CBN News: Erick Stakelbeck
I had a fascinating, one-on-one meeting last week with an Arab government official who has a keen sense of the threat environment in the Middle East and North Africa. Here is some of what he shared with me:
1) Hezbollah is expanding its reach worldwide and is gearing up "for something big." This Arab official believes the group is actively seeking a biological/chemical weapons capability, and there is little doubt who would be helping them in that regard: Iran and Syria. He believes Hezbollah is a well-organized, well-funded machine capable of doing great damage both conventionally (missile barrages into Israeli cities) and unconventionally (terror attacks against Israeli, U.S. and moderate Arab interests worldwide). Or as he described the group, "Bad guys with good strategic vision."
"You're going to be reporting a lot on Hezbollah in the future," he told me. "They already have people on the ground in Europe and elsewhere. They will be making front page news soon. They are just waiting for the orders to act--they are not in a hurry."
Does anyone out there still seriously believe that Hezbollah is exclusively an "Israeli problem?" Here is your wakeup call.
2) One region where Hezbollah has increased its presence markedly is West Africa. According to the official I spoke with, Hezbollah is working with Colombian and Mexican drug cartels there. These Latin American cartels use Africa as a transit point to move their drugs into Europe.
This shows a few troubling things: A) The Latin American cartels, so destructive in the Western hemisphere, continue to expand their reach globally as well. B) Latin American cartels have no allegiance to anything except the almighty dollar. They'll work with anyone, including Islamic terrorists, so long as it lines their pockets. Not a comforting thought for American officials. Help transport Hezbollah operatives across the Mexican border into the United States? Hey, if the price is right, why not? C) Hezbollah has a long history of working with secular cartels from Latin America. The terror group is willing to work with infidels in the narcotics trade so long as their drug money helps advance Hez's ultimate goal of Shiite domination in the Middle East and elsewhere.
3) The official said that Muslim nations are still struggling to contain the Wahhabi venom that crept into their mosques via the Saudis during the 1980's. During that period, some Muslim governments, struggling economically, looked to the Saudis for assistance. An unfortunate caveat was that the Saudis, in addition to cash, also supplied extremist imams and Wahhabi materials for mosques. As a result, Muslim nations that have historically practiced a more moderate form of Islam are struggling to contain homegrown jihadi movements featuring young people radicalized in Saudi-financed mosques.
4) Al Qaeda is devoting more resources and attention to its operations in Africa: specifically North Africa. According to the Arab official I spoke with, the Al Qaeda branch in North Africa--known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb--is, like Hezbollah, discovering the benefits of working with drug cartels. "The group used to get the bulk of its money from kidnapping and trafficking," he said. "But I believe the drug trade will eventually become their main source of income." This drug money will finance deadly new terror operations.
Lastly, the official had high praise for U.S. intelligence services but questioned Washingon's politcal will in fighting and winning the long war against global jihadism. My take: as evidenced by the ongoing drama surrounding CIA interrogation techniques, the gulf betwen our political class and the intelligence community will continue to grow under the Obama administration. This is extremely detrimental to the national security interests of America and its allies in Europe and the Muslim world, who are battling a common jihadist enemy and rely heavily on American cooperation and intel sharing. A weakened, demoralized U.S. intelligence community will have global repercussions.