As tensions between Washington and Tehran continue to escalate to the point of a possible confrontation between military forces, current and former U.S. national security officials remain focused on the potential threat posed by proxy groups affiliated with Iran should war break out between the two nations, CNN writes.
Last month, the New York Times reported the White House had set in motion an attack on Iranian military assets in response to Tehran’s downing of a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz, but President Donald Trump reportedly called it off.
Following what appeared to be a step back from the brink of war, Trump again ratcheted up his use of heated rhetoric by indicating an Iranian attack on American interests would be met with “obliteration.”
His threat came in response to a caustic remark by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who described the White House as being “inflicted by mental retardation.”
On Monday, Trump continued his bellicose language, telling reporters that Tehran was “playing with fire” after reports surfaced that the Iranian regime had exceeded the amount of enriched uranium permitted under a 2015 global nuclear deal.
The prospect of war brings with it the reality that Iran, described by the State Department as one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism, might benefit from asymmetric operations overseas or within the U.S. by terrorist elements long supported by the Iranian regime.
One group in particular is Hezbollah, an Iranian-linked extremist organization designated by the US as a foreign terrorist organization. The group is believed to have been responsible for several deadly attacks around the world over the past three decades, some of which killed Americans, CNN adds.
In its latest report on global threats, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence lists Hezbollah as a key challenge to global security and claims the group “most likely maintains the capability to execute a range of attack options against US interest worldwide.”
Although federal law enforcement has arrested numerous people in recent years associated with or inspired by Sunni Muslim extremist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, the FBI has also disrupted the operational activity of a small number of individuals linked to the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah.
Counterterrorism officials have not publicly released estimates of how many Hezbollah members are suspected of being in the country, but a senior U.S. national security official tells CNN that the government continues to investigate and degrade Hezbollah’s capabilities in the United States.
“Hezbollah is certainly a national security priority, because they have the capacity to commit hostile acts but have not necessarily had the motive to do so,” the senior official said. “Our efforts have been to reduce their capacity in case their motives shift.”
Other past cases highlight efforts by Hezbollah-linked operatives to raise money and procure weapons and communication equipment. In 2009, federal officials indicted 10 people for alleged roles in providing material support to the terrorist group. Their tactics included trafficking in stolen and counterfeit merchandise in order to raise and launder funds, and conspiring to export weapons for use by the group in places like Syria, according to the Justice Department, CNN noted.
As the Trump administration gears up for possible military action with Iran, it is unclear how extensive the role of federal law enforcement has been in war-planning efforts. An FBI spokesperson declined to comment on what, if any, part the bureau is playing in White House meetings about Iran.