbollah issue and what the particular individual was doing in that country.

So, for example, if a country sees Hezbollah in whole or in part as a terrorist group then there is legal predicatefor holding them even if they haven’t broken any other laws because they are members of a banned terrorist group. In many countries that is not the case, and so in many countries when they are detained they are for some type of criminal violation and almost always there is some, whether it’s some type of fraud or they are travelling on a false fraudulent passport or something like that. There has been some significant progress in this area and I’ll just give you one case. There was a series of three major Hezbollah cases in Philadelphia over the last few years. In one of them a major Hezbollah procurement officer, who is a German citizen and was procuring and shipping items for Hezbollah through his company in Slovakia was involved, and a sister case to that there was an individual who lived in New Jersey for a while, in Brooklyn, New York for a while and just before he could be arrested when the case came to a close he fled the country back to Lebanon. The guy was not particularly sharp though because he decided that he could leave Lebanon and he’d be safe from extradition to the United States if he went to South America, the tri-border area where Hezbollah has quite a strong footprint. Tri-border is where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet – it’s kind of a mecca of crime – and Hezbollah has a very significant presence there. And I guess, because of that, he felt that he would be safe. But he was a fugitive of justice, he had been indicted in the United States not for Hezbollah stuff per se, but for a whole host of criminal, explicitly criminal activities. Though, we did mention the H word – Hezbollah word – in the indictment, and therefore there was a red notice, an Interpol red notice, out for his arrest and Paraguay when it was brought to their attention that he was there to their credit detained him and ultimately extradited him to the United States where he is currently incarcerated. So there’s all kind of cases but the bottom line it depends country by country.

The problem, to be diplomatic, about the Syrian weapons, the chemical weapons programme is a huge worry and a headache. Syria has, by some accounts, the largest, some say the second largest, but one of the largest chemical weapons programmes in the region, perhaps in the world – and how secure are they today? So A, in other words, could people go and get into those bases and just take the stuff and, B, under what circumstances, if Assad is so pushed into the corner might he decide to lash out and one last hurrah by providing, either using the chemical weapons or providing them to groups like Hezbollah, this is a real worry and without getting into things that we shouldn’t get into in a public domain and I’m not in government so I know very little about this anyway to be honest, but it has been discussed publically that US Special Forces are on the ground in Jordan, in the north of Jordan along the border with Syria and in Turkey along the south along the border with Syria working with both countries, among other things, to be prepared to secure those cachets of chemical weapons. I have no idea if that’s the case but frankly I hope that they are doing things of a covert nature, not waiting until the actual fall of the regime to go and secure them today because that is a nightmare scenario and I can’t tell you if it’s going to happen or what the likelihood is. So long as Assad is in power he doesn’t want to give that stuff to Hezbollah because then it’s out of his control and, if Hezbollah uses it, he’ll be held accountable. But it’s getting to the point where he has done so much bad, he’s been held accountable for so much already, that maybe he’s already been pushed too far into a corner, I don’t know. Under what circumstances this might happen, this is a huge concern of all of ours, I know of the UK’s as well.

James Morris MP

OK we’ve got about five minutes left, time for about maybe two or three questions. This gentleman here and the lady there.

Charles Brown

Charles Brown, [inaudible] at Corporate Risk Advisory. Just a quick update on [inaudible]. In the event of an Iranian attack on Iran, what would you see as a potential counter role for Hezbollah, if there was one, increased action or business as usual and, in response generally, what would Hezbollah’s response be if there was to be involved in, if that’s specifically actions against Israeli and or Jewish holdings?

James Morris MP

Lady over here.

Sophie

My name is Sophie and I’m a student. Thank you for your talk. I just wanted to ask you to what extent do you think Hezbollah was implicit in the bombings in Africa two weeks ago.

James Morris MP

I think if we just take two more questions from over here, the gentleman here and then the gentleman at the back.

[inaudible]

[inaudible] from the Netherlands. I have a colleague who works on [inaudible] the subject of the EU and he told me that the reasons being held up is mostly because of Germany and France by [in audible] special relations with Lebanon. I was wondering if maybe you could say more about that [inaudible].

No name given

Thank you very much for your talk, you mentioned that Hezbollah has no ideology except for making money, as it is an organized crime organization. So the reason they are working for Assad is they are paying them good money and they are working for Iran because they are offering this money. My question is, why can’t we hire them[?], the business community of Israel [inaudible].

James Morris MP

And actually, let’s just take this final gentleman here, and then so we’ll have five questions. Sorry I’m just conscious of the division bell is going to ring at seven because there is a vote coming so we… OK let’s just get the …

No name given

Dr. Levitt you’ve assembled a very clever jigsaw but, if you were to assemble the jigsaw in a different way… I’m not being [inaudible] but you could make the same argument for the provisional IRA and the activities [inaudible] the United States government for a long time and particularly congress opposed and there are still people who [inaudible] the UK Terrorism Act.  I think sometimes when you explain your jigsaw, why haven’t you done something about it? Then I would say you didn’t do it with the Provisional IRA for a long time.

James Morris MP

OK thanks very much.  Quite a few, five questions there in a short period of time.

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Put on your seatbelts, here we go. Erm the second you said your involvement in risk I knew exactly what question you were going to ask. We don’t have the time to go into this in detail I will again refer you to the Washington Institute website where we have done a whole bunch of analysis about this, myself and my colleague Mike Eisenstadt actually just put out a long paper on this. But the bottom line is, it will be a mix, it will involve asymmetric warfare, interest in the region, it will involve asymmetric terrorism attacks abroad of the type we are already seeing but much more, it will likely involve some measure of Hezbollah and or Hamas rockets that hit Israel from the south or north though personally I think that those will be more limited. You’ll see some numbers of rockets but not tens of thousands of rockets. Again, Nasrallah’s not ready or eager for that big war today, I think he’s aware that the Israelis are better prepared today than they were in 2006. But it will have massive implications for risk assessment, for business, for the ability to move oil and all kinds of other things, that’s one of the many things the Israelis recognize – that this would be messy, this would definitely be messy, and could involve mining the Gulf and all kinds of things like that. I could spend the whole time just answering that question so I’m not trying to evade.

Sophie I have no information whatsoever, I’m sorry, on whether or not they are involved with [inaudible] it doesn’t mean they’re not, I think probably not, but some of their allies, I would certainly imagine, were.

Yes, I just came from Germany. On this issue it is about Germany and France and I told them in no uncertain terms, this will happen only in Germany and France get involved, I think the Germans are more amenable than ever before and they demonstrated, I they didn’t need to do this, they have banned the Hezbollah television station, they have banned the orphan welfare project that was part of working with Hezbollah’s martyrs foundation, it’s a question of how to do it. France, more than I could ever pressure, more than I could ever convince France there is already a process under way right now because Saad Hariri has escaped to France he has the ear of some pretty prominent French officials and he is saying in a message that makes mine look soft. But the French are concerned, they have very large Syrian and Lebanese populations also have interest. All the countries that have forces in UNIFIL worry that Hezbollah may target out forces according to the US State Department Hezbollah targeted French UNIFIL officers, some civilians, some military already in 2011.

James Morris MP

Dr. Levitt, just before you move on I have to go and vote in a division in the house now, I just wanted to thank you very much for coming to talk to us and just to show you my appreciation as I leave and Davis, I think, will take over. I think we can then complete the discussion but I just wanted to thank you on behalf of the audience for coming, thank you very much for giving such an interesting presentation.

Dr. Matthew Levitt

 I really do very much appreciate the opportunity and thank you.

James Morris MP

No problem.

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Just to answer the last two questions I disagree with the premise. I did not say and if I did I did not mean to say that Hezbollah has no ideology and works just for money. If that were the case you’d be right and it would be a much easier adversary to deal with. What makes it different from the IRA is that it does have an ideology, it’s a religious ideology, it’s tied to a foreign state which the IRA never was and it calls for the destruction of another country, the IRA never called for the destruction of the United Kingdom. If it were only the case of a question of money, now where you are right, is outside the upper echelons of the organisation, in its many supporters, in its outside diasporas you have people who are basically criminals, who also happen to support Hezbollah, and they might be people that we could deal with in different ways in a non-terrorism type of way, through traditional law enforcement or other means.

In terms of the last question I agree with you 110% I think it’s a shame on the United States that the United States didn’t act more on the support for IRA. I grew up in Boston, I will make no qualms about it. I think it’s uncomfortable for many that there is an individual who had one of the Homeland Security Committees who once talked about how those organisations were OK and is now head of the Homeland Security Committee on the republican side talked about other groups that are not OK. That provokes no small amount of discomfort for many. On the one hand I would say, as I would say to my four sons, just because you did something wrong doesn’t mean that you now get to do something wrong. I say yes mea culpa. I’m older than I look but I’m not that old so it wasn’t me, but yes, and I would suggest that the UK not make the same mistake that we made. But I also think that this is a much broader international threat. Not to downplay in the least the threat that the IRA posed then, that its splinter groups continue to pose now. Not to undermine that in the least. But it was not the transnational threat that Hezbollah is. You did not have the IRA trying to blow up things all over the world. It was partnered with all kinds of groups all over the world and training and other things too I understand, but this is a different beast. Again I don’t say that to downplay the troubles at all but I think that the comparison between Hezbollah and the IRA is flawed on so many levels and leads to some very, very poor policy judgments. But the simple and short answer to your question is, you are right.

Davis Lewin

Well if I can just say before I thank you again, my colleague will be on the other side of that door with a number of copies of Matt’s latest paper that deals with some of these issues and I do hope you’ll pick up a copy. All that remains for me to say is thank you again for a fascinating talk. I think that we can all agree that that was a masterly tour of why we should be banning Hezbollah and of course the Henry Jackson Society entirely agrees with you and we will be continuing to educate people about the dangers that exist from that terrorist movement. Thank you all for coming.

Dr. Matthew Levitt

Thank you all for coming.

 

 

HJS



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