A military strike on Iran would have little impact on its ability to make nuclear weapons and cause unpredictable escalation on all sides, Colin H. Kahl, Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security testified before the Homeland Security Committee Wednesday morning.
The hearing, “Iran, Hezbollah, and the Threat to the Homeland,” bounced back and forth between discussions on Hezbollah’s posturing in the Americas and Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon.
"A diplomatic solution is both preferable and the most sustainable path to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," Kahl said. Military action would set its nuclear program back, at most, a few years.
Expert witnesses agreed that Hezbollah’s activities in the America’s have been primarily fund raising and surveillance, noting that Hezbollah are experts at manipulating the U.S. financial system, taking out loans and opening businesses to funnel money and equipment back to the Middle East. (In 2000, Operation Smokescreen broke up a major cigarette smuggling ring in Charlotte, North Carolina run by Hezbollah who was using money to buy night vision goggles and other military equipment.) Over the last six years, Hezbollah has made substantial progress in widening its drug smuggling operations throughout Latin America.
But as tensions heat up between the U.S. and Iran, experts worry that an attack on Iran could lead to activation of Hezbollah cells already here. In the United States, Hezbollah has active cells in 15 cities from Los Angeles to New York with strike capabilities, witnesses testified at a July Homeland Security Committee hearing.
At the July meeting, Melani Cammett of Brown University testified that Hezbollah had no interest in attacking the United States. Cammett, who was in contact with Hezbollah officials, says the group’s focus in the Americas is fundraising and sending money back to strengthen its power in the Middle East – Lebanon in particular. Cammet noted that Hezbollah’s acts of violence are almost exclusively toward Israel, and it hasn’t called for, or planned, any attacks in the United States since the 1980s.
More recently, there has been little cooperation between Iranian and Hezbollah cells carrying out attacks abroad, Matthew Levitt, director at the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, testified Wednesday, but in the event of an attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Levitt says Hezbollah would most likely retaliate, making a targeted response more difficult. And there are increasing concerns that the response could be nuclear.
Drug traffickers move thousands of pounds of drugs into the U.S. at a time. These same routes could be used to easily smuggle in a dirty bomb using radioactive material provided by Iran, said Michael Braun Former DEA Assistant Administrator and Chief of Operations. Dirty bombs would be used because Iran does not yet have the capability to produce a conventional nuclear weapon.