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Week in Review: Hezbollah Remains a Major Threat to Homeland Security

Hezbollah: A Major Threat to Homeland Security

The Iranian proxy group Hezbollah continues to be a major force for instability in the Middle East and poses a direct threat to the United States, domestically and abroad.

Nicholas J. Rasmussen, head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, recently assessed that Hezbollah has developed into one of “the most capable, proficient, and professional terrorist organizations in the world, with many of the capacities of a state actor.” He warned that the Iran-backed group “has the capacity to turn that capability that they have against the United States, including here in the homeland.”

Hezbollah’s state-like capabilities, as well as the control it exercises over Lebanon, were on display as it carried out an offensive against Sunni jihadists on the Syria-Lebanon border this week. In Lebanon, the terrorist group acted in concert with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), while in Syria it coordinated with the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah’s alliance with the LAF, which receives U.S. military aid, could pose a problem for the U.S. administration’s plan to use the LAF as a bulwark against Middle Eastern terrorist groups, including Hezbollah.

“It doesn’t work, and it only reinforces a pro-Iranian configuration, partly because the previous administration reconfigured its Lebanon policy to be part of its broader regional policy of realignment with Iran, and partly because Hezbollah controls Lebanon, its strategic orientation, and its security policy and apparatuses,” Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote this week. “In fact, Hezbollah controls the government of which [Saad] Hariri is prime minister.”

Hezbollah’s latest advances come on the heels of the State Department’s latest global terrorism report, which found that Iran remained the “foremost state sponsor of terrorism in 2016.” Moreover, the State Department noted that Hezbollah “continued to work closely with Iran in … conflict zones, playing a major role in supporting the Syria government’s efforts to maintain control and territory, and providing training and a range of other support for Iranian aligned groups in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.” Hezbollah, according to the report, “continued to develop its long-term attack capabilities and infrastructure around the world.”

Temple Mount Tensions Calmed—For Now

Despite ongoing incitement and tensions, midday Islamic services on the Temple Mount on Friday ended without incident, The Times of Israel reported. Given recent clashes between Muslim worshipers and Israeli authorities near the site—the holiest in Judaism and one of the holiest in Islam—this outcome was not necessarily expected.

Tensions over access to the Temple Mount area, where only Muslims are allowed to pray, soared after two Israeli Druze police officers were killed there by three Israeli Arab gunmen on July 14. When searching the Temple Mount following the attack, “police said they found a cache of weapons, including a sub-machine gun,” The Times of London reported.

Israel made the rare decision to close the Temple Mount for two days following the attack, and reopened it after installing metal detectors at the entrances used by Muslims. The only entrance to the Temple Mount that non-Muslims are permitted to use—the Mughrabi Gate—has been outfitted with metal detectors for years.

MK Yaakov Perry, formerly head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, said the decision to install the metal detectors was based on “pure security” and not political considerations. Video footage released after the attack showed how an unidentified accomplice smuggled the guns used to kill the police officers onto the al-Aqsa Mosque, further vindicating the Israeli decision.

Despite this, the head of the Waqf—the Jordanian religious trust that administers the Temple Mount—and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Muslims to boycott the Temple Mount until the metal detectors were removed. Predictably, their calls led Palestinians to protest and riot against the security measures.

Earlier this week, Israel’s Security Cabinet agreed to remove the metal detectors and to replace them with sensitive security cameras throughout the Old City of Jerusalem. Yet the Waqf and PA continued to incite Palestinians over the Temple Mount, leading to continuing clashes between rioters and police.

On Thursday, Palestinian and Waqf officials finally ended the boycott, but the occasion was marred by violence, with some Muslim worshipers pelting police officers with rocks. Abbas resisted demands from the U.S. government to reduce tensions and call for an end to protests, an anonymous source familiar with the U.S. efforts told Haaretz.

Saying that they had information that extremists would stir up trouble, Israeli police restricted access to the Temple Mount to men over 50 and women on Friday. After 13 days of riots and disturbances, no significant incidents were reported.

Following the removal of the metal detectors, the U.S. praised Israel’s efforts “to maintain security while reducing tensions in the region.”

California Seething

The Middle East isn’t the only place where Muslim religious leaders incite hatred against Israel and Jews over the Temple Mount—it’s happening on the West Coast too.

Last Friday, two California imams called on Allah to “liberate the al-Aqsa mosque” from the Jews.

At the Islamic Center of Davis, Imam Ammar Shahin urged Allah in his Friday sermon to “liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews … count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them.”

His call echoes the words of President Abbas, who said in 2015, “The al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours… and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet.”

Shahin’s sermon didn’t just draw on PA incitement, but also that of Hamas. He cited part of a hadith, a saying attributed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad, which predicts: “Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Jews hide behind stones and trees, and the stones and the trees say: Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah.”

The same hadith appears in Hamas’ notoriously anti-Semitic 1988 covenant.

Also last Friday, Sheikh Mahmoud Harmoush said at the Islamic Center of Riverside, “Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque and all the Muslim lands from the unjust tyrants and the occupiers.” He continued, “Oh Allah, destroy them, they are no match for You. Oh Allah, disperse them, and rend them asunder. Turn them into booty in the hands of the Muslims.”

Harmoush offered a fractured history to justify his hatred. According to Harmoush, peaceable Middle Eastern Muslims took in Jews who were persecuted by Christian Europeans, only to discover that the Jews were secretly plotting to conquer their homeland. “The conflict is not only in Palestine. They are going there, and they will be demanding that next,” Harmoush continued. “I promise you, it is not only Palestine. If you are going to be like that, most of the Middle East, and even, as I said, Mecca and Medina.”

Both imams cast Jews—not specifically Israelis—as their enemies. While both prayed for Allah to destroy the Jews, each asked that Muslims be the agents to carry out that destruction.

Shahin subsequently offered a non-apologetic apology, saying he “let my emotions get the best of me and cloud my judgment.”

Shahin and the Islamic Center of Davis accused the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which translated and publicized Shahin’s remarks, of being “an extremist agenda driven organization that supports Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land” and of “quoting edited, mistranslated, passages of the sermon out of context.”

MEMRI responded by rejecting ICD’s charges, informing readers that they got the video directly from the Islamic Center’s YouTube channel and revealing that Shahin shared a similarly offensive sermon earlier this month, in which he called on Allah to “turn Jerusalem and Palestine into a graveyard for the Jews.”

Feature: Getting Away With Murder: Palestinian Terrorism and the Culpability of the Int’l Community

In a normal world, Israel’s installation of metal detectors at the Temple Mount would have been a non-controversial measure to prevent future violence at a major holy site—akin to the installation of metal detectors in Mecca or the Vatican. But this is the Middle East, where Palestinian complaints must be taken seriously, no matter their absurdity.

This untenable situation is exacerbated by the silence of international bodies that refuse to condemn Palestinian terrorists or pressure their leaders to negotiate with Israel. This reticence continued after two Israeli policemen were killed at the Temple Mount on July 14, which led Israeli authorities to temporarily close the complex and Palestinian leaders to encourage violence—resulting in the killing of three members of the Salomon family by a Palestinian terrorist. “These inconvenient truths have been conveniently overlooked by international organizations, like Human Rights Watch that have written tomes condemning Israel for purported human rights violations, but have yet to utter a word of condemnation about the Salomon massacre,” Aviva Klompas and Arsen Ostrovsky observed in The Tower.

Similarly, the Quartet, which is a party to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, “issued a non-statement statement … that is so bland in content and context that it serves no value,” Klompas and Ostrovsky wrote. The statement mentioned neither Palestinian incitement nor the murders.

The international silence with respect to Palestinian outrages against Israel reflects two things, Klompas and Ostrovsky concluded: “The outbreak of violence isn’t about a denial of freedoms and it’s certainly not about metal detectors. It’s about a society that has shackled its people with hatred, and an international community that literally lets them get away with murder.”

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Three Big Questions

If Shahin’s sermon was indeed taken out of context by MEMRI, why did he later apologize and acknowledge that he does “understand now how words were hurtful”?

Fatah, the dominant party in the PA, gleefully described Israel’s removal of metal detectors as a victory—a description that it did not apply to recent agreements on electricity and water between Israel and the PA. Could it be that Fatah and the PA don’t see peaceful coexistence with Israel as a victory?

Iran’s PressTV still refers to Thursday’s launch of a satellite into orbit on a Simorgh rocket as “successful.” What part of “catastrophic failure”—as the launch was described by U.S. officials—don’t they understand?

[Photo: CGTN / YouTube ]