Earlier this month in the United States, two American citizens were arrested for providing information to Hezbollah which would be used to orchestrate a terror attack. The two men, 32-year-old Ali Kourani from the Bronx, New York, and 37-year-old Samer El Debek from Dearborn, Michigan have secretly been providing information for many years to the Islamic Jihad Organization – Hezbollah’s intelligence branch – while living here in the United States.
Ali Kourani was formally recruited into Hezbollah around 2008, just a year before becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. After nearly a decade of traveling to and from Lebanon, he was arrested for effectively surveilling the security measures present at military and government sites and transmitting that information to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Kourani’s charges also included receiving military training in a Hezbollah boot camp in Lebanon which included:
“training in the use of a rocket propelled grenade launcher, an AK-47 assault rifle, an MP5 submachine gun, a PKS machine gun (a Russian-made belt-fed weapon), and a Glock pistol.”
El Debek, since being recruited into Hezbollah in 2007, has traveled to Panama to obtain information on the security measures present at the Panama Canal and at the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Panama. Trained by Hezbollah in the “creation and handling of explosives and explosive devices,” El Debek had also carried out covert operations in Thailand to remove traces of explosives from a site that was believed to be under investigation.
The two effectively lived double lives for many years completely undetected by U.S. intelligence.
As sophisticated as Hezbollah as an organization may be, it is not without operatives like Mr. Kourani who is quite vocal about his support for Hezbollah on his Twitter account which has over 8,000 followers. For being recruited by an international terrorist organization to commit espionage on U.S. targets, you would think that Mr. Kourani could at least try not to be so obvious about his support and admiration for Hezbollah.
Hezbollah issued a statement congratulating the Lebanese army on its successful operation against ISIS and Nusra in Arsal today: pic.twitter.com/DRysV6vMnz
— Ali (@Ali_Kourani) June 30, 2017
Happy Eid, from Hezbollah with love, dignity and pride. pic.twitter.com/JOUUIYkSvh
— Ali (@Ali_Kourani) June 26, 2017
Hezbollah, PFLP, DFLP, PIJ, Hamas and Palestinian flags as hundreds march in celebration of Quds Day in Gaza today. Resistance knows no sect pic.twitter.com/8Qv5Ks2TOd
— Ali (@Ali_Kourani) June 24, 2017
We should remember, of course, that Hezbollah is not ISIS. They are much more sophisticated than your everyday insurgency of religious fanatics. For many years, they have operated as a de facto “state within a state” in Lebanon. They have their own well-trained and well-equipped military, their own international intelligence agency, and an internal branch that provides social services to citizens.
While the threat of terror attacks from Hezbollah has not yet blossomed to the degree of what groups like ISIS are doing in the West, the U.S. should not be so quick to let its guard down. In the grand scheme of things, ISIS is a group of thugs and gangsters – albeit, very organized ones – whereby Hezbollah is effectively a functional state whose intel agents are ordered not only to spy and collect information from the U.S. but to commit acts of violent terrorism against it.
Support for Hezbollah is, of course, not exclusively found in the U.S. Earlier this month, hundreds of Shia Muslims in London took to the streets for al-Quds day openly waving flags of Hezbollah in protest of the Zionists who they maintain were responsible for the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
The new administration in the U.S. has taken some measures to combat Hezbollah influence, though admittedly, not the most ideal steps. Earlier this year the Trump administration signed a multi-billion dollar arms deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a move which has been heavily criticized by the president’s supporters and adversaries alike – and for good reason. Saudi Arabia has time and time again been publicly identified as a major state sponsor of terror providing direct support, arms and training to groups like al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbut Tahrir, and a number of others while more innocuously installing radical Wahhabi imams and preachers into mosques and madrassas all across the West. Its human rights record is deplorable at best, and among its primary national interests is the proliferation of ISIS-like hardline religious ideologies which continue to wreak havoc across the West.
These things are, of course, hardly a secret anymore to officials or to the public. So why then would the Trump administration choose to support such a regime – especially when it is quite aware of the kinds of nefarious things it does around the world and inside its own borders?
Perhaps it can be safely assumed that the Trump administration, namely Secretary Mattis, understands the greater threat Iran poses to the world and to the stability of an already unstable Middle East. Over the years, Iran and its proxies have destabilized Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip, and are currently doing so in Yemen via their Houthi insurgency. Of greater concern to the U.S., is that Hezbollah has already established a significant presence in Latin America, where corrupt local governments enable the group to operate quite freely without being investigated or apprehended by authorities.
While it would be ideal for the Trump administration to tackle both the problems of Saudi’s sponsorship of global terrorism and the problem of the Iranian regime that seeks to establish dominance in the Middle East and abroad, for better or for worse, the President has decided to ally with who he believes to be the lesser of two evils.
For the Trump administration, it would be much more useful, at least for the time being, to support the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as the U.S. has for many decades now, to act as a counterbalance against the Shiite Islamic Republic – especially in spite of his predecessor who, during his presidency, infamously signed the Nuclear deal with Iran which has been widely criticized as being counterproductive and, in fact, as ‘paving the path for Iran to the Bomb.’
Sadly, there are no easy answers to this problem. To leave the problem alone would enable Iran, a rogue state with nuclear ambitions, to continue gaining influence and power all across the Middle East, in South Asia, and in Latin America. It would mean abandoning our Israeli, Saudi, and Sunni Muslim allies in the Middle East to encirclement and domination, and it could possibly lead to an arms race in the Middle East.
To engage it directly, however, would spell out much higher stakes in the Syrian conflict, would entertain the possibility of direct conflict with Russia, and would fracture our already disintegrating ties with China. While still, nothing short of supporting state sponsors of terrorism and terrible human rights abusers, indirect support of the Saudi regime seems to be the best option to at the very least keep a lid on the stability of the Middle East and to retain a balance of power in the region between feuding Sunnis and Shias.
One can only hope that someday we can find a better solution than having to pick the lesser of two evils to deal with the other, but for now, the Trump administration must be vigilant about both. If left unattended to, we could be faced with a reality in which Hezbollah poses as large a threat – perhaps even larger – to the security of the U.S. and to the world as the Islamic State.