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Analysis: Hezbollah may attack -- experts

By
ANNE DECECCO, UPI Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- As tension between Iran and the United States continues to mount over the Islamic republic's nuclear program, some experts speculate that the United States should be on guard for possible retaliatory attacks, in the event the Pentagon were to target Iranian nuclear sites.

It's no mystery that Hezbollah receives funding from Iran, and that it is one of the largest and most organized groups in the world, with assets in nearly every continent. The Lebanese Shiite organization is considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel.

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So, the question looms large: would Hezbollah attack the United States, if asked to do so by Iran. And if so, in what manner?

"Although Hezbollah's military capacity has undoubtedly been degraded by Israel's recent offensive in southern Lebanon, the organization's will to rebuild its resources... remains undiminished -- as does the willingness of Syria and Iran to support Hezbollah's military and terrorist capabilities," wrote Barak Ben-Zur, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Christopher Hamilton, director of Terrorism Studies at WINEP.

Under the hypothetical context that the United States was to attack Iran, "Hezbollah would be a main part of Iran's response," Daniel Byman, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies and the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, said. He added, however, that the group would more likely attack U.S. assets overseas.

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Dennis Lormel, senior vice president of the Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Division at Corporate Risk International, explained why that might be.

"In my view, I think that they're (Hezbollah) less likely to attack in the United States because the United States is such a fertile fundraising ground," he said. Lormel is a former FBI agent of 30 years who helped establish the Terrorist Financing Operations Section within the FBI.

"That's not to say that if the situation deteriorated enough they wouldn't attack here. They definitely have the wherewithal and the capacity," he added.

Lormel explained that apart from state sponsors like Syria and Iran, Hezbollah gets millions from its fundraising around the world. In the United States, the organization uses criminal activities and the solicitation of money from sympathizers, including Lebanese communities.

Going along with the hypothetical question of what a Hezbollah attack would involve if it were to occur, he said, "Hezbollah is more likely to strike in ally countries. If it wanted to make a point, it's more likely to do it in another part of the world, where it could maximize visibility and media attention but minimize the disruption of fundraising."

In contrast, Lawrence J. Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former assistant secretary of defense from 1981 to 1985, said: "If we launched a preventative war against Iran, there is a nearly 100 percent likelihood that Hezbollah would try (an attack). You would see attacks on the United States and U.S. allies around the world."

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According to Christopher Hamilton, if we were to attack Iran, Hezbollah would respond not only here but overseas as well. For now, he said, the group's intentions are low, although its capabilities are high.

But there are other threats that are very scary, too, Hamilton noted. "We also have to be concerned about intelligence gathering, even in terms of penetration in the U.S. government." He mentioned the possibility that terrorists who appear to be normal citizens could apply for government positions, thereby becoming able to intercept security information.

Whether or not they believe a Hezbollah retaliation would be likely to occur, all the experts interviewed agreed that it is important for the United States to continue taking security measures against terrorist attacks.

When asked what U.S. authorities should be doing to ensure protection, Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow for Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, said: "We should put a premium on doing what we've done in New York: figuring out what the vulnerable buildings are, sealing off underground garages, using bullet-proof glass, making the air circulation intakes inaccessible to the public."

Even so, O'Hanlon said that he thought an attack was only "moderately likely."

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