Home > Uncategorized > HIZBALLAH and the QODS FORCE in IRAN’S SHADOW WAR with the WEST

HIZBALLAH and the QODS FORCE in IRAN’S SHADOW WAR with the WEST

IN JANUARY 2010, the Qods Force—the elite unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)— decided that it and Hizballah, its primary terrorist proxy, would embark on a new 5-26-2013 2-03-16 PMcampaign of violence targeting not only Israel but U.S. and other Western targets as well. Since then, the two organizations have been cooperating but also competing to launch attacks across the globe. What is particularly striking is how amateurish the actions of both organizations have been: targets were poorly chosen and assaults carried out with gross incompetence. But as the groups brush off the cobwebs and professionalize their operations, this sloppy tradecraft could quickly be replaced by operational success. Indeed, one particularly odd effort might have succeeded were it not for the fortuitous placement of an undercover U.S. government infor­mant: the case of an Iranian-American used-car sales­man who pleaded guilty in October 2012 to conspiring with Iranian agents to assassinate the Saudi ambassa­dor to the United States.

Nevertheless, in some ways Mansour Arbabsiar’s guilty plea raised more questions than it answered. The plea closed the case, but the U.S. and British govern­ments had both already traced the conspiracy back to its source in Tehran and blacklisted Qods Force com­mander Qasem Soleimani for his role overseeing the plot.1 Indeed, U.S. officials knew of the plan early on and built an airtight case. Not only had Arbabsiar tried to hire an assassin who was actually a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant, but once arrested Arbabsiar quickly confessed to his role in the plot and, at the direction of law enforcement, placed a call to his cousin, a Qods Force handler, Gen. Gholam Shakuri. With agents listening, Shakuri confirmed that the plot should go forward and as soon as possible. “Just do it quickly. It’s late.”2

But why was the Qods Force, which had earned a reputation for operational prowess even among its enemies, so eager to move forward with an obviously flawed operation? Arbabsiar, for his part, appears to have been a weak character who “wants to be important,” as a government-retained psychiatrist determined, and who was drawn into the plot by his cousin.3 The real question is, What was the Qods Force thinking?

According to the director of national intelligence, the plot “shows that some Iranian officials—prob­ably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.”4 Intelligence officials believe that this new calculus dates back to January 2010 when the Qods Force decided that it and Hizballah would embark on a new cam­paign of violence focused on Israel along with U.S. and other Western targets.

Tracking Hizballah’s Militant Trajectory

Hizballah’s anti-Western militancy began in 1983 with attacks against Western targets in Lebanon, then expanded to include attacks abroad intended to exact revenge for actions threatening its or Iran’s interests, or to press foreign governments to release captured opera­tives. At times, such as the 1992 and 1994 bombings in Argentina, Hizballah’s own interests in carrying out attacks abroad were magnified by Iran’s interests in the same. These coincident interests led to joint operations—such as the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia—that leveraged each party’s strengths and maximized their combined capabilities.

Over the course of the always intimate relationship between Iran and Hizballah, the head of the Qods Force or other senior Iranian leaders might have told Hizballah to jump and the response would have been “How high?” In part, this has been a function of the close alignment between Hizballah’s senior leadership and Iran’s clerical regime. Yet how firmly do Hizballah leaders believe in velayat-e faqih, the Islamic Repub­lic’s principle of rule of the jurisprudent? According to Hizballah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, “the subject of the velayat-e faqih and the Imamate is at the heart of our religious doctrine, and any offense to it is an offense to our religion.”5 But the close relationship also persists because of Hizballah’s dependence on Iran for financial, material, and political support. For years, Hizballah relied almost exclusively on Iranian largesse, which hovered around $100 to $200 mil­lion a year or more.6 Such generous state sponsorship, however, came with strings attached that Hizballah, as Tehran’s primary pan-Shiite militant proxy group, could not easily ignore.

While it kept up its relentless campaign of military and terrorist activities targeting Israel, and despite unabated tensions with the West, Hizballah had not carried out a successful spectacular attack targeting Western interests since the Khobar Towers bomb­ing. Moreover, Hizballah worked hard under former military commander Imad Mughniyah to establish a measure of independence from Iran. In mid-2008, four months after Mughniyah’s assassination, an Israeli intelligence official concluded that “Hezbollah does not always do what Iran wants.”7 But under the lead­ership of Mughniyah’s successors, Mustafa Badreddine and Talal Hamiyeh, Iran’s role seems to have hardened again.8 In February 2012, Director of National Intel­ligence James Clapper characterized the relationship between Hizballah and Iran as “a partnership arrange­ment, with the Iranians as the senior partner.”9 This “strategic partnership,” as National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) director Matthew Olsen put it, is the product of a long evolution from the 1980s, when Hiz­ballah was just a proxy of Iran. Together, Olsen added, the two entities pursue their shared “aims against Israel and the United States.”10

To be sure, Hizballah has engaged in militant, ter­rorist, criminal, and other activities over the years, from bombings in Argentina and Saudi Arabia to plots in Southeast Asia and Africa.11 Its ability to continue to do so at pace, however, was severely con­strained by an act of terrorism not of its own mak­ing. Ironically, al-Qaeda’s attacks of September 11, 2001, proved to be a turning point for Hizballah, the terrorist group previously responsible for the most American deaths. Desperate not to be caught in the crosshairs of Washington’s “war on terror,” Hizballah appears to have decided consciously to roll back its international operations and keep its efforts to strike at Israeli targets as focused and limited as possible. But while spectacular embassy bombings were put on ice, Hizballah continued to target Israeli interests, infiltrate operatives into Israel to collect intelligence and carry out operations, and support Iranian inter­ests such as training Iraqi Shiite militants after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime.12

But the February 2008 assassination of Imad Mugh­niyah led to the resurgence of Hizballah’s international operations arm, which will no doubt regain its former potency—especially when paired with Iranian intel­ligence and Qods Force operatives. But as the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO)—now under the command of Badreddine and Hamiyeh—first set out to avenge Mughniyah’s death, Operation Radwan (named for Mughniyah, who was also known as Hajj Radwan) experienced a series of setbacks. These ultimately led Iran and Hizballah to reassess how they would pros­ecute, both separately and together, a three-tiered shadow war targeting Israeli, Jewish, American, and sometimes British interests worldwide.

Reassessing Hizballah’s Place in Iran’s Arsenal

When Nasrallah promised an “open war” to avenge Mughniyah’s assassination, Israeli officials quickly took preventive action—from issuing specific travel warn­ings to covert disruptive measures—against what they deemed the three most likely scenarios. These included (1) an attack on current or former senior Israeli offi­cials traveling abroad; (2) an attack on an Israeli diplo­matic mission abroad; or (3) an attack targeting a loca­tion affiliated with a Jewish community abroad, such as in the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Isra­elita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires.13 They knew better than to ignore Nasrallah’s warning.

Nevertheless, however committed Hizballah was to carrying out such attacks, the IJO was simply not up to the task. For one thing, Hizballah leaders had actively pared down the IJO’s global networks of operatives following the 9/11 attacks. And the “stra­tegic partnership” it had shared with Iran for the past decade appears to have focused on funding, training, and arming Hizballah’s increasingly effective stand­ing militia, not on its cadre of international terrorists. And so, Hizballah not only lacked the resources and capability to carry out a successful operation abroad, it also no longer had Mughniyah around to quarter­back operations.

Tightened security in the post-9/11 world also meant Hizballah opted to operate in nations with comparatively lax security rather than vigilant West­ern nations. But even then, in places like Azerbaijan, Egypt, and Turkey, and even with significant support from Qods Force agents, Hizballah suffered a series of embarrassing failures, starting with the May 2008 fiasco in Baku, when a series of spectacular actions, including the planned bombing of the U.S. and Israeli embassies, was disrupted. The event led to the quiet release of Qods Force personnel but the public pros­ecution of two Hizballah operatives. Operations were soon foiled in Egypt and Turkey too, as well as attempts to kidnap Israelis in Europe and Africa.

A foiled attack in Turkey in September 2009 was a watershed event for Hizballah operational planners and their Iranian sponsors. Despite the massive logis­tical support Qods Force operatives provided for that plot, Hizballah operatives still failed to execute the attack successfully.14 Meanwhile by late 2009, Iran’s interest in Hizballah’s operational prowess focused less on local issues like avenging Mughniyah’s death and more on the much larger issue of combating threats to its nascent nuclear program. Malfunctioning components ruined Iranian centrifuges;15 IRGC offi­cers defected;16 and then in January 2010 a bomb killed Iranian physics professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi outside his Tehran home.17

According to Israeli intelligence officials, furi­ous Iranian leaders reached two conclusions after Mohammadi’s death: (1) Hizballah’s IJO had to revital­ize its operational capabilities and (2) the IRGC would no longer rely solely on Hizballah to carry out terrorist attacks abroad. It would now deploy Qods Force opera­tives to do so on their own, not just as logisticians sup­porting Hizballah hit men.18 Even more than the loss of its scientists, Tehran sought to address its damaged prestige—the image of an Iran so weak it could not even protect its own scientists at home could not stand.

Much finger-pointing ensued between Hizballah and the Qods Force regarding where the blame lay for the two years of failed operations, culminating in the botched attack in Turkey and then another failed plot in Jordan in January 2010. Under Nasrallah’s instruc­tions, Badreddine and Hamiyeh “undertook a mas­sive operational reevaluation in January 2010, which led to big changes within the IJO over a period of a little over six months.” During this period, IJO opera­tions were put on hold and major personnel changes made. New operatives were recruited from the elite of Hizballah’s military wing for intelligence and opera­tional training, while existing IJO operatives were moved into new positions. At the same time, the IJO invested in the development of capabilities and tra­decraft that had withered on the vine since the 2001 decision to rein in operations.19

As part of its IJO shake-up, Hizballah engaged in detailed talks with Iranian officials to lay out Hizballah’s role in Iran’s larger plan for a coordi­nated shadow war targeting Israeli, American, Brit­ish, and Gulf States’ interests. The coordinated plan, it was decided, would include operations intended to achieve several different goals, including taking revenge for Mughniyah’s assassination, retaliating for attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, and convinc­ing Western powers that an attack on Iran would result in—among other things—asymmetric terror­ist attacks worldwide.20

To this end, Iranian decisionmakers settled on a campaign of violence based on a three-tiered threat stream targeting the following: Israeli tourists, govern­ment figures (diplomats, retired officials), and targets broadly representative of Israel or the Jewish commu­nity (community leaders, prominent Israeli compa­nies). It assigned the task of targeting Israeli tourists— a soft target—to Hizballah and maintained for the Qods Force operations targeting Israeli, American, British, or Gulf States’ interests. The latter would be carried out by a new Special External Operations Unit known as Unit 400.21

Iran’s Three-Tiered Terror Campaign

At first, Iran’s new terrorism strategy, and the IJO’s overhaul, seemed to have little effect. In March and September 2010, authorities disrupted undisclosed Qods Force plots in Azerbaijan and Turkey, respec­tively.22 In May 2010, Kuwaiti authorities arrested Kuwaiti, Lebanese, and other individuals on suspicion of spying, monitoring U.S. military interests, and pos­sessing explosives for attacks.23

Meanwhile, Hizballah fared no better. Itching to prove their rejuvenated operational capabilities, IJO leaders reportedly pressed Nasrallah to allow them to carry out an attack abroad.24 In April 2011, the Israeli Counterterrorism Bureau issued an advisory for Pass­over holiday travel to countries in the Mediterranean Basin and the Far East, warning of Iranian and Hizbal­lah plots.25 In fact, the warning was a planned leak by Israeli intelligence aimed at exposing and therefore frus­trating a budding Hizballah plot to target Israeli tour­ists in Cyprus.26 Israeli officials told the press that under instructions from Nasrallah and Qods Force leader Qasem Soleimani, Hizballah IJO chief Talal Hamiyeh was plotting the attacks with a small group of trusted lieutenants. These included Hamiyeh’s “right-hand man and bodyguard, Ahmed Faid,” as well as “explosives engi­neer Ali Najam al-Din and bomb assembly expert Malik Ovayad.” False documents were reportedly produced by Majd al-Zakur, aka “the Forger,” while logistics support came from Lebanese and Turkish businesspersons.27

Given Hizballah’s role in the new three-tiered arrangement, Nasrallah was clearly uncomfortable with the notion that people might mistake Hizbal­lah attacks against Israeli tourists as the best the group could muster to avenge Mughniyah’s death. A few days after media reports exposed the Cyprus plot, Nasrallah gave an interview to a Kuwaiti newspaper underscor­ing Hizballah’s continued commitment to carry out an operation of equal severity to avenge the death of the IJO commander. The point was not retaliation for retaliation’s sake, he stressed: “Had we wanted to, we could have retaliated by killing Israeli tourists in this or that country.”28 But that was not Hizballah’s calculus. Attacks on Israeli tourists were something different— the IJO’s part in Iran’s shadow war—a threat stream of its own, distinct from Operation Radwan.

In May 2011, Iranian agents shot and killed a Saudi diplomat in Karachi, Pakistan, foreshadowing the plot already under way targeting the Saudi ambassador to Washington, D.C.29 Ten days afterward, Qods Force and Hizballah operatives carried out a far more com­plex operation targeting an Israeli diplomat in Tur­key. Turkish authorities originally assumed the attack was the work of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), intended to have an impact on upcoming Turkish par­liamentary elections.30 Within weeks, however, investi­gators would determine the attack was a botched Hiz­ballah–Qods Force assassination attempt targeting the Turkish-born Israeli consul-general to Istanbul, Moshe Kimhi, intended as retribution for the assassination of Mohammadi, the Iranian physicist. According to Cor­riere della Sera, the Italian paper that broke the story, Qods Force operatives cased the area, recording Kim­hi’s routine, before Hizballah operatives were called in to place the explosive along a route the diplomat was known to take. Within weeks of the bombing, the Spe­cial Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)—the body charged with investigating the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri—would indict four Hizballah operatives, including Mustafa Badreddine, for their roles in the murder. Closer to home, Hizballah operatives carried out two attacks that wounded French peacekeepers—six civilians and three soldiers—assigned to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) mission in south­ern Lebanon, according to the State Department.31 But the plot targeting the Saudi ambassador to Washing­ton was the most brazen of all.

“They Want That Guy Done”

On October 11, 2011, U.S. attorney general Eric Holder announced that charges had been filed in New York against dual U.S.-Iranian citizen Mansour Arbabsiar and a Qods Force commander for their alleged roles in a plot to murder the Saudi ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir. The plot had developed quickly over just a few months, starting in spring 2011 and culminating with the arrest of Arbabsiar in September. According to the Jus­tice Department, Arbabsiar told a DEA confidential source posing as an associate of a Mexican drug cartel that “his associates in Iran had discussed a number of violent missions for [the source] and his associates to perform, including the murder of the Ambassador.”32

The plot had fallen into the lap of Qods Force planners just as they decided to unleash Unit 400 to attack the West, facilitated by an encounter between the dejected Iranian-American and his cousin while the former visited family in Iran. Arbabsiar sent about $100,000 in wire transfers as a down payment for the assassination, and the money was deposited in an FBI undercover account he thought belonged to the assas­sin. In October 2012, Arbabsiar pleaded guilty to charges related to murder-for-hire and conspiring to commit an act of international terrorism.33

Signaling that U.S. authorities had traced the plot to senior Iranian decisionmakers, the Treasury Depart­ment designated IRGC Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani as a global terrorist for his role over­seeing the officers involved in the plot.34 British offi­cials agreed, designating Soleimani and others involved in the plot themselves as well.35 At the UN General Assembly, member states passed a resolution by an overwhelming majority deploring the plot to assassi­nate the Saudi Arabian ambassador and calling on Iran to “cooperate with States seeking to bring to justice all those who participated in the planning, sponsoring, organization and attempted execution of the plot.36 This plot against the Saudi diplomat, director-general of MI5 Jonathan Evans explained in June 2012, was the work of the IRGC, to which he added, “and of course the IRGC leads straight back to the Iranian leader­ship.”37 Iranian leaders, U.S. intelligence concluded, now appeared willing to attack the United States in response to actions, real or perceived, that Iranian offi­cials thought were threatening the regime.38

Indeed, Iran correctly perceived it was the target of a string of actions against its nuclear program, although Iranian leaders were wrong to suspect the actions were part of a plot aimed at promoting regime change. In September 2010, Iranian computer networks linked to uranium enrichment at the Natanz facility were infected with the Stuxnet virus, leading to the destruction of some one thousand centrifuges, reportedly part of a U.S.-Israeli effort code-named Olympic Games.39 The next month, an explosion at an IRGC missile base lev­eled most of the buildings and killed seventeen people, including Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, a founder of Iran’s ballistic missile program.40

A “Jumble of Overlapping Plots”

The Arbabsiar plot also underscored Qods Force leaders’ willingness to work with criminal elements to further operational planning, perhaps as a means of countering enhanced law enforcement and intel­ligence efforts. Western officials saw the same trend several more times, perhaps most tellingly in Baku. In October 2011, signals intelligence intercepted emails suggesting Azeri criminal elements with known ties to Iranian intelligence and militant groups were plan­ning to transfer weapons and explosives into Azerbai­jan from Iran.41 Over the next few weeks, weapons and operatives—including at least ten Iranian recruits— were smuggled into Azerbaijan, where they met up with other Azeri criminal recruits. The Azeris were strictly in it for the money and used their knowledge of the area to conduct surveillance of a Jewish school, an American-owned fast-food joint, the office of an oil company, the U.S. embassy, and specific U.S. dip­lomats. “They were going after individuals,” a State Department official familiar with the investigation confirmed. “They had names [of employees]. And they were interested in family members, too.”42

Over several months, the operatives planned what one investigator described as a “jumble of overlapping plots,” including assassinating U.S. diplomats and a local rabbi or striking other Jewish targets.43 One subplot involved snipers using rifles with silencers; in another, a car bomb would target U.S. embassy employ­ees or their families. One plot was planned for Decem­ber 2011, another for February 2012. Together, these were intended to avenge the assassinations of Iranian scientists, the captured leader of the network would later tell investigators.44 Some two dozen accomplices were arrested by authorities in a series of raids in Azer­baijan in early 2012, most of whom were local criminal recruits.45 U.S. officials concluded the plots were over­seen by the Qods Force, with possible support from Hizballah, as part of a coordinated thirteen-month campaign targeting foreign diplomats in at least seven countries.46 According to a U.S. law enforcement offi­cial, Hizballah paid criminal gang members $150,000 each to target the Jewish school in Baku.47

Meanwhile, Hizballah operatives were busy plan­ning operations to fulfill their end of the three-tiered plan: targeting Israeli tourists abroad. Around the same time that authorities foiled a January 2012 plot target­ing Israeli vacationers in Bulgaria—just weeks ahead of the anniversary of Mughniyah’s assassination— another Hizballah plot was disrupted in Greece.48 But it was halfway across the world, in Bangkok, where Israeli and local authorities broke up a far more ambi­tious Hizballah bid to target Israeli tourists.

On January 12, 2012, acting on a tip from Israeli intelligence, Thai police arrested Hussein Atris—a Lebanese national who also carried a Swedish pass­port—at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport as he attempted to flee the country. Another suspect, whose police composite portrait strongly resembled Naim Haris, a Hizballah recruiting agent whose photo Israeli officials had publicized a year earlier, escaped. Within days, police would issue an arrest warrant for Atris’s roommate, a Lebanese man who went by the name “James Sammy Paolo.”49

Questioned over the weekend of January 12, Atris led police to a three-story building on the outskirts of Bangkok where he and his housemate had stock­piled some 8,800 pounds of chemicals used to make explosives. The materials were already distilled into crystal form, a step in building bombs.50 Information on international shipping forms found at the scene indicated at least some of the explosives—which were stored in bags marked as cat litter—were intended to be shipped abroad. Intelligence officials surmised that Hizballah had been using Thailand as an explosives hub—Atris had rented the space a year earlier—and decided to use its on-hand operatives and material to target Israeli tourists. The conclusion should not have been a surprise: U.S. officials had already determined that Hizballah was known to use Bangkok as a logis­tics and transportation hub, describing the city as “a center for a [Hizballah] cocaine and money-launder­ing network.”51

Amateur Hour

At the same time that Hizballah operatives were run­ning sloppy operations around the world, the Qods Force was doing the same and worse. While counter­terrorism officials worried about the increased opera­tional tempo of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, includ­ing both operations carried out by Hizballah and the Qods Force’s new Unit 400, their concern focused on Tehran’s aggressive posture and intent to harm West­ern interests. The fact that Iran’s intentions were not yet coupled with the capability to act effectively on them gave Western officials only so much comfort. In time, they feared, both Hizballah and the Qods Force would be capable of carrying out deadly attacks target­ing Western interests. The pace of Unit 400’s planned attacks underscored just how determined Iran was to attack Western interests. Yet the failure of all these plots pointed to the new unit’s still-limited capabilities.

The American ambassador to Baku may have breathed a sigh of relief when the plot targeting him and his staff was disrupted in February 2012, but other diplomatic missions across the globe would endure their own close calls at the hands of the Qods Force.52 Five attacks targeting Western diplomats were scheduled to be carried out as close to the February 12 anniversary of Mughniyah’s assassination as pos­sible. The plot in Baku was foiled; another in Turkey was delayed; others would play out in India, Georgia, and Thailand.53

On February 13, twin bombings targeted person­nel from the Israeli embassies in New Delhi, India, and Tbilisi, Georgia. In both cases, Qods Force operatives encountered more sophisticated security arrangements than anticipated and so they settled for modest strikes. In India, an assailant on a motorcycle attached a mag­netized “sticky bomb” to a car taking the Israeli defense attaché’s wife to pick up her children at school; the blast injured the woman, her driver, and a few bystand­ers. About three hours later, in Georgia, a similar sticky-bomb attack targeted a local citizen employed by the embassy, but was discovered and defused before doing any harm.54 Just a month earlier, the deputy director of Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, was killed in a nearly identical sticky-bomb attack. Roshan was the fifth Iranian scientist to be assassinated, and the use of sticky bombs to target Israeli diplomats was a not-so-subtle message of retali­ation from Iran.55

The next day, February 14, in central Bangkok, police rushed to the scene of an explosion in the early afternoon at a home rented by a group of Iranians. Two barefoot men fled the house, but a third was injured and tried to hail a taxi to escape. When the taxi refused to stop, the injured man threw a bomb at the car, destroying half the vehicle and injuring the driver and four bystanders. Police soon cornered the injured sus­pect, who tried to throw another explosive at them but was too weak; the resulting explosion blew off both his legs. The other two men were soon caught—one was detained at the airport as he tried to catch a flight to Malaysia; the other managed to escape to Malay­sia, where he was arrested boarding a flight to Iran. A Malaysian court ruled he would be extradited to Thai­land. A fourth suspect, an Iranian woman who rented the house, was believed to have fled to Iran.56

Unlike the Hizballah plot foiled just weeks earlier in Thailand, in this plot Qods Force operatives were targeting Israeli diplomats, Thai investigators deter­mined. At the scene of the explosion, authorities found several undetonated devices, all homemade magnetic sticky bombs of the same type used in India and Geor­gia.57 In time, investigators would tie the three attacks together not only based on the explosives used but through phone records, travel documents, and money transfers. About a dozen Qods Force operatives coor­dinated their preparations for the attacks, which began ten months earlier in April 2011—not long after press reports tied the Stuxnet virus to Israel and the United States and the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari to Israel. That month, Iranian opera­tives traveled to India and Thailand to scope out targets, followed by more trips in the summer and fall of 2011 to rent apartments, hire local help, arrange finances, and conduct surveillance. During his 2011 reconnais­sance visits to India, Houshang Afshar Irani, identified by Indian police as the assailant who attached the bomb to the Israeli diplomatic vehicle in New Delhi, used a cell phone number that was also used in June 2011 in Tbilisi.58 According to Israeli officials, cell phone calls and text messages between operatives in Thailand, India, and Azerbaijan also link the attacks.59 Based on these findings and more, U.S. counterterrorism officials concluded that Iran was tied to the terrorist plots in Azerbaijan, Georgia, India, and Thailand.60

In the case of the Thailand plot, senior Qods Force commander Majid Alavi reportedly arrived on the scene on January 19, 2012, after traveling through Malaysia on a diplomatic passport bearing a fictitious name. Responsible for Qods Force Unit 400, Alavi previously tracked Iranian dissidents in places as varied as London and Los Angeles. It was Alavi who ordered the attacks on Israeli diplomats to occur as close to the anniversary of Mughniyah’s death as possible.61

Yet despite the direct oversight of senior Qods Force officers, the attacks not only failed but also dem­onstrated pathetic tradecraft and operational secu­rity—the very strengths for which the Qods Force is usually known. Aside from reusing phone numbers and SIM cards across multiple operations, operatives traveled on Iranian passports, checked in to hotels as Iranians, carried Iranian currency in their wallets, and in at least one instance took off time from their sur­veillance to party with prostitutes. A group photo on one of the women’s cell phones helped identify accom­plices who fled the country.62 In the words of one flab­bergasted analyst, “It’s as if there’s a systematic policy of Iran recruiting low-rent, downright kooky terrorists.”63

Instead of restoring Iran’s damaged prestige, the attacks only further underscored Iran’s operational limitations. Following the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran, the Qods Force gained prominence at the expense of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) over the latter’s perceived soft-handed approach to suppressing political protests. Within the Qods Force, quick promotions of mediocre managers diluted the group’s professional capabilities at the manage­ment level.64 Desperate to quickly implement its new offensive strategy and exact revenge for covert attacks against Iran’s nuclear program, the Qods Force traded speed for tradecraft and cut corners—compounding the problem. Qods Force planners were stretched thin by the rapid tempo of their new attack plan, and were forced to throw together random teams of operatives who had not trained together.65

Worse, despite Iran’s preference for signature attacks against embassies, diplomats, or other official targets— and despite concerns by U.S. intelligence that Iran was developing contingency plans for such attacks target­ing the United States and its allies—Iranian planners found their chosen targets too well protected and set­tled for less-hardened targets.66 In the end, not one of the five planned attacks could be considered an opera­tional success. Ever since, Israeli officials say, the frus­trated Iranian operatives have been “trying harder than ever” to execute successful attacks.67

Indeed, the operational tempo would continue apace. In March 2012, the Israeli National Security Council’s Counterterrorism Bureau warned of terror­ist threats against Jewish and Israeli targets in Turkey. According to the Turkish press, the warning came less than a week after Israeli intelligence tipped off Turk­ish authorities about a Qods Force plot to be carried out by at least four individuals who crossed the border from Iran armed with weapons and materials.68 The plot, again targeting Israeli diplomats, had originally been timed to coincide with the other plots in Febru­ary but was postponed.69 In May, yet another Hizbal­lah attack targeting Israeli tourists was thwarted, this time at the Johannesburg airport in South Africa.70

Also in March, forty-year-old Hamid Kashkouli, an Iranian PhD student at the University of Pune in India, was deported for spying on Israeli nationals, a Jewish center, and a synagogue. According to Indian police, Kashkouli, who worked as a paid undercover agent of the Iranian government, traveled regularly to the Ira­nian consulate in Mumbai, where Iranian government officials met him, according to his driver. Intercepted emails revealed he was providing Iranian officials with pictures of Jewish people in the area and reporting on their business dealings.71

In June 2012, authorities in Nairobi, Kenya, arrested two Iranian nationals, both of them purport­edly Qods Force operatives.72 Prior to the two men’s arrest, Kenyan police reported, they had scouted out the Israeli embassy, the British High Commission, and other sites, leading authorities to conclude the pair were planning attacks targeting Israeli, U.S., Brit­ish, or Saudi Arabian interests in Kenya or elsewhere in Africa.73 The day after their arrest, one of the two operatives led authorities to thirty-three pounds of RDX explosives hidden under a bush at the Mombasa Golf Club, overlooking the Indian Ocean.74 In a seem­ing effort to deflect attention from Iran, the Iranian operatives had apparently partnered with al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group in Somalia. This tie underscored how desperate Tehran was to see successful attacks carried out. Indeed, that interest has only grown more acute, as efforts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program—from sanctions to assassinations to covert sabotage of equipment—continue to gain momentum.

On July 7, a month after the Kenya plot was exposed, Cypriot authorities raided the hotel room of a twenty-four-year-old Lebanese-Swedish man travel­ing on a foreign passport. The suspect had in his pos­session photographs of Israeli targets in Cyprus, along with information on buses carrying Israeli tourists and Israeli flights to and from the island nation. Accord­ing to press reports, the suspect initially denied ties to terrorist activity but later admitted to being a Hizbal­lah operative.75

Tragically, Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, were less fortunate. On July 18, 2012, at the height of the summer tourist season, a bomb destroyed one of seven tour buses in a caravan, killing the Bulgarian bus driver and five Israelis and wounding some thirty more.76 From the outset, Israeli officials publicly insisted— and anonymous American and British officials con­firmed—that Lebanese Hizballah was behind the attack.77 “We are confident without any doubt,” Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak told CNN, “about the responsibility of Hezbollah [for] the actual execution of the operation—preparation, planning and execu­tion.”78 Nor, officials added, was the attack the work of rogue Hizballah gunmen. “Nobody pushes the button in Burgas without Nasrallah’s approval,” explained an Israeli official close to the investigation.79

In the months that followed, more threats arose, prompting Israeli travel advisories covering countries from Cyprus and Greece to Thailand, Bulgaria, and Ukraine.80 All told, more than twenty terror attacks by Hizballah or Qods Force operatives were thwarted over the fifteen-month period between May 2011 and July 2012; by another count, nine plots were uncovered over the first nine months of 2012.81 The key to all these attacks, however, whether carried out by Hizballah or the Qods Force, was deniability. Both Hizballah and Tehran wanted attacks carried out, but neither wanted to invite a full-fledged military response targeting them back in Lebanon or Iran. Indeed, ever since the July 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah, Nasrallah has reportedly refused to approve any attacks along the Israel-Lebanon border for fear of sparking another full-scale war.82

Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, while Hizballah and the Qods Force have worked together on some plots—Baku in 2008, Istanbul in 2009, among others—in other cases they failed to decon­flict their operational activities and found themselves engaged in completely disparate operations in the same place. When Hizballah operatives laid the groundwork for a bombing in late 2011–early 2012 in Bangkok, they were apparently unaware that the Qods Force was also preparing for an attack in the same city. Whether the Qods Force was, in turn, ignorant of Hizballah’s activi­ties there is unclear, but the Iranians appear not to have known Hizballah was using Bangkok as an explosives distribution hub. And even once Hizballah operative Hussein Atris was arrested in January 2012, the Qods Force operation there was not suspended. Similarly, within days after the explosion in Burgas—while the investigation into the bombing and the search for accomplices was at its height—Bulgarian authorities reportedly caught a Qods Force operative scoping out a synagogue in the country’s capital, Sofia.83

Operation Radwan Continues

Even as Hizballah remains committed to exacting revenge for Mughniyah’s death, IJO leaders grudg­ingly have begun to appreciate the difficulty of hitting a high-level Israeli abroad. Such targets are typically well protected, so while Hizballah operational plan­ners have continued to search for viable targets abroad, they have initiated parallel plans for attacks targeting Israeli officials inside Israel.84 By leveraging networks of criminal associates who typically trade intelligence for drugs, and sometimes recruiting Israeli Arabs through ideological appeals to spy for the group, Hizballah pur­sued at least two plots targeting Israeli officials within the country within a three-month period in 2012, both of which were thwarted.85

Meanwhile, Iran has leveraged Hizballah’s opera­tional capabilities to actively support the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Hizballah, the Treasury Department revealed in August 2012, had been pro­viding “training, advice and extensive logistical sup­port to the Government of Syria’s increasingly ruth­less efforts” against the opposition.86 Most funerals for those killed in the fighting were quiet affairs, as Hizballah tried to keep a lid on the extent of its activities in Syria, but news began to leak.87 Hizbal­lah’s “resistance” rhetoric notwithstanding, U.S. offi­cials informed the UN Security Council in October 2012, “the truth is plain to see: Nasrallah’s fighters are now part of Assad’s killing machine.”88 Two months later, a UN report confirmed Hizballah members were in Syria fighting on behalf of the Assad govern­ment.89 By that time, reports had already emerged that Hizballah had set up small training camps near Syrian chemical weapons depots in November 2012. According to one senior U.S. official, “The fear these weapons could fall into the wrong hands is our great­est concern.”90

Conclusion

The net effect of Iran’s shadow war against the West is that Hizballah and the Qods Force have climbed back up the list of immediate threats facing the United States and its allies. In July 2012, NCTC director Mat­thew Olsen warned that while Iran and Hizballah had not yet hit targets in the United States, U.S. officials worry that could soon change. “We’re seeing a gen­eral uptick in the level of activity around the world,” he noted, adding that “both Hezbollah and the Qods Force have demonstrated an ability to operate essen­tially globally.” In fact, the Hizballah–Qods Force threat has sometimes eclipsed that of al-Qaeda. Olsen continued: “There are times when we are briefing the White House [on terror threats and] at the top of the list are Hezbollah or Iran.”91

These threats are quite real, despite the failure of Hizballah and the Qods Force to register many suc­cesses in their recent operational blitz. In the case of Hizballah, this poor track record has much to do with the atrophying of the group’s operational capabilities after 9/11. For the Qods Force, it reflects Tehran’s des­perate desire to exact quick revenge for covert attacks against its nuclear program. Hizballah and the Qods Force traded speed for tradecraft and reaped what they sowed. In some cases, Iranian agents employed laugh­able operational security; in others, Iran dispatched bungling agents, like the Iranian-American car sales­man Mansour Arbabsiar. But the recent failures of Hizballah and the Qods Force give Western counter­terrorism officials little comfort. As the attack in Bur­gas demonstrated, terrorists learn from their mistakes, evolve, and adapt, and with sufficient determination they may carry out successful attacks even after a long string of failures.

Indeed, officials fear that both Hizballah and the Qods Force are likely to recover from their operational sloppiness. True, the world in general and the West in particular have become far more vigilant over the past several years, making it more difficult than before for terrorist groups to execute successful attacks. But Ira­nian leaders appear committed to a policy of target­ing Western interests, not only in places where coun­termeasures may be comparatively underdeveloped (e.g., Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, India, Georgia, Thailand) but, if opportunities present themselves, even in world capitals like Washington, D.C. To be sure, Arbabsiar’s guilty plea ends one chapter in Iran’s shadow war against the West, but authorities must remain watchful for the plots yet to come.

Notes

  1. U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Sanctions Five Individuals Tied to Iranian Plot to Assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States,” October 11, 2011, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/pages/tg1320.aspx; Her Majesty’s Treasury Department, “General Notice: Renewal of Final Designations, Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010,” October 10, 2012, http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/fin_sanc_terrorism_notice_101012.pdf.
  2. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, “Two Men Charged in Alleged Plot to Assassinate Saudi Arabian Ambas­sador to the United States,” press release, October 11, 2011, http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/October/11-ag-1339.html.
  3. Benjamin Weiser, “Psychiatrist Details Talks with Suspect in Bomb Plot,” New York Times, October 4, 2012, http://www. nytimes.com/2012/10/05/nyregion/psychiatrist-details-talks-with-suspect-in-bomb-plot.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
  4. James Clapper, “Statement for the Record on the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community for the House Permant Select Committee on Intelligence,” February 10, 2011, http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/dni/threat_ assessment_10feb11.pdf.
  5. Tony Badran, “Hezbollah Is Being Elusive on Waliyat al-Faqih,” NOWLebanon, June 24, 2009, https://now.mmedia.me/ lb/en/commentaryanalysis/hezbollah_is_being_elusive_on_wilayat_al-faqih.
  6. U.S. Department of Defense, “CDA—Military Power of Iran,” Unclassified Report on Military Power of Iran, April 2010, http://www.fas.org/man/eprint/dod_iran_2010.pdf.
  7. Israeli intelligence official, interview by author, Tel Aviv, June 3, 2008.
  8. U.S. Department of the Treasury, Press Center, “Treasury Designates Hizballah Leadership,” September 13, 2012, http://www. treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1709.aspx.
  9. James R. Clapper, “Unclassified Statement for the Record on the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” January 31, 2012, http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2012_ hr/013112clapper.pdf.
  10. Matthew G. Olsen, “The Homeland Threat Landscape and U.S. Response,” testimony before the Senate Committee on Home­land Security and Governmental Affairs, September 19, 2012, http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Testimonies/ Olsen%209-19%202012%20SFR.pdf.
  11. “Hezbollah,” in World Almanac of Islamism 2011, chief ed. Ilan Berman (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), http:// almanac.afpc.org/hezbollah.
  12. Matthew Levitt, “Iran’s Support for Terrorism in the Middle East,” testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Near Eastern and Central Asian Affairs, July 25, 2012, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/ view/irans-support-for-terrorism-in-the-middle-east.
  13. Israeli counterterrorism official, interview by author, Tel Aviv, March 17, 2008.
  14. Israeli counterterrorism official, interview by author, Tel Aviv, September 13, 2012; Daniel Edelson, “Hezbol­lah Plans Attacks on Israeli Targets in Turkey,” Ynetnews.com, October 20, 2009, http://www.ynetnews.com/ articles/0,7340,L-3792483,00.html; Sebastian Rotella, “Before Deadly Bulgaria Bombing, Tracks of a Resur­gent Iran-Hezbollah Threat,” Foreign Policy, July 30, 2012, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/07/30/ before_deadly_bulgaria_bombing_tracks_of_a_resurgent_iran_hezbollah_threat.
  15. “Stuxnet: Targeting Iran’s Nuclear Programme,” IISS Strategic Comments, International Institute for Strategic Studies, February 2012, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13567888.2011.575612.
  16. Muhammad Sahimi, “Report: Iranian ex–Deputy Defense Minister, Missing Four Years, in Israeli Jail,” Frontline, PBS, Decem­ber 12, 2010, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2010/12/report-iranian-ex-deputy-defense-minister-missing-4-years-in-israeli-jail.html.
  17. Alan Cowell, “Blast Kills Physics Professor in Tehran,” New York Times, January 12, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/13/ world/middleeast/13iran.html.
  18. Israeli intelligence officials, interview by author, September 13, 2012.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.; Sebastian Rotella, “Before Deadly Bulgaria Bombing, Tracks of a Resurgent Iran-Hezbollah Threat,” Foreign Policy, July

30, 2012, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/07/30/before_deadly_bulgaria_bombing_tracks_of_a_resurgent_iran_

hezbollah_threat?wp_login_redirect=0.

22. Israeli intelligence officials, interview by author, September 13, 2012.

23. Alexandra Sandels, “Kuwait: Media Banned from Reporting on Alleged Iran Spy Ring,” Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2010, http://

latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/05/kuwait-media-ban-imposed-on-iranian-spy-cell-allegations.html.

24. Israeli intelligence officials, interview by author, September 13, 2012.

25. Attila Somfalvi, “Warning: Mediterranean Basin Dangerous,” Ynetnews.com, April 10, 2011, http://www.ynetnews.com/

articles/0,7340,L-4054951,00.html.

26. Israeli intelligence officials, interview by author, September 13, 2012.

27. Yaakov Lappin, “Hezbollah Terror Attack on Israelis Abroad ‘Is Imminent’,” Jerusalem Post, April 21, 2011, http://www.jpost.

com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=217482.

28. Abdullah Povian, “Nasrallah: All Who Referred to the ‘Scud’ Did So without Providing Evidence, but We Are Able to Meet

Defense Commitments,” al-Rai al-Aam (Kuwait), April 30, 2010; see also “Nasrallah to Rai Aam: No Evidence Was Presented

about Scuds,” Mideast Wire, April 30, 2010, http://mideastwire.wordpress.com/2010/05/02/%E2%80%9Cnasral

lah-to-rai-aam-no-evidence-was-presented-about-scuds%E2%80%A6%E2%80%9D-30042010/.

29. David Ignatius, “Intelligence Links Iran to Saudi Diplomat’s Murder,” Washington Post, October 13, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.

com/blogs/post-partisan/post/intelligence-links-iran-to-saudi-diplomats-murder/2011/10/13/gIQAFzCPiL_blog.html.

30. “Bike Bomb Wounds Seven in Istanbul, Kurd Group Suspected,” Reuters, May 26, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/

article/2011/05/26/us-turkey-blast-idUSTRE74P11G20110526.

31. U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Counterterrorism, Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 ( July 2012), pp. 235–236, http://

http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/195768.pdf.

32. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, “Two Men Charged in Alleged Plot to Assassinate Saudi Arabian Ambassador

to the United States,” press release, October 11, 2011, http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/October/11-ag-1339.html.

33. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, “Man Pleads Guilty in New York to Conspiring with Iranian Military Officials

to Assassinate Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States,” press release, October 17, 2012, http://www.justice.gov/

opa/pr/2012/October/12-ag-1251.html.

34. U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Sanctions Five Individuals Tied to Iranian Plot to Assassinate the Saudi Arabian

Ambassador to the United States,” press release, October 11, 2011, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/pages/

tg1320.aspx.

35. Her Majesty’s Treasury Department, “General Notice: Renewal of Final Designations, Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010,”

October 10, 2012, http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/fin_sanc_terrorism_notice_101012.pdf.

36. “Terrorist Attacks on Internationally Protected Persons,” A/RES/66/12, resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly, February

2, 2012, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=%20A/RES/66/12.

37. Jonathan Evans, “Address at the Lord Mayor’s Annual Defence and Security Lecture,” London, June 25, 2012, https://www.mi5.

gov.uk/home/about-us/who-we-are/staff-and-management/director-general/speeches-by-the-director-general/the-olympicsand-

beyond.html.

38. Statement of James R. Clapper, Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community: Hearing before the Senate Select

Committee on Intelligence, 112th Cong., 2d Sess., January 31, 2012, http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Testimonies/

20120131_testimony_ata.pdf.

39. Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warrick, “Stuxnet Was Work of U.S. and Israeli Experts, Officials Say,” Washington Post, June 1, 2012,

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-06-01/world/35459494_1_nuclear-program-stuxnet-senior-iranian-officials.

40. Ken Dilanian, “Mysterious Blasts, Slayings Suggest Covert Efforts in Iran,” Los Angeles Times, December 4, 2011, http://articles.

latimes.com/2011/dec/04/world/la-fg-iran-bomb-20111205.

41. Joby Warrick, “U.S. Officials among the Targets of Iran-Linked Assassination Plots,” Washington Post, May 27, 2012, http://

articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-05-27/world/35458558_1_assassination-plots-nuclear-program-iran.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid.

45. “Azerbaijan Arrests Twenty-Two Suspects in Alleged Iran Spy Plot,” BBC, March 14, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/

world-europe-17368576.

46. Joby Warrick, “U.S. Officials among the Targets of Iran-Linked Assassination Plots,” Washington Post, May 27, 2012, http://

articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-05-27/world/35458558_1_assassination-plots-nuclear-program-iran; “Members of Group

Accused of Terrorist Acts against Israeli Citizens Sentenced,” News.Az (Azerbaijan), September 26, 2012, http://news.az/

articles/society/68967.

47. Judith Miller, “Bagels and Plots: Notes on the NYPD’s High Holy Days Threat Briefing,” City Journal (New York), September 7,

2012, http://www.city-journal.org/2012/eon0907jm.html.

48. Israeli official, interview by author, Tel Aviv, September 13, 2012.

49. Dudi Cohen, “Bangkok Threat: Terrorist’s Swedish Connection,” Ynetnews.com, January 15, 2012, http://www.ynetnews.com/

articles/0,7340,L-4175513,00.html; “Second Terror Suspect Sought, Court Issues Warrant for Atris’s Housemate,” Bangkok Post,

January 20, 2012, http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/275914/second-terror-suspect-sought.

50. James Hookway, “Thai Police Seize Materials, Charge Terror-Plot Suspect,” Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2012, http://

online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204555904577164632227644906.html; Sebastian Rotella, “Before Deadly Bulgaria

Bombing, Tracks of a Resurgent Iran-Hezbollah Threat,” Foreign Policy, July 30, 2012, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/

articles/2012/07/30/before_deadly_bulgaria_bombing_tracks_of_a_resurgent_iran_hezbollah_threat?wp_login_redirect=0.

51. Thomas Fuller, “In Twisting Terror Case, Thai Police Seize Chemicals,” New York Times, January 16, 2012, http://www.nytimes.

com/2012/01/17/world/asia/thai-police-in-bangkok-seize-bomb-making-material.html.

52. Joby Warrick, “U.S. Officials among the Targets of Iran-Linked Assassination Plots,” Washington Post, May 27, 2012, http://

articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-05-27/world/35458558_1_assassination-plots-nuclear-program-iran.

53. Israeli intelligence officials, interview by author, September 13, 2012.

54. Ethan Bronner, “Israel Says Iran is Behind Bombs,” New York Times, February 13, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/14/

world/middleeast/israeli-embassy-officials-attacked-in-india-and-georgia.html?pagewanted=all.

55. Rick Gladstone, “Iran Tightens Its Security for Scientists after Killing,” New York Times, January 17, 2012, http://www.nytimes.

com/2012/01/18/world/middleeast/after-iran-scientists-death-arrests-and-heightened-security.html.

56. “Bangkok Blast Suspects ‘Targeting Israeli Diplomats’,” BBC, February 16, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/

world-asia-17055367.

57. Joel Greenberg, “Israel Says Thai Bombs Similar to Those in India, Georgia,” Washington Post, February 15, 2012, http://articles.

washingtonpost.com/2012-02-15/world/35442745_1_israeli-diplomats-thai-police-itzhak-shoham.

58. Jason Burke, “Iran Was behind Bomb Plot against Israeli Diplomats, Investigators Find,” Guardian (London), June 17, 2012,

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/17/iran-bomb-plot-israel-nuclear-talks.

59. Nicholas Kulish and Jodi Rudoren, “Plots Are Tied to Shadow War of Israel and Iran,” New York Times, August 8, 2012,

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/09/world/middleeast/murky-plots-and-attacks-tied-to-shadow-war-of-iran-and-israel.

html?pagewanted=all.

60. Joby Warrick, “U.S. Officials among the Targets of Iran-Linked Assassination Plots,” Washington Post, May 27, 2012, http://

articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-05-27/world/35458558_1_assassination-plots-nuclear-program-iran; Matthew G. Olsen,

“The Homeland Threat Landscape and U.S. Response,” testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and

Governmental Affairs, September 19, 2012, http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Testimonies/Olsen%209-19%20

2012%20SFR.pdf.

61. Sebastian Rotella, “Before Deadly Bulgaria Bombing, Tracks of a Resurgent Iran-Hezbollah Threat,” Foreign Policy, July 30,

2012, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/07/30/before_deadly_bulgaria_bombing_tracks_of_a_resurgent_iran_hezbollah_threat.

62. Thomas Fuller and Rick Gladstone, “Blasts in Bangkok Add to Suspicions about Iran,” New York Times, February 14, 2012, http://

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/15/world/asia/explosions-in-bangkok-injures-suspected-iranian-national.html; Piyaporn Wongruang,

“Suspects Partied in Pattaya,” Bangkok Post, February 17, 2012, http://www.bangkokpost.com/lite/topstories/280201/

suspects-partied-in-pattaya.

63. Sebastian Rotella, “Azerbaijan Seen As New Front in Mideast Conflict,” Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2009, http://articles.latimes.

com/2009/may/30/world/fg-shadow30.

64. “Iran: IRGC Rise Increases the Influence of Radicals,” Oxford Analytica, November 5, 2009, http://www.oxan.com/display.

aspx?ItemID=DB155404.

65. Judith Miller, “Bagels and Plots: Notes on the NYPD’s High Holy Days Threat Briefing,” City Journal (New York), September 7,

2012, http://www.city-journal.org/2012/eon0907jm.html.

66. Statement of Dennis C. Blair, Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community: Hearing before the House Permanent

Select Committee on Intelligence, 111th Cong., 2nd Sess., February 3, 2010, https://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2010_hr/hpscithreat.

pdf.

67. Israeli intelligence officials, interview by author, September 13, 2012.

68. “Israel Warns of ‘Attacks’ in Turkey: Report,” Hurriyet Daily News, March 8, 2012, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/israelwarns-

of-attacks-in-turkey-report.aspx?pageID=238&nid=15499.

69. Israeli intelligence officials, interview by author, September 13, 2012.

70. Itamar Eichner, “PM Reveals: South Africa Attack against Israelis Thwarted,” Ynetnews.com, July 20, 2012, http://www.ynetnews.

com/articles/0,7340,L-4258237,00.html.

71. Gitesh Shelke, “Iranian Spy Was PhD Student at UoP [University of Pune],” Pune Mirror, April 26, 2012, http://www.punemirror.

in/index.aspx?page=article&sectid=62&contentid=2012042620120426023814437667f66ee.

72. Jason Straziuso and Tom Odula,“Officials: Iranians Targeted Israeli, U.S. Interests,” Associated Press, July 2, 2012, http://news.

yahoo.officials-iranians-targeted-israeli-us-interests-203608167.html.

73. Daniel Howden, “Iranian Agents Arrested in Kenya Were ‘Looking for Foreign Targets’,” Independent (London), July 4, 2012,

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/iranian-agents-arrested-in-kenya-were-looking-for-foreign-targets-7906819.

html; Israeli intelligence officials, interview by author, September 13, 2012.

74. Zoe Flood, “Kenyan Police Arrest Iranians Suspected of Terror Plot,” Telegraph (London), June 22, 2012, http://www.telegraph.

co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/kenya/9350172/Kenyan-police-arrest-Iranians-suspected-of-terror-plot.html.

75. Barak Ravid, “Man Detained in Cyprus Was Planning Attack on Israeli Targets for Hezbollah,” Haaretz, July 14, 2012, http://www.

haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/man-detained-in-cyprus-was-planning-attack-on-israeli-targets-for-hezbollah-1.451000.

76. “Israelis Killed in Bulgaria Bus Terror Attack, Minister Says,” CNN, July 18, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/18/world/

europe/bulgaria-israel-blast/index.html.

77. Nicholas Kulish and Eric Schmitt, “Hezbollah Is Blamed for Attack on Israeli Tourists in Bulgaria,” New York Times, July

19, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/20/world/europe/explosion-on-bulgaria-tour-bus-kills-at-least-five-israelis.

html?pagewanted=all.

78. Wolf Blitzer, “Interview with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak,” The Situation Room, CNN, July 30, 2012, http://transcripts.

cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1207/30/sitroom.02.html.

79. Israeli official, interview by author, Tel Aviv, September 13, 2012.

80. Gili Cohen, “Israeli Counterterrorism Bureau Warns of Attacks on Israelis during High Holidays,” Haaretz, September 6, 2012,

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israeli-counterterrorism-bureau-warns-of-attacks-on-israelis-during-highholidays-

1.463034.

81. Itamar Eichner, “PM Reveals: South Africa Attack against Israelis Thwarted,” Ynetnews.com, July 20, 2012, http://www.

ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4258237,00.html; Israeli intelligence officials, interview by author, September 13, 2012;

Mark Hosenball, “New York Police Link Nine 2012 Plots to Iran, Proxies,” Reuters, July 21, 2012, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/07/21/uk-iran-hezbollah-plots-idUKBRE86J0T520120721.

82.

Israeli intelligence officials, interview by author, September 13, 2012.

83.

Ibid.

84.

Ibid.

85.

Yaakov Katz, Yaakov Lappin, and Ben Hartman, “Shin Bet Nabs Explosive-Smuggling Israeli-Arabs,” Jerusalem Post, August 9, 2012, http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=280591; Yonah Jeremy Bob, “Shin Bet Nabs Alleged Hezbollah Spy Living in North,” Jerusalem Post, October 4, 2012, http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=286653.

86.

U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Designates Hizballah Leadership,” press release, September 13, 2012, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1709.aspx.

87.

Babak Dehganpisheh, “Hezbollah Increases Support for Syrian Regime, U.S. and Lebanese Officials Say,” Washington Post, September 26, 2012, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-09-26/world/35494328_1_lebanese-government-hezbollah-hasan-nasrallah.

88.

Edith M. Lederer, “U.S. Says Hezbollah Is Part of Assad’s War Machine,” Associated Press, October 15, 2012, http://www.boston.com/news/world/middle-east/2012/10/15/says-hezbollah-part-assad-war-machine/BieFTe2V5oEgvOR8Mggu9L/story.html.

89.

United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic established pursuant to United Nations Human Rights Council Resolutions S-17/1, 19/22 and 21/26, December 20, 2012, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/SY/ColSyriaDecember2012.pdf.

90.

David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon Says 75,000 Troops Might Be Needed to Seize Syria Chemical Arms,” New York Times, November 15, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/16/world/middleeast/pentagon-sees-seizing-syria-chemical-arms-as-vast-task.html?pagewanted=all.

91.

Noah Shachtman, “‘Hot War’ Erupting with Iran, Top Terror-Watchers Warn,” Wired, July 26, 2012, http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/07/iran-hot-war/.

 

 

 

 

About the Author

MATTHEW LEVITT is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he directs the Insti­tute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. Previously, Levitt served in the senior executive ser­vice as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and before that as an FBI counterterrorism analyst, including work on the Millennial and 9/11 plots. He also served as a State Department counterterrorism advisor to Gen James L. Jones, the special envoy for Middle East regional security (SEMERS).

 

Levitt has taught at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, held fellowships with the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) and the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

Widely published, Dr. Levitt is the editor, most recently, of Policy Focus 107, Obama’s National Security Vision: Confronting Transnational Threats with Global Cooperation.

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With the permission of Georgetown University Press, this monograph is drawn from Levitt’s forthcoming book Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God (Georgetown University Press, 2013).

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The opinions expressed in this Policy Focus are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, its Board of Trustees, or its Board of Advisors.

 

 

MATTHEW LEVITT

Policy Focus 123 | January 2013

Related link – http://tinyurl.com/bj5olk7

 

 

 

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