Does Hezbollah Matter? Check Open Source Intelligence Analysis Or A Counterterrorism Study

Virtually every American has heard of the terror organization al-Qaeda, the perpetrator of the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Few Americans realize that, prior to the 9/11 attack, the terror organization Hezbollah had killed more Americans than any other terror group; some 300 killed in six separate attacks, including 243 Marines in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing. Open source intelligence analysis of Hezbollah examines how they evolved into their current crucial role of shaping the geostrategic and terror landscape of the Levant. In 1982, Hezbollah was founded as a Shiite extremist group that was inspired by the teachings of the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini. Initially, their published manifesto eschewed politics and was opposed to getting involved with the Lebanese government as being deemed too “worldly and Western”. Hezbollah conducted a series of successful terror operations as a fledgling group, including the bombing of the U.S. military barracks. In spite of their manifesto, Hezbollah eventually developed a political arm which has won a considerable number of seats in the Lebanese government. This political power has been used to enhance its international status, to work towards gaining continued support in Lebanon, and to further its agenda against Israel. Counterterrorism study of Hezbollah finds the terror arm has remained active to this purpose, continuing its attacks and bombings along the Israeli-Lebanese border with rockets and other weapons that have been supplied to it from Iran via Syria. The Israel-Hezbollah 2006 War demonstrated that Hezbollah had become a complex political-military player in the Middle East.

The Arab Spring produced early hopes for a renaissance of democracy as the movements swept across various Middle Eastern countries in the region; but now open source intelligence analysis illustrates that the Arab Spring has now degenerated into the rise of extremist Islamic groups extending influence in virtually every country in the Middle East and the specter of a Shiite-Sunni conflict. The two-year civil war in Syria initially seemed to favor the rebel groups and many predicted the eventual demise of the Assad ruling faction until Iranian, Hezbollah and Russian support changed the battlefield balances in favor of the Assad regime. The intervention of battle-hardened Hezbollah forces came at a crucial time for the Syrian regime and changed the strategic balance to the Assad regime. In fact, the fate of Syria’s government is intricately connected to the fate of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah has been supported financially, militarily and politically by Iran, based on the shared religious background. This support has been facilitated and enhanced by Syria due to its geostrategic location. While Hezbollah has a high profile role in the Syrian Civil War, the covert acts of Hezbollah terror continue as evidenced in the 2012 Bulgaria bus bombing.

The Hezbollah role in the Syrian Civil War, the Hezbollah position in Lebanon, the Hezbollah links to Iran all are all factors that should cause the U.S. to reexamine its counterterrorism study for the potential geostrategic consequences of a stronger and emboldened Hezbollah. These consequences likely will include a dangerous shift in the ongoing Shiite-Sunni power struggle. The Iranian push for a larger sphere of interest and hegemony could be advanced through its patronage of Hezbollah. Hezbollah can be the Iranian counterpoint to the Sunni groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, the extremist Salafi elements and al-Qaeda. The U.S. must consider the radical change in the political landscape of the Middle East and how Hezbollah has emerged as a key player as a terror threat and political force. Online security education should respond with contemporary courses applying open source intelligence analysis techniques and focused counterterrorism study programs as resources to deal with new threats from Hezbollah.