Saturday, April 30, 2016
Friday, April 29, 2016
Rubio And Shaheen Urge Full Implementation Of Hizballah Sanctions
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Secretary John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Apr 07 2016
Dear Secretary Lew and Secretary Kerry:
We are writing to encourage you to apply increased pressure on Hizballah, by fully implementing the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 that was signed into law last year and by seeking broader designation of Hizballah as a terrorist organization.
As you know, Hizballah has a long history of terrorist attacks against the United States and Israel. Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah publicly stated in 2013 that Hizballah would support Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime by sending fighters to Syria. We were pleased to see the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council designate Hizballah as a terrorist organization. It is unfortunate the European Union still only designates the "military wing" of Hizballah. It is important to continue pressure on Hizballah and its operatives to ensure it is not able to carry out terrorist or destabilizing activities, especially in light of Treasury's statement in January that Hizballah continues to launder funds and foment violence in Lebanon, Syria, and across the region. We should encourage the European Union to designate the entire Hizballah organization as a terrorist group and provide all necessary support to accomplish that goal.
We were pleased to see the Treasury Department sanction Hizballah financiers in January and the Drug Enforcement Agency arrests, but it is also important that financial institutions complicit in aiding these financiers are sanctioned for their activities. The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 provides for mandatory sanctions against foreign financial institutions and we urge you to aggressively utilize this authority to target the very financial institutions that allow Hizballah to transfer money for its nefarious activities. We strongly urge you to designate a financial institution to send an important signal about our bipartisan resolve in countering Hizballah's activities.
We are interested in receiving a briefing on your Administration's efforts to implement the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 and efforts to convince Europe to join the United States and our Arab and Gulf allies in condemning Hizballah as a terrorist organization. The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 required the submission of reports (Sec.101(a), Sec.102(d), Sec.203(a), and Sec.204(a)) and briefings (Sec.203(b) and Sec.204(b)) not later than 90 days after the date of enactment, please update us on the status of these reports and briefings.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
Senator Marco Rubio
Senator Jeanne Shaheen
Statement of Andrew Exum Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy
U.S. Policy Towards Lebanon
Statement of Andrew Exum Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy
April 28, 2016
Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Deutch, distinguished members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to discuss U.S. policy towards Lebanon. Ambassador Feierstein highlighted the array of interlocking challenges that Lebanon confronts and gave an overview of our comprehensiveCV? strategy in Lebanon. My own experience in Lebanon is personal as well as professional. I lived in Lebanon for two years while attending the American University of Beirut, of which I am a proud graduate, and I returned to Lebanon for another eight months in 2008 to conduct research toward the completion of my doctoral dissertation.
If you had told me five years ago that Lebanon would be flooded with over one million refugees from a brutal, sectarian civil war in Syria but would somehow remain an oasis of relative calm in the Middle East, I would not have believed you. I would have explained – probably with no small amount of condescension – that I was an expert on Lebanon and that what you were describing to me was impossible given Lebanon's own difficult history of sectarian conflict.
Yet I would have been wrong. I would have undervalued the drivers of stability in Lebanon – choosing to focus on the more obvious drivers of instability – and I would have, most importantly, underestimated the role the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) has played in keeping Lebanon cohesive and at peace with its neighbors and itself.
I intend to focus my comments on our military cooperation with the LAF, which is a core pillar of our policy in Lebanon and something that we can all – from our tax-payers to our special operations soldiers to our policy-makers – be proud of. Amidst all of the challenges Lebanon confronts, the LAF remains one of the country's only highly functioning national institutions. Our support has enabled the LAF to beat back the advances of ISIL and other extremist groups such as the Nusra Front, although not without some high degree of sacrifice from our Lebanese partners. Strengthening the LAF also advances a range of U.S. interests in the Middle East that includes not only countering the spread of ISIL and other violent extremists but also stemming the influence of Iran and Hizballah in the region.
U.S. Support to the Lebanese Armed Forces
In 2006, following the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the United States launched a security assistance program with our Lebanese partners focused on providing training and equipment designed to develop the capability of the LAF. Since that time, these efforts have constituted the backbone of U.S. policy to promote Lebanon's sovereignty and security. During my time as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy, my interactions with a range of political and military actors in Lebanon confirm that the United States' continued engagement and assistance to the LAF are more important now than ever. The brutal suicide bomb attack in the Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood of Beirut on November 12, 2015, which tragically killed 43 innocent civilians, underscores the importance of our assistance the LAF and other security services in Lebanon.
Since 2006, the United States has provided Lebanon more than $1.2 billion in military assistance that aims to build a LAF that: 1) is capable of maintaining internal stability and security in Lebanon; 2) is capable of securing Lebanon's borders and of preventing ISIL and other foreign extremists from destabilizing the country; and 3) is the preeminent military force in Lebanon, undermining the claims of Hizballah and other militias for maintaining their arms as well as the claim of Hizballah to be acting in defense of Lebanon's interests.
More recently, with Lebanon's increased threats from ISIL and other extremists, we have significantly increased U.S. security assistance, which totaled over $200 million in fiscal year 2015. As you know, we have enabled Iraqi and Syria partners to make significant gains against ISIL over the past year. But our worry has always been that as we squeeze ISIL from the east and north that will create more pressure on Jordan to the south and Lebanon to the west. For that reason, we have concentrated our enhanced assistance on bolstering the capabilities that are crucial to the LAF's ability to counter groups like ISIL and Nusra. This has included providing the LAF with critically needed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms; air strike capabilities and munitions; arms and equipment for the Lebanese Special Operations Forces (LSOF); and border security enhancements. Specifically, in 2015 the Department of Defense delivered 92 Hellfire missiles, 12 Scan Eagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and supported the uparming of the LAF's second Cessna aircraft, which gives the LAF the ability to strike ISIL militants with pinpoint precision.
During FY 2015, the Department of Defense provided $59 million in Counterterrorism Partnership Funds (CTPF) support for border security. The project is intended to build the capacity of the LAF to defend the borders of Lebanon against threat from ISIL and Nusra. Under this effort, DoD anticipates delivery of equipment in late spring, including vehicles, radios, night vision devices, small arms, ammunition, and medical supplies for the LAF.
U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) advisors continue to provide training and professionalization support of the LAF. The training – which, in my estimation, is the single most effective means to improving the LAF's capability to counter violent extremism in Lebanon – is designed to provide a full spectrum of instruction, concentrating not only on operational and tactical competencies, but also instructing the Lebanese Special Operations Forces on all the core aspects of a mission, from planning to execution.
To bolster the LAF's status as a stable institution in Lebanon, in addition to focusing U.S. assistance on building up the LAF's operational capability, we also seek to ensure that the LAF is trained as a highly professional military. As such, our International Military Education and Training (IMET) program – which is overseen by my colleagues at the Department of State – is the fifth largest IMET program in the world in FY 2016. IMET builds strong ties between the United States and Lebanon by bringing Lebanese military officers to the United States for professional development and to train alongside U.S. military and other international students. For example, in fiscal year 2015, the IMET program supported 119 Lebanese military students to attend education and training classes in the United States. Since 1985, the IMET program has brought more than 1,000 Lebanese military students to the United States for education and training. IMET builds relationships and good will between some of the most senior U.S. and Lebanese military officers – this program truly has a generational impact.
Finally, in October, the President announced that the United States would intensify security assistance to Lebanon as a part of the campaign to counter ISIL. To execute the President's guidance, Lebanon will likely continue to be one of the Department of Defense's priority countries for Counterterrorism Partnerships Funding in fiscal year 2016 to continue to bolster the LAF capability to counter ISIL and other extremists.
Effectiveness of U.S. Policy with the LAF
This week, I had the opportunity to meet with a delegation of senior general officers from the LAF during DoD's annual U.S.-Lebanon Joint Staff Talks. Some of these general officers I have known for years dating back to when I served as the desk officer for Lebanon at DoD, and they are among our closest partners in the region. But don't take my word for it: ask any one of the hundreds of special operators who have served in Lebanon over the past five years. They will tell you the Lebanese are among the best partners we have in the region to work with. They train hard, and they fight hard. We can't ask for more.
This week's meetings underscored that our strategy in Lebanon is bearing fruit as the LAF continues to develop as a force, while simultaneously showing a strong willingness to successfully engage ISIL. Beginning in August 2014, in the first large-scale offensive inside Lebanon's border, the LAF repelled a combined force of hundreds of ISIL and Nusra fighters near the town of Arsal along Lebanon's border with Syria.
Since this battle, the LAF has taken a variety of bold measures to maintain stability in Lebanon and counter the destabilizing effects of the Syrian conflict. The LAF has increased its operational tempo and reinforced Lebanon's borders with additional border and special operations forces. These forces have been highly active, engaging militants on a weekly basis by launching artillery and air strikes, by executing clearing operations in extremist-associated neighborhoods, and by conducting raids and arrests. High-profile arrests by the LAF and other security services include the apprehension of radical Salafist cleric Ahmed al-Asir, ISIL operative Omar Miqati, and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing suspect Ahmed al-Mughassil. The effectiveness of U.S. assistance and the LAF's willingness to exercise its role as the sole legitimate defense force in Lebanon was further underscored on March 10, 2016, when the LAF executed the daring operation in Ras Baalbek that killed over a dozen ISIL fighters and destroyed ISIL vehicles, a command post, and a safe house.
In the face of these rising challenges, the LAF has demonstrated considerable unity, fortitude, and professionalism. The LAF has organized itself effectively to maintain a tremendously high operational tempo for many of its units, and has demonstrated the ability to make appropriate requests for and use of equipment, as well as unity and professionalism in numerous operations. Because of its continued success, the LAF now enjoys strong support across Lebanese sects with an approval rating over 90%, according to some recent polls in the opensource. This level of support is also derived from the truly multi-confessional nature of the LAF – which comprises approximately 35% Sunni, 27% Shia, 13% Maronite Christian, 6% Druze, 6% Greek Orthodox, and 4% Greek Catholic.
The High Cost of Failure
Although the LAF has prevented ISIL from destabilizing the country to date, the stakes for LAF failure are high. If the LAF falters in its fight against extremists, Hizballah or even long-demilitarized Christian militias could decide to seek to take the direct military actions to protect their communities, resulting in an outbreak of sectarian fighting that could undermine stability of Lebanon. A LAF
defeat, combined with a Hizballah victory over extremist forces, risks strengthening Hizballah and Iran inside Lebanon and therefore undermining U.S. policy efforts to bolster Lebanese state institutions' ability to exert sovereign authority throughout Lebanon.
As the United States faces a strategic environment in the Middle East that is the most unstable it has been in 40 years, our positive relationship with, and continued support to, Lebanon and the LAF are more important than ever. The LAF remains a critical pillar of Lebanon's stability, and its commitment to curtailing sectarian fighting and terrorism has been a significant factor in preventing Lebanon from descending into greater violence and instability.
Representative Ros-Lehtinen and Representative Deutch, I thank you and the other distinguished Members of the Subcommittee for calling this hearing and drawing attention to Lebanon's security challenges and the U.S. security interest in supporting Lebanon during this critical time.
Statement of Ambassador Gerald M. Feierstein, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
Sunday, April 17, 2016
CENTCOM Commander General Votel Visits Lebanon
Today, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander General Joseph L. Votel visited Lebanon today as part of a multi-stop tour of the Middle East. This is his first trip to the region since assuming his role as CENTCOM Commander on March 30, 2016. In Lebanon, General Votel met with Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Commander General Jean Kahwagi and other key leaders of Lebanese Armed Forces. He also observed military exercises at the Hamat Air Base. During his meetings with the LAF, General Votel reaffirmed the Lebanese-American partnership in countering the threat of terrorism and reiterated the United States' confidence in the capabilities of the LAF in its role as the defender of Lebanon. General Votel renewed the United States' sustained commitment to providing the LAF with top-quality weapons, equipment, and training so that the Lebanese state can exercise its sovereign authority on the border and throughout the country, in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701. Since 2004, America has provided over $1.4 billion dollars in security assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, including both training and equipment.
Tuesday, April 05, 2016
Hezbollah’s Growing Threat Against U.S. National Security Interests in the Middle East
22nd March 2016
Hezbollah's growing threat against U.S. national security interests in the Middle East
Editor's Note: Daniel Byman testifies before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa on Hezbollah's growing threat against U.S. national security interests in the Middle East. Read his full testimony below.
Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Deutch, members of this distinguished subcommittee, and subcommittee staff, thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
Founded over thirty years ago, the Lebanese Hizballah is one of the most powerful and dangerous rebel and terrorist groups in the world. Hizballah, however, is in a time of transition. The Syrian civil war in particular has transformed the group, undermining its position in Lebanon, altering its focus in the region, and tarnishing its image in the Middle East. The group remains a threat to the United States and particularly to Israel, but the tentative deterrence Israel has established is likely to hold, though many factors could upset this uneasy peace. For now, Hizballah has even less interest in a direct clash with the United States. However, the group's close relationship with Iran and ideological opposition to a U.S. role in the Middle East are both factors that could lead to problems in the future. In addition, Hizballah supports an array of local actors in Iraq, Syria, and the Palestinian territories that are or could be opposed to U.S. interests in the Middle East.
My testimony today will detail how and why Hizballah has transformed in recent years with particular attention to the Syrian civil war. It then describes Iranian support for the group in general and in the aftermath of the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement. My statement then examines Hizballah's declining regional image and assesses the threat to Israel and the United States. My statement concludes by offering several implications for U.S. policy.
Hizballah in Transition
Since the group was founded in the early 1980s, the Lebanese Hizballah has survived, and often triumphed over, numerous challenges to its authority and very existence. Israel has assassinated several of Hizballah's leaders and fought wars of varying intensity against the group since its founding. Hizballah has also faced down numerous challenges in Lebanon, emerging as the strongest political and military organization in the country – including the Lebanese Armed Forces. The Lebanese army currently is not strong enough to crack down on the group, and should it do so, it would further split this already-divided country.
Hizballah has moved away from a number of its historic objectives. Some of this change is due to a maturing of the group and a diminishment of its ideological fervor, but the group's victories have also altered it. With its devastating 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassy in Beirut and the Marine barracks, it succeeded in expelling U.S. troops from Lebanon. Hizballah forces fought Israeli troops in Lebanon and, in 2000, expelled them from the country. Hizballah's original fervor to create an Iranian-style theocracy in Lebanon has dimmed, and it has accepted the reality that it will not bring an Islamic revolution to Lebanon. However, the organization remains bitterly anti-Israel and anti-American.
Hizballah is a terrorist group, but terrorism is only a small part of what the organization does. It is a political party, a social welfare agency, a quasi-state military, and even a part of the Lebanese government. Conceptualizing it only as a terrorist group misses most of its functions and obscures the reason it is so popular among many Lebanese Shi'ites. Unlike many terrorist groups, Hizballah cares about the welfare of its constituents and has deep ties to the Lebanese Shi'ite community. Its hospitals, schools, and social welfare organizations serve Lebanese Shi'ites and at times other communities. However, Hizballah's various functions are interrelated: Hizballah's social welfare organizations feed recruits to its military, and it uses its political power in Lebanon to shield itself from international pressure to disarm. Indeed, Hizballah and its allies' political position gives it veto power over government policy: a power they have used to remove a Prime Minister whom they did not believe was protecting the group's interests. The group's political and military leadership is unified and should be considered part of one cohesive organization: European attempts to ban Hizballah's "military" wing but not its "political" wing misconstrue the nature of the group.
The organization's post-2011 involvement in the Syria civil war has been transformative. Historically the organization presented itself as an Islamist (not Shi'ite) movement dedicated to fighting the West in general and Israel in particular. This image always fell short of reality, but many Lebanese and Arabs in general admired the group for its anti-Israel efforts and services to non-Shi'ites in Lebanon. It seemed to live up to its rhetoric of transcending sectarianism.
Hizballah joined the fray in Syria because the Assad regime has long been a key supporter for its operations in Lebanon and against Israel, as well as a useful transit route for weapons. Even more important, Hizballah's closest ally, Iran was calling in all its favors and saw the potential fall of its ally in Damascus as a calamity. By taking sides in a brutal sectarian war, Hizballah has deepened its Shi'ite identity at the cost of its broader Islamist one and become the sectarian actor it always claimed to transcend.
The organization's position in Lebanon has changed as well. Even before the Syrian civil war, Hizballah angered many Lebanese when it stayed close to Syria after the United States, France, and other powers coerced Syrian forces into leaving Lebanon in 2005. Its firm support for Syria angered many Lebanese Christians and Sunni Muslims opposed to Damascus and in favor of a more independent Lebanon: the pro- and anti-Syrian position became the largest political fault line in Lebanon. Relations with other groups in Lebanon worsened further when, in 2008, Hizballah seized parts of West Beirut after the government tried to wrest control of the group's telecommunication infrastructure. The revelations from the United Nations investigation that Hizballah was probably behind the 2005 assassination of the anti-Syrian Prime Minister Rafik Hariri further worsened relations.
The Syrian civil war that broke out in 2011 took this tension to a new level. Hizballah initially hid its involvement in the war, fearing the further rupturing of ties to anti-Syrian factions in Lebanon. However, the casualty toll became impossible to hide, and in May 2013 its leaders openly embraced its role. Hizballah forces have been involved in several important battles against opposition forces, and they have proven a vital ally for the Syrian regime: their skill and discipline are often far greater than those of Syrian military forces. Hizballah regularly maintains a presence of perhaps 5,000 fighters in Syria, rotating units in and out to maintain overall readiness. Because of the large number of forces it has deployed in Syria, Hizballah has expanded the overall size of its military wing: one analysis puts their number at roughly 20,000 trained fighters, with 5,000 having had advanced training in Iran.
Although Hizballah was cautious about entering the fray, many Lebanese Shi'ites now see it as a defender of their community. They look at the atrocities the Islamic State perpetrates against Shi'ites and other minorities in Syria and Iraq and believe that a strong Hizballah is necessary to protect their community. Occasional anti-Shi'ite violence in Lebanon, rather than intimidate Hizballah, increases support for the group among its core supporters. On the other hand, many Lebanese Sunnis, seeing the Assad regime slaughter their co-religionists on a mass scale next door, now reject a group they once admired for its anti-Israel stance, provision of social services, and relative (by Lebanese standards) lack of corruption. Lebanese Christians and some members of the Sunni middle class are somewhere in the middle, abhorring the Islamic State but still skeptical of Hizballah.
Extreme voices within the Lebanese Sunni community, including jihadists tied to the Islamic State or to Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, see Hizballah as a leading or even top foe and have conducted terrorist attacks in Lebanon against the group and its supporters. In 2014, groups probably linked to Jabhat al-Nusra have carried out attacks on Iranian facilities in Lebanon, and in November 2015, Islamic State supporters carried out two suicide bombings in a Hizballah neighborhood in Beirut, killing over 40 people – the worst single bombing Lebanon has suffered since the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1991. Three Lebanese-Americans died in the attack.
Continued Iranian Support
Iranian support has long been vital to Hizballah's survival and success. Indeed, Hizballah entered Syria despite the risks to its reputation and personnel in part to assist its Iranian patron. Hizballah looks to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for ideological and strategic direction, and other Iranian officials, including those from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, regularly offer guidance to the group. Beyond strategic direction, Iran has provided Hizballah with virtually every form of assistance, ranging from arms – including Hizballah's massive rocket and missile arsenal – and money to training and organizational advice. Due to Iranian financing and direct transfers from Iran and Syria, Hizballah's arsenal includes unmanned aerial vehicles, Scud missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, man-portable air defense systems, anti-tank guided missiles, and other advanced equipment. Financial support is usually said to range between $60 million and $200 million a year, though what counts as support is often not defined and this figure varies depending on the contingencies Hizballah faces. Hizballah has used this money to pay its troops and develop a high-quality social service network. Thousands of Hizballah fighters have also trained in Iran itself. In addition, the foreign networks of Hizballah and those of Iranian intelligence are interwoven, with joint operations being common.
Hizballah leaders have long portrayed themselves as foot soldiers in an Iranian army. Although the group has its own interests that are not linked to Iran's foreign policy – and Iran often respects these differences – the commitment to Tehran's interests is deep and genuine. Tehran, for its part, has a strong and deep commitment to Hizballah and its success in Lebanon. Iran sees the Lebanese group as one of its rare victories in spreading its revolution. In addition, the group offers Iran a way to strike Israel directly. Hizballah also serves as Iran's proxy and ally in the region in general, augmenting its power in Syria and of course Lebanon. The tight coordination of Hizballah and Iranian forces in the Syria fighting has made the already close relationship even closer.
This close relationship is not likely to change with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between the United States and Tehran over the Iranian nuclear program. It is possible that Iran may even step up support for Hizballah, taking advantage of its improved economic position after sanctions relief. With the decline in Iran's relationship with Hamas and the collapse of the Syrian state, Hizballah is one of the few bright spots for Iran in the Arab world, and Tehran wants to keep the group strong. At the same time, Iran is diplomatically overstretched, deploying considerable forces within Syria to prop up Assad, maintaining a large clandestine presence in Iraq, and even establishing limited ties to the Houthis in Yemen. At home, the collapse of oil prices – and decades of economic mismanagement– has coupled with an increase in popular expectations of economic prosperity among ordinary Iranians. So although sanctions relief puts more money into Iran's coffers, Iran has many demands on these scarce funds, and in my judgment the level of support for Hizballah is not likely to change significantly barring a significant change in the regional situation.
Changing Regional Perceptions of Hizballah
Perhaps the biggest negative consequence for Hizballah in the Syrian civil war is the collapse of its regional reputation and associated prestige in the Arab and broader Muslim world. Hizballah is the only Arab military to defeat Israel by force of arms, which it did when its war of attrition pushed Israel out of Lebanon in 2000. After its 2006 war with Israel, when Hizballah launched perhaps 4,000 rockets and missiles at Israel and fought the Israeli Defense Forces to a draw, opinion polls showed Hizballah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, as the most popular man in the Arab world. The sectarian nature of the Syrian civil war, however, puts Hizballah firmly on the side of an unpopular minority in the Arab world. Today Nasrallah and Hizballah are regularly vilified, with conservative Sunnis labeling the group the "party of Satan," a twist on the group's name "the party of God."
The March 2016 designation of Hizballah as a terrorist group by the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council is a reflection of this shift in attitude. Ironically, Hizballah's use of terrorism as a tactic was much more pronounced in the 1980s, when its suicide bombing of U.S. and French peacekeepers and hostage taking of Westerners in Lebanon was at its peak. Hizballah at the time also worked with Iran to strike targets in the Gulf states because of those regimes' support for Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Since then, the organization has consistently been involved in terrorism, often in conjunction with Iran. The League's designation is thus not a reflection of a sudden change in the organization's methods – if anything, the group uses less terrorism if we define the term narrowly to exclude attacks outside war zones and only against civilian targets – but rather a belated attempt by U.S. allies in the Gulf and elsewhere to delegitimize the group and its Iranian backer.
The Threat to Israel
Hizballah remains committed to Israel's destruction, but this goal is less of a priority than in past years. From its inception, Hizballah defined itself as the tip of the spear against Israel, and its forces became progressively more skilled and able to conduct an array of sophisticated military operations against the Jewish state. Its casualty ratio against Israel steadily improved, and Israeli military officers regularly describe the group as formidable. In the 2006 war with Israel, Hizballah killed more than 160 Israelis, a huge figure for the small and casualty-sensitive Jewish state. Hizballah training camps use models of Israeli streets, and the organization's rocket arsenal and tunnel complexes in Lebanon are designed with Israel specifically in mind. All of Israel is in range of Hizballah's long-range rockets, though Israel's missile defense system offers Israelis some comfort should conflict resume.
Hizballah, often in cooperation with Iran, has conducted an array of terrorist attacks against Israel around the world, including attacks in 1992 and 1994 in Argentina that together killed over 100 people. Hizballah also tried to assassinate Israelis traveling outside their country in Europe and Asia. In 2012, Hizballah was linked to a bus bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian driver. Hizballah and Iran often see these attacks as revenge for what they consider to be Israeli aggression, such as the killing of Hizballah leaders or attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists.
In addition to these direct attacks, Hizballah has acted as a quasi-state sponsor of terrorism. Hizballah remains vehement in its calls for Israel's destruction and support for the Palestinian cause. It has supported an array of Palestinian militant groups with training and arms, encouraging them to use violence against Israel. However, several Palestinian groups, notably Hamas, oppose Hizballah's position in Syria and have distanced themselves from the group and its Iranian patron. Shared interests, and the relatively few allies that Hamas and Hizballah possess, however, are likely to ensure that relations are maintained and perhaps even improved should the sectarian fervor in the region die down.
Since 2006 – and in reality well before that – Hizballah has been deterred from a massive attack on Israel. Hizballah fears a fierce Israeli response that would destroy its military infrastructure and devastate the lives and livelihoods of its Lebanese constituents. Because of this fear, Hizballah has looked for ways to continue the conflict with Israel on the margins, keeping the struggle alive but trying to limit the violence to prevent tough Israeli retaliation. Israel, for its part, has been content with a shadow war, where at times it kills a Hizballah commander or destroys a weapons shipment but avoids more aggressive, potentially escalatory actions.
Since 2006, the border has been surprisingly quiet, suggesting the strength of Israel's current deterrence. In addition, the presence of UN peacekeepers deployed after the 2006 war makes it difficult for Hizballah to have the large-scale presence it had in the border area before the war, though it still has cadre there who are not in uniform. Hizballah has built bunkers, underground rocket platforms, and other sites farther away from the border, near the Litani River. Israel has also shot Hizballah fighters in Syria when they attempted to plant a bomb near a border fence along the Golan Heights.
Hizballah's involvement in the Syrian civil war has made it even more cautious about taking on Israel. Hizballah's large-scale deployments in Syria, and the associated casualties – close to 1,000 – are draining the organization. Hizballah has had to expand recruitment and accept younger fighters. Israeli security officials are rightly concerned that Hizballah fighters have gained valuable combat experience. However, they are primarily doing counterinsurgency operations and would face difficultly adjusting to the high-intensity and overwhelming firepower the Israeli military would bring to any battle. Perhaps most importantly, the organization's Lebanese constituents have little appetite for more conflict.
This caution could change for several reasons. Setbacks in Lebanon or elsewhere would give the group an incentive to restore its past reputation, and fighting Israel is one potentially popular way of doing so. Israel also regularly attacks Hizballah targets in Syria and Lebanon, primarily to stop the transfer of advanced weapons from the Syrian arsenal. These strikes have at times killed senior Hizballah leaders and even a senior Iranian official. Hizballah has not escalated after such attacks, but this restraint is by no means guaranteed. Finally, should the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal collapse and the United States attack the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, Hizballah might attack Israel as part of the Iranian response. Similarly, if U.S.-Iran tension increases for other reasons, we should expect Hizballah to stand by its Iranian ally, and one way of doing so might be to try to drag Israel into a conflict and thus attempt to delegitimize any U.S. response.
Hizballah's has been cautious about a direct confrontation with the United States since the U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon, but it has remained hostile and supportive of anti-U.S. forces in the Middle East. It has assisted Iranian anti-U.S. operations, notably the 1996 Khobar Towers attack that killed 19 U.S. servicemen. When U.S. forces were fighting against Shi'ite militias in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, Hizballah often aided these militias with training and other forms of support. It has also worked with Iran to case U.S. targets around the world and otherwise maintains considerable potential to conduct terrorist attacks should its calculations change. This might occur should there be a U.S.-Iran military confrontation or if the United States decides to try to remove the Assad regime.
Implications for the United States
In Lebanon and Syria, the United States faces a dilemma. Washington correctly does not want Hizballah's regional or national influence to grow. However, Hizballah is one of the most formidable foes of the Islamic State at a time when the United States is both trying to fight the group in Syria and stop the violence from spreading to Lebanon. Hizballah is also reportedly assisting various Shi'ite forces in Iraq against the Islamic State.
A standard recommendation – one I have endorsed in the past and still favor to some degree – is to build up the Lebanese Armed Forces and otherwise strengthen the Lebanese state. Helping the Lebanese state become militarily stronger and better able to provide services would undermine some support for Hizballah and enable the government to resist Hizballah's threats of force that ensure the group's independence. For the most part U.S. efforts to do so have failed, in part due to general problems with U.S. training programs but especially because Lebanese leaders do not want to exacerbate tensions within Lebanon through open hostility toward Hizballah. Part of this is due to fear, but part is also a concern that Lebanon's precarious stability could collapse should Lebanese elites further divide the country as waves of unrest emanate from Syria.
The Saudi decision to pull $4 billion in support from Lebanon (most of which was to go to its armed forces), freeze funding of suspected Hizballah bank accounts in the Kingdom, and discourage Saudis from using Lebanon as a tourist destination further consolidates Hizballah's position. Riyadh, facing significant budget shortfalls due to the decline in the price of oil, is waging an expensive effort of its own in Yemen. Saudi Arabia's deficit in 2015 was almost $100 billion, and the Yemeni war is costing it at least $1 billion per month (the true figure is probably much more). Hizballah has roundly criticized the Saudi war in Yemen as well as Riyadh's execution of the dissident Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. The refusal of the Lebanese government to openly side with Saudi Arabia against Iran in Syria and Yemen or to condemn the January 2016 attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran – in large part because Lebanese leaders did not want to anger Hizballah – has led Riyadh to question whether its money was buying friendship. Saudi support had enabled anti-Hizballah figures to maintain some degree of power and patronage with the military and Lebanese society in general, and its diminishment offers Hizballah a relative advantage. The United States should encourage Riyadh to resume its support for non-Hizballah individuals and institutions in Lebanon.
The million plus Syrian refugees in Lebanon are a potential destabilizing force that could lead to more violence in the fragile country. The refugees might take part in the fighting in Syria, with Lebanon serving as a base and a haven. It is also possible that the refugees might incite violence in Lebanon, fostering a civil war, as the Palestinians did before them. To prevent this, more U.S. and international aid for refugees in Lebanon is vital. The United States should also assist Lebanon in securing its borders and otherwise trying to prevent the Syrian conflict from spilling over into the country.
Finally, the United States should work with Israel to ensure its deterrence of Hizballah and that its limited uses of force in Syria and elsewhere do not escalate into a broader confrontation. Should the U.S. step up its role in Syria and Iraq, and thus interact indirectly with Hizballah-linked forces, tight coordination with Israel becomes especially important.
 Ronen Bergman, "The Hezbollah Connection," New York Times Magazine, February 10, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/the-hezbollah-connection.html
 This section draws on my work with Bilal Saab. See Daniel Byman and Bilal Saab, "Hizballah in a Time of Transition," Center for Middle East Policy and Brookings (November 2014,) http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2014/11/hezbollah-in-time-of-transition-byman-saab
 "Hizbullah," Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism, IHS.com, May 8, 2015, p. 15.
 "3 Dearborn Victims of Lebanon Terror Attack Mourned," November 14, 2015, http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/wayne-county/2015/11/13/dearborn-killed-lebanon-attacks/75716698/
 For my thoughts on this issue, see Daniel Byman, Deadly Connections: States that Sponsor Terrorism (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
 See "Hizbullah," Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism.
 For an excellent discussion, see Matthew Levitt, Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Iran's Party of God (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2015).
 See Daniel Byman, A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism(New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
 "Hizbullah," Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism, pp. 7 and 41.
 Ali Alfoneh, "Hezbollah Fatalities in the Syrian War," Washington Institute for Near East Policy, February 22, 2016, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/hezbollah-fatalities-in-the-syrian-war
 Adam Goldman, "Hezbollah Operative Indicted in United States for Attack on Khobar Towers," Washington Post, August 26, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/hezbollah-operative-indicted-in-us-for-attack-on-khobar-towers-captured/2015/08/26/6f84ad08-4c00-11e5-902f-39e9219e574b_story.html
 Mohamad Bazzi, "Why the Oil Collapse Is Forcing Saudi Arabia to Cut Back on Its Checkbook Diplomacy," Reuters, March 16, 2016, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2016/03/16/why-oil-collapse-is-forcing-saudi-arabia-to-cut-back-on-its-checkbook-diplomacy/