Reports: Hezbollah threat to US may have been overstated
Claims by a top House lawmaker that sleeper agents of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group could launch an attack in the United States were overstated, according to American intelligence and law enforcement officials.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in March that Hezbollah had "hundreds" of operatives and sympathizers living in the United States.
Those individuals, according to King, were allegedly conducting surveillance as part of an ongoing plot to attack potential targets in New York and across the country.
“It seems to have really shaken up the intelligence community, more than it did the media, the general public, or members of Congress,” King told The Hill on March 12.
However committee investigators could not determine exactly how many members or sympathizers Hezbollah had in the United States.
But several U.S. officials with knowledge of ongoing counterterrorism efforts focusing on the group told Reuters the threat of attack is not as imminent as the New York Republican portrayed it to be.
There is a huge difference between Hezbollah members and sympathizers in the United States raising funds for future operations and those who would actually carry out the attacks, U.S. officials tell Reuters.
The group is conducting similar fundraising activities all across South America, Southern Command chief Gen. Douglas Fraser told Congress on March 13.
While that work has expanded Hezbollah's ties to drug trafficking rings and other organized crime elements in South America and in the United States, those operatives have remained largely nonviolent.
The group has not attacked a U.S. target since the Marine Corps barracks bombings in Lebanon in the 1980s. There is no indication that the group has the means or intent to start now, the Reuters report states.
But that could all change if the United States or Israel decides to take military action against Iran's nuclear program.
Tehran’s recent saber-rattling and its refusal to open its nuclear program to international scrutiny have raised tensions between Tehran, Washington and Tel Aviv.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters on March 6 that an Israeli attack on Iran is “very likely.”
Iran’s ongoing military buildup — including the possible addition of a nuclear weapon to its arsenal — and its recent aggressive actions in the Strait of Hormuz, constitute proof enough that Tehran could be gearing up for a fight, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) told reporters on March 21.
If attacked, Iran could theoretically order Hezbollah agents in the United States to carry out terrorist strikes as payback for any preemptive U.S. or Israeli action.
And that type of retaliatory strike is what worries King and his backers on Capitol Hill the most.
"Recently the consensus among the intelligence community has been that Hezbollah members in the U.S. are mainly fundraisers, recruiters and facilitators,” King said. “But how many can become operational?”