Watch | The latest on the Syrian missile strikes and what could come next
It has been one of American intelligence’s worst nightmares, that the Hezbollah group regarded as the A-team of the terrorist world might activate its sleeper cells inside the United States or its foot soldiers overseas targeting Western interests.
After the U.S. missile strike directly on Syria on Thursday night, U.S. officials confirmed to Circa that intelligence agencies are watching closely for a possible retaliatory strike by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah against U.S. interest overseas.
“We are very concerned about the possibility that Hezbollah could activate and be used against us, and we remain alert,” a senior U.S. official told Circa on Friday.
Hezbollah is backed and trained by Iran and its elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and has long been aligned with Syria as well.
Before Sept. 11, 2001 made al-Qaida a household name, Hezbollah was blamed for some of the largest terror attacks against U.S. interests, such as the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut back in the 1983.
But over the last two decades Hezbollah mostly has not struck American interests boldly. And it has tried to portray itself as a militia trying to protect its homeland interests of Lebanon.
U.S. officials said, however, the evidence clearly shows that Hezbollah is driven by Iran and sympathetic enough to involve itself in the Syrian civil war, supporting Bashir Assad’s efforts to defeat rebels.
“Iran has propped up and shielded Syria’s brutal dictator for years. Their support has facilitated the killing of
hundreds of thousands of Syrians. Iranian and allied Shi’ite militant foot soldiers stand side by side with Assad’s troops and play a key role in that bloodshed,” a U.S. official said. “The active participation of Lebanese Hezbollah exposes the lie that they exist to defend the Lebanese state.”
Hezbollah signaled it was upset Friday by the missile attack ordered by President Donald Trump against an air base in Syria as punishment for an alleged chemical weapons attack this week on civilians that left more than 70 dead.
Hezbollah called the U.S. attack “an idiotic step” that would prompt “great and dangerous tensions” throughout the Middle East.
U.S. officials have long tried to disrupt funding mechanisms for Hezbollah, and in 2006 the FBI reported it arrested a ring trying to smuggle Hezbollah terrorists across the Mexican border for a possible attack inside the United States.
““This was an occasion in which Hezbollah operatives were assisting others with some association with Hezbollah in coming to the United States,”
then-FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress. “That was an organization that we dismantled and identified those persons who had been smuggled in. And they have been addressed as well.”
In 2009, it was divulged that Hezbollah was using the same southern narcotics routes as Mexican drug lords to smuggle contraband and people into the United States. The group also has been linked to human and drug traffic in South America’s tri-border region.
And in 2011, U.S. officials disrupted a plot by an Iranian-born man in Texas to hire a Mexican drug lord's hitman to help assassinate Adel Al-Jubeir, then the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.
The plot, which included blowing up the ambassador at a ritzy Washingtonn DC restaurant, was foiled when the suspect approached an undercover DEA agent whom he thought was a hitman.
U.S. officials said they traced support for the operation directly to Iran’s elite Quds forces, which originally helped form Hezbollah in 1983.
During congressional hearing, US officials said the 2011 plot showed a sophisticated new alliance between Iran, Hezbollah and Mexican drug lords that might one day target Americans on U.S. soil.