The Los Angeles branch of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) — the leading Jewish advocacy organization in the United States — partnered with the Consulate General of Romania on May 28 at Wilshire Boulevard Temple to discuss Hezbollah’s vast terror reach and ways civil society and government officials can actively combat them.
Nearly 200 people attended to hear the important, and timely, panel discussion with Lt. Gen (Ret.) and member of the Jewish Institute for National Security (JINSA) member John “Jocko” Toolan Jr., AJC Transatlantic Institute Director Daniel Schwammenthal, Southwestern Law School Professor, Lt. Col. of the U.S. Air Force (Ret.) and JINSA Hybrid Warfare Task Member Rachel VanLandingham, U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps Col (Ret.) and JINSA Hybrid Warfare Task Force member Ian Corey, and JINSA Managing Director Leo Nayfeld, who moderated the talk. Members of the French consulate and the Israel consulate were present as well.
“Hezbollah has one goal and it shares the same goal with other radical Islamic organizations and that is to establish an Islamic State where Sharia law rules supreme,” Schwammenthal said. “And they use a number of different tools to achieve that goal.”
Hezbollah was established in 1982 in Lebanon by Ali Akbar Mohtashemi—Iran’s then-ambassador to Syria; Imad Fayez Mughniyeh; Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah; and Abbas al-Musawi. It has been Iran’s primary terrorist proxy for decades. It is also one of the world’s most notorious anti-Israel and anti-American radical groups. Its main places of operation are Lebanon, Syria, Germany, Mexico, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates.
Schwammenthal noted that terrorism is not Hezbollah’s only use of warfare and acknowledged the group’s use of political influence in Lebanon through “welfare organizations” which are used to provide “subsidized healthcare for the population in southern Lebanon.” He noted that Hezbollah gets a lot of help from Iran. “They do this in the same way as the mafia in Sicily.”
He noted the terrorist organization’s hand in transnational crimes like drug trafficking in South America, with drug cartels and money laundering. He said they also operate in Europe and that everyday people he’s spoken to there “recognize this problem” that dates back to the 19th century with immigrants who are with Hezbollah and are seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate there.
“While we pay a lot of attention to Sunni radical Islam, ISIS and Al Qaeda, we cannot ignore the similarities that exist between these two branches of radical Islam,” Schwammenthal said.
“Antisemitism is a core part of their belief,” Schwammenthal said. “Hezbollah is a wholly owned and funded organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He noted that, “as matter of fact, Khomeini was to a large degree inspired by radical Sunni ideas brought to him by Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists.”
According to Matthew Levitt’s book “Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God,” Hezbollah originated, in the early 19080s, from an Iranian attempt to coalesce various Lebanese Shia militias around the goal of combating the U.S. and Israeli military presences in Lebanon. Levitt notes in his book that by 1985, the Central Intelligence Agency had declared that Iranian-sponsored terrorism was the greatest threat to American personnel and facilities in the Middle East.
Following intense pressure from the AJC and Congress, the European Union in 2013 designated Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organization. However, Hezbollah’s own leadership has also stated, matter-of-factly, that there is no distinction between the group’s political and military wings, which is why the international community is urging the EU to declare all of Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
In March 2016, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab League officially designated the entirety of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, joining the United States, Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands in making that determination.
Intelligence sources have indicated that Hezbollah has over 120,000 rockets and missiles prepared to be launched at Israel at any given moment.
Hezbollah “knows their civilians are going to die and they want that to happen so they can show the carnage” on social media and television, VanLandingham said. She referred to Hezbollah’s use of civilians in Southern Lebanon as human shields in response to Israel’s retaliatory attacks against them out of self-defense, in order to drive up civilization casualties to present to the world and international governing bodies; many of which have an established and intrinsic bias against Israel.
The panel also addressed concerns about how to push back against Hezbollah and to “counter the narrative that Hezbollah is the only force powerful enough [to control Lebanon].” This includes maintaining good relations with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The group agreed that increased international condemnation for Hezbollah is also necessary as well as requiring Lebanon to disarm militias.
Another speaker said education is key, particularly in the Middle East, to help the civilian population understand what the challenges are.
The other grand challenge, Schwammenthal noted, was taking on the parallel propaganda war being propelled by the media which actually misportrays the conflict due to their bias against Israel. Schwammenthal also said, “Western diplomats must understand that their comments are “crucially important” in addressing and countering the misled “group think” that paints Hezbollah in a very different light than what it truly stands for and is, including its imminent and growing threat to the Middle East and the Western world. He said these politicians should not be pushed by the “misleading media coverage” of the actual issues on the ground.