Fanning the Flames

February 7, 2005


American Israel Public Affairs Committee: Near East Report

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  • Syria


The terrorist group Hizballah, backed by Iran and Syria, is attempting to undermine renewed prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) by taking over terrorist cells in the West Bank and Gaza.

Hizballah is Increasing its Presence in the Palestinian Areas

The Lebanon-based terror organization has stepped up its role as a prominent source of funds, expertise and inspiration for several Palestinian terror organizations that new PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas must dismantle in order to work for peace with Israel. Statistics released by Israel show that Hizballah's profile in Palestinian areas has increased exponentially over the past three years.

In 2002, according to the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, Hizballah controlled seven Palestinian terrorist cells. In 2003, the number doubled. Last year, Hizballah operated 51 terror cells in Palestinian areas.

Hizballah and Iran are making attacks on Israelis financially lucrative for Palestinian terrorists and their families. Israeli security sources say Hizballah pays an average of $1,300 per terrorist attack, with a bonus of almost $1,000 for each dead or wounded Israeli.

"Iran, in effect, is a replacement for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who subsidized families of Palestinian suicide bombers or those injured in the fighting," according to Ze'ev Schiff, Israel's leading security expert.

Terrorism analysts say Hizballah gives general instructions to the cells, leaving the tactics of specific terror attacks up to them. Hizballah "runs a conveyor-belt operation in the territories," analyst Amos Harel wrote in Ha'aretz. "Its goal is to create as many small terrorist cells as possible, and Hizballah is happy with even the smallest attacks."

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield recently told an audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace that Hizballah is "increasingly engaged in acts of terror in Gaza and the West Bank directed against Israeli targets."

Iran is the Principal Backer of Hizballah

Hizballah, of course, is not an independent actor. It receives arms and financial resources from Iran, which has repeatedly displayed its eagerness to support terrorism against Israel. Israeli officials and security experts have viewed Hizballah's increasing role in Palestinian terrorism as a sign of Iran's continuing intention to destabilize the Jewish state.

"According to intelligence estimates," Schiff wrote, "Iran and Hizballah will concentrate their efforts [on] undermining any chance of renewing the peace process, and if a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians is achieved, they will seek to destroy it."

The vast majority of cells receiving funds and direction from Hizballah are members of the Fatah-affiliated al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades; however, members of other terrorist groups, from Islamic Jihad and Hamas to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, also have been paid by Hizballah.

In all, these cells, which received an estimated $9 million from Hizballah according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, were responsible for one-fifth of terror attacks in the West Bank and Gaza in the last months of 2004. According to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Hizballah was responsible for an even greater share of attacks -- 80 percent -- in the northern West Bank during that period.

There is also increasing evidence showing that Hizballah and Iran are stepping up their efforts to recruit Israeli Arabs and Europeans for terrorist operations. Avi Dichter, the head of the Shin Bet, told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last July that "Iran is trying to create a fifth column among Israeli Arabs."

On February 2, a Danish citizen of Lebanese descent was indicted after he was observed filming sensitive security installations from a train window in northern Israel. During interviews following his arrest, the suspect admitted he had been paid $2,000 by his Hizballah handlers and was scouting potential sites to carry out bombings in Israel. Earlier, a British citizen was found to be aiding Hizballah operations in the territories.

B>Hizballah is Hoping to Block Progress Toward Peace In addition to the threat posed to Israeli security, Hizballah's operations in the Palestinian areas are imperiling the PA's opportunity to restart peace negotiations with the Jewish state.

According to both the principles laid out in President Bush's June 24, 2002, speech and the internationally backed Roadmap peace plan, the PA must disarm terrorist groups before advancing to talks with Israel.

Because it rejects Israel's right to live in peace, Hizballah can be expected to attempt to undermine the PA leadership should it start working to dismantle terror organizations in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has indicated that it would help the PA work to "isolate and contain" Hizballah-backed terror cells. For now, though, Palestinian officials continue to deny the very presence of Hizballah in the Palestinian territories.