By Jordy Yager - 03/12/12 08:12 PM EDT
The House Homeland Security Committee is planning a hearing next week to explore Iran’s capacity to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the panel’s chairman, told The Hill that the U.S. intelligence community has become greatly concerned with Iran since law enforcement officials disrupted a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States five months ago.
“It seems to have really shaken up the intelligence community, more than it did the media, the general public, or members of Congress,” said King of the plot.
“For years we believed that, for all the problems in the world, as bad as Iran was, at least they wouldn’t attack us in the U.S.”
King said his committee hearing, slated for next Wednesday, would also look at Hezbollah, a militant group bankrolled by Iran, and its ability to mobilize terrorists in the United States to carry out future plots.
“Up until recently the consensus among the intelligence community has been that Hezbollah members in the U.S. are mainly fundraisers, recruiters and facilitators,” said King. “But how many can become operational?”
“Can Iran make Hezbollah operational and carry out terrorist attacks?” he said. “I have a lot of concern. It’s a much different level of concern that it was a year ago.”
Iran has become one of the leading international terrorist concerns for the United States, with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warning Congress last month that the foiled assassination plot indicates Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his government are willing to launch attacks in the United States.
King said he has been hearing an increasing amount of worry from his New York constituents. Of particular concern is Hezbollah, which he described as “certainly the most highly trained state-trained terrorist force in the world.”
“Unlike al Qaeda, they don’t do suicide bombings,” said King. “They get other people to do their dirty work.”
Last month Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers that her agency has stepped up its outreach to the Jewish-American community in an attempt to thwart attacks from Hezbollah.
Napolitano stressed that she was not aware of any specific or credible plots to attack U.S. groups, but told lawmakers her department is in frequent contact with the FBI and “constantly monitoring” the activity of Hezbollah.
“We are constantly monitoring their activities around the world,” she said at the time. “We’re working very closely with the FBI and the [intelligence] community in this regard. And in addition we are reaching out to particularly the Jewish community across the country who have been the intended targets in the past.”
President Obama has taken some heat in recent weeks from GOP presidential candidates over his attempts to employ sanctions and other diplomatic efforts with Iran.
The Republican White House hopefuls say he is being too soft on the Middle Eastern country. Obama has defended his actions, saying that no option — including military force — is off the table when it comes to Iran, but the time has not yet come to abandon the more peaceful attempts to get the country to abandon its uranium enrichment program.