The leader of Lebanon's Hizbullah has a warning for the United
States: Any attempt to destroy the militant group could mean
American interests being attacked around the world. But Sheikh
Hassan Nasrallah also hinted that Hizbullah's military wing, which
is poised along Lebanon's southern border with Israel, could be
dismantled in the event of a comprehensive Middle East peace.
In an interview with the Monitor in his heavily protected, sealed-
off compound in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Sheikh Nasrallah
claimed the Bush administration has no evidence linking Hizbullah to
acts of anti-American terrorism. He accused President Bush of
exploiting the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to pursue a military
agenda that benefits US economic and strategic interests.
The US ranks the Shiite Muslim Hizbullah high, if not at the top,
of its list of terrorist groups, perceiving the Lebanese radicals as
a genuine threat to US interests. But from where Sheikh Nasrallah
sits, it is the Bush administration that is the real terrorist
"We believe that the American administration has always exercised
terrorist and aggressive policies and backed terrorist groups and
regimes," Sheikh Nasrallah said.
He cited the CIA's training of Osama bin Laden and his mujahadeen
in Afghanistan in the 1980s and its past support for Saddam
"The American administration is a sponsor of terrorism, so
ethically and legally it is not qualified to categorize terrorism,"
"We believe the Bush administration is being dishonest in
claiming to be against terrorism," Nasrallah continued. "It has been
exploiting the events of Sept. 11 to achieve its long-term
strategies throughout the world."
Last year, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage described
Hizbullah as the "A-team of terrorists" and vowed to take them down
"one by one." The US accuses Hizbullah of responsibility for
numerous high-profile anti-American attacks such as the 1983 suicide
bombings of the US Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, in which
over 300 people perished, and the kidnappings of Westerners in war-
torn Lebanon in the late 1980s.
One of the most wanted figures in the war on terrorism is Imad
Mughnieh, a Lebanese who US officials believe heads Hizbullah's
military wing. Mr. Mughnieh is said to have been the organizer of
the 1980s suicide bombings and kidnappings in Lebanon as well as two
suicide bombings in Argentina against Israeli and Jewish targets in
1992 and 1994.
The mysterious and security-conscious Mughnieh is rumored to have
had plastic surgery twice to alter his appearance.
"The American accusations against Mughnieh are mere accusations,"
Nasrallah argued. "Can they provide evidence to condemn Imad
Mughnieh? They launch accusations as if they are given facts."
"Haj Imad Mughnieh is among the best freedom fighters in the
Lebanese arena," he said, using the honorific for those who have
conducted the pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca. But
Nasrallah refused to reveal whether Mughnieh has a role in
The legacy of the 1980s
The Reagan administration's Lebanon policy in the early 1980s was
shattered by the devastating suicide attacks against American
targets. Some officials who served in the Reagan administration have
returned to office under President Bush - including Armitage, who
was an assistant defense secretary in the 1980s. Twenty years later,
they see Hizbullah as a legitimate target in the war on terrorism.
Since the Iraq war, the Bush administration has applied steady
diplomatic pressure on Syria to dismantle Hizbullah's military wing.
Syria, which dominates the political process in neighboring Lebanon,
grants Hizbullah a certain freedom of action in south Lebanon, where
the group's fighters are marshalled along the border with Israel.
It remains unclear to what extent Washington intends to pursue
Hizbullah, as not all officials are entirely convinced the group
poses a threat to US interests. …