While ISIS, al-Qaeda and Hamas continue to grab the daily headlines, there is another terrorist threat that is stronger, better organized and more likely to wreak havoc in both Israel and the United States, according to military and political analyst Elliot Chodoff.
Hezbollah, said Chodoff, is not only poised to launch more than 200,000 rockets at Israeli targets, but also has been infiltrating the U.S. through the Mexican border and has a network of terror cells here waiting to be activated by its chief supporter, Iran.
Chodoff , a major in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, was in Pittsburgh last week to speak at several community events, including four sponsored in whole or in part by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. He is the deputy chief of staff for Population for the Northern Region of Israel in its Home Front Command, and he served on active duty in that capacity during the Lebanon War of 2006.
Although Hezbollah’s infiltration of the United States has not been widely reported by mainstream news outlets, “it’s no secret,” Chodoff said in an interview following an off-the-record event for the Federation’s Ben Gurion Society and its Young Adult Division.
“The system knows about it,” he said.
The Hezbollah infiltration began about 10 years ago, according to Chodoff.
“I have no idea how many are here,” he said. “New Mexico has become a staging ground for many Islamist organizations including Hezbollah, ISIS and al-Qaeda. They are big into drugs.”
The Mexican drug cartels, he said, are taking a page from the radical Islamic playbook as a result.
“The cartels are now using beheadings as a way of dealing with their enemies,” he said. “They learned that from the Islamists.”
In fact, ABC News reported in 2012 that video footage posted on a popular cartel-tracking blog showed members of the Gulf cartel interrogating and then beheading at least three members of the Zetas cartel.
The U.S. Hezbollah cells of which Chodoff has knowledge include one in Charlotte, N.C., and another one in Oregon.
“For the most part, they are under the radar,” he said. “But there might be more knowledge in the system than I’m aware of.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection referred The Chronicle to the FBI for a response to Chodoff’s claims. The FBI did not respond to the request for comment.
Hezbollah, Chodoff said, is an instrument of Iran, which, despite the recently signed international accord, is still a major threat to interests around the world.
That assertion is supported by U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in his Worldwide Threat Assessment issued earlier this month, in which he states unequivocally that Iran is “the foremost state sponsor of terrorism.” Clapper called “Lebanese Hizbollah” Iran’s “terrorist partner” and stressed that “Iran and Hizbollah remain a continuing terrorist threat to U.S. interests and partners worldwide.”
“People should know what’s going on,” Chodoff said. “They [Hezbollah terrorists] are here to kill you. They are here because the Iranians know how to think strategically. It costs them virtually nothing to maintain a network in this country.”
Chodoff pointed to the “mess” that just eight terrorists caused in Paris last November and the destruction that only two radical Islamists caused in San Bernardino in December.
“Say there are 50 of them here,” Chodoff conjectured. “They could cause havoc.”
As opposed to other terrorist groups that recruit members and converts from within Western society, Hezbollah members are “almost exclusively Lebanese,” Chodoff said.
“I’m sure the U.S. government is investigating,” he continued. “There is a huge system here that tracks terrorists. But some are hamstrung by political correctness, and some are hamstrung by manipulating political correctness. I think we can say as a general rule, you’re never going to catch all of them.”
Chodoff explained why Hezbollah is more dangerous than either ISIS or al-Qaeda.
“With al-Qaeda and ISIS, they are loose-knit and somewhat chaotic in their thinking and their planning, and there is no real strategic direction,” he said. “They kill because that is what they do.”
Hezbollah, however, is directed by Iran, Chodoff said.
“There is an extremely high level of strategic planning. They won’t just shoot up a party. It is most likely that they are waiting to get their order to launch a wave of simultaneous attacks with a significant impact level.”
Chodoff speculated the simultaneous attack wave would include five groups of four terrorists each, in five different United States responds to an Iranian violation of “an invisible threshold.”
“It’s an unclear threshold of what triggers a response,” he said. “But once a response is triggered, it’s hard to go back.”
Hezbollah’s threat to Israel will be triggered either inadvertently or “by design,” Chodoff said.
“Hezbollah in Lebanon is just hanging there,” he noted, adding that one possible trigger to an attack in Israel could occur if Iran comes on the verge of achieving a nuclear weapon, and the regime wants to prevent Israel from finding out about it.
“Iran might tell Hezbollah to start a war,” Chodoff said. “That would give Iran some breathing space.”
Chodoff estimates there are about 200,000 Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon ready to be launched at Israel, significantly more than could be fended off by the Iron Dome defense system.
“I am suspecting that the Israelis are being prudent, and that they are knowing much more than what I said today,” Chodoff said. “But we are in a changing, dangerous time period, and prudence tells us to be prepared for any eventuality.”
The argument that it is the stalling of the Palestinian/Israeli peace process — and Israeli settlements in the West Bank — which is driving radical Islamic terrorism in the region is “nonsense,” Chodoff said.
“The Palestinians are an excuse,” he said. “There are Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, where Palestinians are being slaughtered by both sides. The unfortunate Palestinians of the Yarmouk camp are being killed by Arabs instead of Israelis. But nobody cares about the Palestinians who are being killed by Arabs.”
While Chodoff believes that the Israelis and Palestinians should continue to work toward a resolution of the conflict, the premise of the two-state solution is flawed, he said.
“The premise of the two-state solution is built upon the assumption that both states are satisfied, nonaggressive and with no claims against each other,” Chodoff explained. “That assumption comes from the Western thinking of Europeans and Americans that all the Palestinians want is their own state.”
History, however, does not support that premise, he said.
“On the basis of that premise, the two states are friendly economies with open borders and mutual agreements carried out for their mutual benefit,” he said. “Nobody believes that. Do people believe that Fatah and Hamas will disband if there are two states? Will the Palestinians give up on the right of return?”
For now, Chodoff believes that an “improved version of the status quo” is the best situation that can be attained for Israel and the Palestinians.
“Is the status quo really good?” he asked. “No. But is it sustainable? I would say yes. It’s not something that we aspire to, but it is something we can fall back to.”
Chodoff’s stop in Pittsburgh was part of a five-week speaking tour of the United States, which included engagements in Washington state, Georgia, Texas and Michigan. Most of the groups Chodoff was scheduled to address across the country were Christian supporters of Israel, he said. In addition to his Federation-sponsored talks, he also addressed students at the University of Pittsburgh. Participants in the Federation’s Centennial Mission to Israel in 2013 may remember Chodoff as one of the trip’s guides.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.