In its effort to amass regional support for its war against the Islamic State, the United States is reaching out to militant Shiites in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, according to some sources. In a report for New York-based magazine Newsweek, veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein said on Wednesday that the meteoric rise of Sunni radicalism, in the form of the Islamic State, may have prompted the creation of a “de facto US-Saudi-Lebanese-Hezbollah-Iranian” alliance in the Middle East.
Although no partner in this informal coalition is willing to admit its role in the collaborative effort, the common goal of eradicating Sunni extremism has brought about an “unwritten, unacknowledged cease fire” between these former adversaries, says Stein, quoting “authoritative sources”. Washington and Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group that controls large swathes of Lebanese territory, have a common interest in combating the Islamic State and preventing its rule from spreading beyond Syria. So the Americans began reaching out to Hezbollah in 2012, says Stein, and have helped bring about a “regional consensus […] to contain the conflict away from Lebanon and in Syria”.
Remarkably, bitter adversaries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran are said to actively subscribe to the Washington-led consensus against the Islamic State. Washington’s decision to reach out to Hezbollah appears to have been prompted by the realization that the militant Shiite group, along with the official Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), were the only actors on the ground capable of fighting and defeating the Islamic State. Last August, says Stein, the US Pentagon unloaded $20 million worth of weapons in Lebanon for use by the LAF. The weapons were reportedly shipped through the Beirut International Airport, which his under the control of Hezbollah. The group promptly transferred the weapons to the LAF, which is traditionally dominated by Christians, but has recently developed an “arm’s length alliance with Hezbollah” due to their mutual concern over the rise of the Islamic State.
Stein suggests that the US-Hezbollah relationship may now also include intelligence-sharing. He quotes a number of sources who claim that some Sunni militants have been apprehended thanks to intelligence-sharing between America, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Some claim that Iran acts as a mediator between Washington and Hezbollah, and that British diplomats also mediate between the two sides. Others, however, strongly dispute the existence of a US-Hezbollah alliance, including Martin Reardon, former Federal Bureau of Investigation officer with direct knowledge of Middle Eastern politics. He told Stein that reports of a collaboration between Washington and Hezbollah were “based more on rumor than fact”, and that he simply “could not imagine the US dealing with Hezbollah in any way, shape or form, directly or indirectly”.
Former Central Intelligence Agency operations officer Charles Faddis told Stein that, any collaboration between Washington and Hezbollah would be “a horrible, inconceivably bad idea”.
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