Thursday, March 11, 2010

Who's Afraid of Hezbollah?

What exactly is Australia's official position on Lebanon's Islamic resistance movement, Hezbollah? My corporate media-derived understanding was that its military wing was proscribed in Australia. A glance at the government's new Counter Terrorism White Paper 2010: Securing Australia/ Protecting Our Community suggests that this is not the case:

"2.1.4 Other forms of terrorism: Jihadist terrorism is the predominant focus of Australia's counter-terrorism efforts due to its spread, impact and explicit targeting of Australians. But terrorism motivated by other beliefs has affected Australia in the past and will affect us in the future. Australia is currently home to a small number of people who support other causes that involve active terrorist campaigns overseas. The terrorist movements they support do not necessarily see Australia or Australians as a target for their violence but some might see that Australia could be used as a suitable or convenient location for an attack on their enemies. This includes groups with a long history of engaging in terrorist acts and a current capability to commit them, such as Lebanese Hizballah's External Security Organisation. Future geo-political events could mean other terrorist movements with a presence or support base in Australia could become willing to engage in operational activity here. And in the future new terrorist threats could manifest themselves in Australia, either as a by-product of events overseas or as a result of a political grievance within Australia. There will always be the disaffected and disempowered, often but not always at the fringes of communities or the followers of radical ideologies, who mistakenly see advantages in the use of terrorist tactics." (p 14)

The white paper's focus appears to be solely on the ESO, not Hezbollah (political or military) itself.

Again, turning to the relevant government website,, the only heading I can find is: Hezbollah External Security Organization.

Even a cursory reading of the text reveals that a clear distinction has been made between Hezbollah on the one hand and the ESO on the other: "After senior member Imad Mughniyah fled to Iran after the 1983 attack on the US military in Beirut, the 'international wing' grew out of the military wing to become a separate branch. This is thought to be the genesis of Hizballah's 'international wing', or 'External Security Organisation' (ESO)'. ESO constitutes a distinct terrorist wing within Hizballah's structure. Since entering the Lebanese Parliament in 1992... Hizballah has sought to strengthen its public image as a respected resistance movement and lessen its reputation as a terrorist group. This has encouraged the terrorist network to operate independently of the parent organisation..."

Can we safely conclude then that the Australian government's beef is exclusively with the ESO, and not Hezbollah (or its military wing) as such?

That is not to say, of course, that everything said about the ESO on the the website can be taken at face value. The ESO's "terrorist activities" are listed as 1) "The attack on the US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983"; 2) "further violent attacks in Lebanon and around the world in the 1980s"; 3) "the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aires are the most well known of the attacks conducted outside Lebanon."

Objective scholarship is much more nuanced (and contextualised):

1) The US Marine barracks bombing of 1983:

Hezbollah: A Short History, Augustus Richard Norton, 2007: "There is little question that the attacks were carried out by Lebanese Shi'i militants, under Iranian direction. A blue-ribbon investigating commission established by the American government and headed by retired admiral Robert L J Long... found Iran largely responsible." (p 71) "Robert Baer, a former CIA agent with extensive experience in Lebanon... has argued that Hezbollah was not involved: 'It's not that Hezbollah is doing the terrorism out of Lebanon. They didn't do the US Embassy in 1983 or the Marines. It was the Iranians. It's a political issue [in the US] because the Israelis want the Americans to go after Hezbollah'." (p 78)

In the Path of Hizbullah, Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh, 2004: "A number of martyrdom operations were carried out against Western targets by underground groups linked to Hizbullah, if not directly controlled by the party. The first such action was Islamic Jihad's bombing of the US Embassy in Ras-Beirut in April 1983... Six months later, in October 1983, 2 suicide commandos... attacked simultaneously the compounds of the US Marines and French troops... The 2 attacks were claimed by the Islamic Jihad, which issued a communique proclaiming 'death to Israel, death to America and the West'." (p 83)

Hezbollah: Born With a Vengeance, Hala Jaber, 1997: "An unknown organisation named Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attacks... While Hezbollah has consistently denied responsibility, it has nevertheless exalted the deeds and the perpetrators. In its manifesto, Hezbollah calls the attack on the American embassy 'the first punishment' and it lists the Multi National Force bombings as further punishments. At the time, Hezbollah was not yet properly formed. It did not have the fully fledged structure or the leaders and officials which it now possesses and was therefore not in a position to plan and execute such operations alone. There were powerful figures operating behind the scenes. Iran was outraged by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and had resolved to help the Lebanese Muslims. Nor were the Iranians happy about the support which America had given to Israel's actions." (p 80)

Nor should the context of these attacks be ignored: "While the multinational forces supported the [Lebanese] administration [of Amin Gemayel], the US did not make itself any more popular by sponsoring the Lebanese-Israeli peace agreement in May 1983, which sought to turn Israel's military gains in Lebanon into political profit. The US hoped to bring about the withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli troops from Lebanon as part of a comprehensive peace initiative, but neither the Syrians nor the Lebanese wished to see Israel rewarded for its invasion. America's attempts to remedy the Lebanese crisis as a neutral mediator collapsed that autumn, when fierce fighting broke out in the Chouf, a Druze fiefdom. Israel had occupied the Chouf and installed Christian militias in the region. In September, Israel abruptly withdrew from the area and full-scale battles erupted between the Druze and the Christians. The US Marines intervened and began shelling Druze targets. Reagan justified the move by claiming that the Soviets were arming the Syrians and the Muslims in an attempt to destroy US interests in the Middle East. More fuel was thrown upon the flames when the Lebanese army's Commander Brigadier Ibrahim Tannous claimed that his units were being attacked by Iranians and Palestinians and warned that the government was in danger of collapsing. Robert McFarlane, Reagan's Middle East envoy, believed that the future of American policy in Lebanon depended on the survival of Amin Gemayel's administration and responded swiftly to Tannous's alarm: the US Defense Department launched a huge operation to bring supplies to the Lebanese army. On 19 September, US warships fired 300 shells against Druze and Syrian targets to save the Lebanese army and President Gemayel. It was the last straw: the multinational forces had entered the civil war and violated their status as peace-keepers. The US Marines and the French paratroopers were bombed the following month. 'The image of the US multinational force, in the eyes of the factional militias, had become pro-Israeli, pro-Phalange and anti-Muslim', declared the Long Commission's investigation into the bombings." (Jaber, pp 78-79)

2) 80s attacks:

Norton: "[T]here is no question that Hezbollah has engaged in acts that do, indeed, constitute terrorism in its more precise and generally understood sense. One such clear instance was the 1985 skyjacking, by 2 Hezbollah operatives, of TWA flight 847, en route from Athens to Rome. Robert Stethem, a US sailor on leave and traveling on the flight, was mercilessly beaten and shot in the head. The hijackers, Imad Mughniyah and Hasan Izz al-Din... disgracefully dumped his body on the tarmac of Beirut airport... It is generally easier to trace much of the terrorism of the 1980s... to Iran than Hezbollah." (p 77)

Hamzeh: "As for the hijacking of a TWA plane in 1985 and Kuwaiti planes in 1984 and 1988, Hizbullah was deeply implicated in these operations. According to some analysts, Hizbullah's intention in the American TWA hijacking was to secure the freedom of 766 Lebanese prisoners held in Israel, some of whom had participated in resistance operations. The hijacking of the Kuwaiti planes was aimed at winning freedom for Lebanese Shi'ites held by Kuwait for the bombings there. The hijackers killed passengers to demonstrate their power and resolve. Hizbullah's leaders have continued to deny their involvement in the kidnappings and hijackings. In the words of Sayyid Nasrallah: 'The truth of the matter is that there was something other than Hizbullah, called the Islamic Jihad, who kidnapped the hostages. There exist videocassettes, communiques that bear the signature of the Islamic Jihad. It is independent from the party. It is absolutely incorrect that the Islamic Jihad is a cover name for Hizbullah'." (pp 85-86)

3) 92/94 Argentine bombings:

Norton: "Following Israel's 1992 assassination of Hezbollah Secretary-General 'Abbas Musawi, 2 terrorist attacks occurred in Argentina that many knowledgeable observers believe were the joint work of Iran and Hezbollah's external security organization, which apparently operates autonomously from the party and is widely believed to be closely linked to Iranian intelligence. The first attack within months of Mussawi's murder, was the detonation of a large bomb under the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires... the Argentinian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh... a man believed to have regularly collaborated with Iran in acts of terrorism. The second attack, in 1994, was the result of a bomb-laden van driven into the Buenos Aries-based Israeli association... The suicide bomber was allegedly Hezbollah member Ibrahim Hussein Berro, but Hezbollah claims that he died later in southern Lebanon in a resistance operation. The former Iranian ambassador to Argentina Hade Soleimanpour was later briefly arrested in Britain but was released for lack of evidence. Then, in November 2006, warrants were issued for the arrest of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and 8 other former Iranian officials..." (pp 78-79)

Hezbollah is further alleged at to have "established an insurgent capacity in Iraq, engaging in assassinations, kidnappings and bombings. The Hizballah units have been set up with the encouragement and resources of Iran's Revolutionary Guards al Qods [sic] Brigades. Hizballah has also established a special training cell known as Unit 3800... specifically to train Shia fighters prior to action in Iraq. Available reporting does not specifically identify these terrorist units as ESO enities. However, as ESO's primary role is international terrorism, it is likely to be heavily involved in the activities of Unit 3800 and the attacks against the Iraqi Government and Coalition forces."

I have no idea what such assertions are based on, but I'd be surprised if it were anything more substantial than the following anonymous and contradictory testimony recorded in The New York Times: "A senior American intelligence official said... that the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah had been training members of the Mahdi Army, the Iraqi Shiite militia led by Moktada al-Sadr. The official said that 1,000 to 2,000 fighters from the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias had been trained by Hezbollah in Lebanon. A small number of Hezbollah operatives have also visited Iraq to help with training, the official said... The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity... The claim about Hezbollah's role in training Shiite militias could strengthen the hand of those in the Bush administration who oppose a major new diplomatic involvement with Iran. The new American account is consistent with a claim made in Iraq... by a mid-level Mahdi commander, who said his militia had sent 300 fighters to Lebanon, ostensibly to fight alongside Hezbollah. 'They are the best-trained fighters in the Mahdi Army', he said, speaking on condition of anonymity." (Hezbollah said to help Shiite army in Iraq, Gordon/Filkins, 28/11/06)

Then there's this in Israel's Haaretz: "A senior Western diplomat... said his government has information suggesting a growing Hezbollah interest in events in Iraq. However, the diplomat would say no more and insisted on anonymity because the subject is so sensitive. Hezbollah's possible role in direct attacks against US-led forces is murkier and more explosive. The 2 Iraqi lawmakers said Hezbollah operatives planned and supervised... the Karbala attack [in which] English-speaking* militants wearing American uniforms and carrying American weapons stormed the compound, killing one US soldier and abducting 4. The 4 were later found dead. A senior Mahdi Army commander in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said Hezbollah's operations in Iraq had been supervised by Imad Mughniyeh, a top commander of the guerilla group killed in a car bomb in Syria last February. The shadowy figure was suspected of a role in the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina." (Hezbollah trains Shi'ite militias in Iraq on Iran's behalf, The Associated Press, 2/7/08) [*Surely a dead give away. Hezbies always prefer English to Arabic, don't you know.]

Oh, and Hezbollah (and Hamas!) have even been spotted in the thick of things in Iran ! See my 23/6/09 post Hezbikies Ho!

Curiously, although the website describes the ESO as "clandestine", not "hav[ing] a high profile," not "claim[ing] responsibility for terrorist attacks," "secretive," and "difficult to gather information on," "it is assessed ESO is still directly preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts."

What then is this ESO and what of the allegation that it has "a long history of engaging in terrorist acts?" Writes Hamzeh, associate professor of political science at the American University of Beirut: "The primary function of [the ES (Amn al-Muddad)] is to counter intelligence attempts by the party's internal and external enemies who aim at penetrating the party's structure. Whether Hizbullah's ES section has active cells in Cyprus, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, England, the United States, or Canada has remained a matter of speculation by many reporters. Furthermore, it is not certain that Hizbullah's ES section is an extension of Iran's intelligence, the Sava'ma." (p 73) Hamzeh makes no reference to the ESO's alleged "long history of terrorist attacks," although he does quote current Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah to the effect that "There was an organization other than Hizbullah called al-Jihad al-Islami. It was made up of honest mujahiddun individuals. They executed the operations against the US Marines and the French, and kidnapped the Western hostages... Whether it is still in existence or not, to know we have to search." (p 74)

Finally, on the subject of Hezbollah and the 'T' word, Hezbollah researcher Franklin Lamb has written a valuable paper (which should be read in its entirety) on the politics of the US listing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. The standout quote reads: "The process of putting an organization on the 'Terrorism list' is as follows: The Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT) in the US State Department monitors the activities of groups active around the world considered potentially terrorist to identify potential targets for designation. When reviewing potential targets, S/CT looks not only at the actual terrorist attacks that a group has carried out, but also at 'whether the group may be inclined toward future acts of terrorism or retains the ability to carry out such acts'. As of April 2007, a plurality (39%) of the organizations on the US Terrorism list represents Muslim groups recommended for inclusion by, among others, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and their friends in Congress. According to former AIPAC Director of Congressional Relations, Steven Rosen... 'AIPAC owns the 'T' list!' " (Why is Hezbollah on the terrorism list?: And who isn't but should be,, 6/4/07)

I wonder who owns the list here.

No comments: