Recently, Iran’s sabre-rattling has escalated in an attempt to deter an attack on its nuclear facilities. Last month Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened that “the (Iranian) armed forces will cut off the enemies’ hands before they can put their fingers on the trigger.”
While many have interpreted this as a possible pre-emptive missile strike emanating from Iran, there is an even more sinister possibility.
Over the last few years, Iran's proxy Hizbullah has been spreading its influence far and wide. In its brinksmanship with the West, Iran has learned much from the two neighboring Gulf Wars. As opposed to Saddam Hussein, whose threat of an all-out campaign against the West was largely rhetoric, Iran takes a global view and is diligently preparing terrorist networks all over the world to spring into action when the word is given.
Hizbullah is an integral part of the Islamic revolution regime in Tehran. The ruling Iranian religious authority gave Hassan Nasrallah the title of Lebanese “representative,” making him an essential part of the Iranian revolution.
Hizbullah receives millions of dollars a year from Iran to finance its operations. After the Second Lebanon War it received even more funds to compensate for its military and civilian losses and to rehabilitate the Shiite villages that supported it. The Iranian funds are transferred to Hizbullah by the al-Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, the Iranian Foreign Ministry, and official institutions with branches in Lebanon.
The current relative calm along Lebanon’s border with Israel should not be mistaken for a cooling off of Hizbullah’s enthusiasm. Rather, it serves to mask Hizbullah’s focus of its main goals: changing the Lebanese constitution and ensuring a greater Shiite presence in the Lebanese parliament, with an eye to eventually taking over Lebanon by exploiting the country’s democratic processes to turn it into a radical Shiite Islamic country like Iran.
However, Hizbullah’s mission reaches far beyond Lebanon. Hizbullah is very popular in the Arab world, even amongst Sunnis, and is an important factor in sweeping the masses into jihad. The organization assists those who target their own governments in weakening Sunni opposition and in creating an admittedly ad hoc strategic alliance with the all the branches of the Muslim Brotherhood across the globe, infiltrating even Palestinian areas.
These activities are in line with the Iranian leadership’s 50-year plan made public at the end of the 1990s. According to an Iranian document, the plan is to export the Islamic revolution to neighboring countries and beyond through preaching, encouraging Shiite emigration, purchasing real estate, forming political organizations, infiltrating the local political establishments, and taking over the various parliaments and focal points of political power.
‘We have the means’Iranian-Hizbullah footprints can be found in various African and South American countries. In Nigeria, for example, Hizbullah operates within the expatriate Lebanese Shiite and local populations. The leader of the indigenous Shiites in Nigeria, Sheikh Zakzaky, has created idolism for Hassan Nasrallah and the leaders of Iran.
In Venezuela and other South American countries Hizbullah has been waging a long-term campaign to convert the native Indians to Shiite Islam. Teodoro Rafael Darnott, also known as “'Commander Teodoro,” recently claimed, “If the United States were to attack Iran, the only country ruled by God, we would counterattack in Latin America and even inside the United States itself. We have the means and we know how to go about it. We will sabotage the transportation of oil from Latin America to the US. You have been warned.”
On June 29 the Kuwaiti daily al-Siasa reported that Hizbullah was training young men from Venezuela in its military camps in south Lebanon to prepare them to attack American targets. In addition, Hizbullah and Iran has set up secret cells abroad for carrying out terrorist attacks. Such cells were responsible for the attacks on the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA Jewish Center building in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s, the attacks in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and attempted attacks in London and Thailand.
Meanwhile, ABC reported that the American and Canadian intelligence services had information about Hizbullah sleeper cells in Canada whose role was to gather intelligence about Israeli and Jewish targets in Ottawa and Toronto for possible terrorist attacks.
The ramifications of Hizbullah's reach are the very real threat they pose in many corners of the world. Iran has understood that to truly threaten and hold the West hostage it must create a multi-faceted menace to the citizens of these nations and their interests. Hizbullah's web of terror cells provides them just that.
The UK government is one of very few in the world to fully recognize this threat by recently outlawing the military wing of Hizbullah. It is time that more Western nations follow suit if they are going to neutralize Iran's surrogate and joker card in case of an attack on its nuclear program.
Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is the co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ashley Perry is an editor at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs for the Middle East Strategic Information project