ANALYSIS: Unraveling the global tentacles of Hezbollah’s sleeper cells

Tony Duheaume

Published: Updated:

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the viewpoint of Al Arabiya English.

The West has held itself back from confronting Iran for decades. One reason for this has to be the dread of an Iranian fightback, which would take the form of guerrilla warfare in a multitude of lands, including the US. This fear would have been high in 2008, when intelligence experts warned of Iranian sleeper cells poised to attack British targets, such as power stations, military bases, government buildings. There were also fears about assassination of high-profile figures, should the West go ahead and bomb Iranian nuclear facilities.

Sleeper cells lie in wait

Such a scenario would make perfect sense, as with Iran not able to match the West militarily in an all-out confrontation, the only way to effectively fight back would be through asymmetric (unconventional) warfare. One method of attack used in asymmetric warfare by the Iranian regime comes in the form of covert action in foreign lands through the use of sleeper cells. For decades, Hezbollah has been building up a network of sleeper cells in the Middle East, Americas and Europe, and should it decide to wage an insurgent war against any of its host countries, its military training would make it a very formidable opponent.

These sleepers are expertly trained at Iran’s IRGC Quds Force specialist training camps, where they master the art of penetrating civilian groups. They are also taught how to recruit volunteers to aid their cause. In their host countries, they would also have easy access to automatic weapons and explosives, which can be supplied to them by criminal gangs involved in drugs smuggling, people smuggling and arms trafficking operations.

As far as Hezbollah being aided by criminal gangs is concerned, Britain is the perfect example of a country being at risk from the terror group’s infiltration, as the Lebanese force was at one time well connected to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a one-time ethnic-Albanian paramilitary group. Although “disbanded” after the Bosnian conflict, the KLA was merged into a civilian group known as the Kosovo Protection Corps, while many other former members had ventured into building a worldwide criminal empire.

Hezbollah’s tentacles

At the end of the Bosnian conflict, during which the KLA committed numerous atrocities,ex-members had become involved in the Albanian mafia, and having settled in England, their British arm fast set up a powerful criminal empire stretching across the full-length of thecountry, and across Europe.What makes the KLA so dangerous as far as Britain is concerned,are the very strong links it made with Iran by being trained at Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Quds Force training facilities during the Bosnian War, where the fighters of the Albanian group bonded extremely well with Hezbollah factions who were fighting alongside them at the time.

With the two groups still having strong connections due to their dealings in drugs trade, it would be quite conceivable for the Albanian mafia to be more than willing to supply Hezbollah cells with weapons. In such an event, with the Albanians having a long-established smuggling route into Britain, which extends back to their homeland, and is now a well-tried route for smuggling people, weapons and drugs, they would have no qualms about supplying weapons to any sleeper cell connected to Hezbollah.

With Hezbollah heavily entrenched in South America, it has made lucrative deals with some of Latin America’s most powerful drug barons, and through its dealings with the KLA swaps heroin from Afghanistan with cocaine from South America, turning the two groups into one of Europe’s main sources of cocaine, making untold millions in profit for them both, and a hefty sum for the IRGC Quds Force which aids them. With Hezbollah also operating from countries that despise America, it can obtain arms on a vast scale, which turns the terror group into a very dangerous entity, perched precariously close to the US border.

America has a lot to fear from Hezbollah. Intelligence sources have already pointed to a Hezbollah presence in the US, when as far back as 2110 the Tucson Police Department reported a heavy presence of Hezbollah operatives in the prison system, and how other inmates were being radicalised during their stay. With their long-standing partnership with some of Mexico’s toughest drug lords, they have access to the US through drug routes and intelligence has already pointed to sleeper cells being set up in various American states.

It also has to be remembered, groups of Hezbollah operatives can easily enter countries under the guise of asylum seekers, and with millions of refugees having fled the violence in Syria, Iraq, various other hotspots in the Middle East, and a multitude of conflicts in North Africa — all places where Hezbollah operates quite freely. It would thus be easy for the Iranian Quds Force to infiltrate what would be a very small number of operatives into any targeted country, and with the Quds Force expertise behind such an operation, their entry would be assured.

Dormant Trojans

These operatives, experts at concealing their identity and allegiance, lie low and settle quietly into their host community, avoiding any activities that make them stand out.Showing themselvesto be moderates, they avoid political conversations. They are polite and friendly when approached, while many hide behind the guise of being happily married men with children. Gradually making friends, portraying themselves as avid supporters of community projects, they regularly attend mosques, representing themselves as devout Muslims, which enables them to pick further potential recruits, and eventually a sleeper cell is up and running.

Over the years, a complex web of several types of organizations has been set up by the Quds Force, and operated from local Iranian embassies. They are designed to support sleepers entering a foreign land. Support networks tend to be manned by middle aged professionals from varied groups and organizations. They could be active members of aid organisations, they could work for human rights groups, they could be university lecturers, they could run import and export companies; but all will be “cleanskins” – people with no criminal convictions who can stay below the radar.

With Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security also having setup a network of front companies across the globe, many Hezbollah operatives have been able to stay below the radar of any given country’s intelligence agency. Due to the terror group’s agents having access to these companies, they take on the role of legitimate employees, and are able to move with relative impunity from one country to another.Using this as a cover, they can carry out terrorist acts, or spy on the mullah’s perceived enemy’s military facilities or infrastructure, reconnoitring targets in readiness for when the order comes from Tehran to strike, setting off a worldwide confrontation.

Iran stokes protests in Bahrain

Over the years, one country in the Middle East that has felt the brunt of Hezbollah attacks is Bahrain, which has often faced protests whipped up by Iranian affiliated political groups. In March of this year, Bahrain authorities announced it had uncovered an international terrorist cell, arresting 25 suspects, and having confiscated machine guns and explosives from the group. It came to light that several members of the cell were due to receive training in explosives and firearms at Iranian Revolutionary Guard camps.

With Bahrain’s Shiite opposition Al Wefaq, accused of instigating unrest in 2011, the Bahraini government picked up intelligence of a Hezbollah presence on the streets, whose activists were seen to be stirring up rioters, and during this period of unrest, broadcasts were coming through Hezbollah’s radio network, egging the protestors on.

With Hezbollah being financed by the Iranian regime, it would never make such moves without the blessing of its Iranian backers, and with sleeper cells long known to be present in both Bahrain and its close neighbour Saudi Arabia, with both states being viewed inimically by the Iranian regime, it all points to Tehran being behind the Bahrain riots.

Where Hezbollah is concerned, they have formed themselves into a formidable underground army. They are well financed by the Iranian regime and are supplied with all of the resources they need to conduct guerrilla warfare.While lying low in Shiite communities throughout the world, their sleeper cells remain comatose, waiting for the moment the order comes through from their Iranian puppet masters to awaken them.

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