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New Fears of a Terror Alliance

Prepared by: Eben Kaplan
August 14, 2006

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With a precarious cease-fire in place, many analysts are left pondering the long-term effects of the conflict in the Middle East. Among the potential byproducts of the fighting, one of the most worrisome is the chance that Hezbollah could become allied with al-Qaeda. This would be a frightening relationship even without last week's thwarted plot to down several airplanes over the Atlantic Ocean. The foiled attack, which many experts linked to al-Qaeda, may be a sign of the group's resurgence (Newsweek Online). Nevertheless, Hezbollah might be the more frightening of the two groups. As former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage warned in September 2002, "Hezbollah may be the A team of terrorists and maybe al-Qaeda is actually the B team."

The relationship between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, described in this new Backgrounder, has been checkered, mostly due to historic Sunni-Shiite tensions (NYT). Yet the two groups have worked together in the past; counterterrorism expert Douglas Farah says this includes extensive contacts in Africa, most recently with Hezbollah helping al-Qaeda assets there escape financial sanctions.

A July 27 videotape from al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri stoked fears the groups might join forces in battling Israel and its Western allies. Israel's attacks on Hezbollah have caused some dissension within al-Qaeda's ranks (RFE/RL), but in his video, Zawahiri described a common cause: "We cannot just stand idly by while we see all these shells fall on our brothers in Gaza and Lebanon" (Jamestown).

Of particular concern to U.S. policymakers is the prospect of Hezbollah attacks on American soil. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House committee on terrorism and nonproliferation, told United Press International there are new reports of activities indicating "a renewed operational focus by Hezbollah on getting their people in over the [U.S.] border." In recent weeks the FBI issued urged police agencies to be on the lookout for Hezbollah's agents (ABC). Nevertheless, CFR President Richard N. Haass, writing in the Miami Herald, says the odds favor the terrorists.

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