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April 21, 2013

West Must Confront Terrorist 'Party of God'

By

A bomb exploded in a Bangkok apartment. Both apartment and bomb turned out to belong to a man who had planned to attack the Israeli Embassy. Israeli officials ultimately linked the plot to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah translates to "Party of God," but the group is know internationally more for its terrorist attacks than its religious or political activities. The U.S. State Department has long listed Hezbollah as a state sponsor of terrorism. The group has amped up its terrorist activity in recent years.

In addition to the Bangkok fiasco, Hezbollah has tried to mount assaults around the globe. Last August, Kenyan officials arrested two Iranians plotting to attack American, Israeli, Saudi and British targets in the country.

A month earlier, Cyprus had rounded up two Lebanese men who were planning a terrorist attack. Less than two weeks later, Hezbollah targeted Israeli tourists with a suicide bombing in Bulgaria. In December, the Kenyans took down a Hezbollah-linked terrorist network plotting attacks on U.S. and Israeli interests.

Though most of these plots were thwarted and on the amateurish side, clearly something is up. With so many activities, Hezbollah is most certainly engaged in a global offensive that includes the U.S. and its allies.

Furthermore, Hezbollah would not be undertaking such risky, slapdash operations unless its leaders perceived an urgent imperative to do so. And while these plots may not have been first class, that is no guarantee that future efforts will not be more thoughtful and well prepared.

Additionally, the civil war in Syria might wind up making Hezbollah more dangerous. Hezbollah is based in Lebanon; Iran is Hezbollah's chief sponsor, and Syria has been the conduit linking the two.

But if (when?) the Assad regime falls, that conduit may be cut off. A Hezbollah on its own looks less secure and more likely to lash out in violence as a reaction to its new isolation.

For the U.S., this has to be red light flashing. Hezbollah and its fellow travelers -- Hamas and the Iranian military Quds Force -- have networks that extend throughout Latin America into the United States.

U.S. officials have long held that these networks could be turned to operational terrorist activities if their master deemed the missions important enough.

Unfortunately, America's most important counterterrorism allies in Europe have been slow to acknowledge that the Party of God is up to more than partying. Only one European country, the Netherlands, has designated Hezbollah and its affiliates a terrorist organization.

Britain has designated only the military wing of Hezbollah a terrorist group. Even countries like Cyprus and Bulgaria, which have convicted Hezbollah agents of terrorist acts on their soil, have stopped short of slapping a label on the parent group.

Meanwhile, the European Union has thrown up its hands, claiming it is helpless. Unless there is universal consensus among the EU member states, the organization cannot label Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Hezbollah has a huge and active base in Europe. It is vital that all of America's European partners clamp down on all parts of the group. Going after the political arm of Hezbollah is just as important as going after its armed factions.

The political wing solicits money that is funneled into terrorist activities. Further, a political presence provides a platform for intelligence collection and operational coordination.

The White House needs to step up its efforts to press Europeans to take the threat of Hezbollah with the seriousness it deserves. The Europeans need to wake up. And all this needs to happen before we start using more dates as shorthand for memorable terrorist acts.

-Columnist James Jay Carafano is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in The Washington Examiner.

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