WASHINGTON (AFP) — Hezbollah could surpass Al-Qaeda as the most serious long-term threat to the United States, the former head of homeland security Michael Chertoff is to warn in a book published later this year.
Chertoff -- who for four years headed efforts to prevent a repeat of the attacks of September 11, 2001 -- alleges Hezbollah is better equipped, better trained and better politically positioned than Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda.
"Al-Qaeda and its network are our most serious immediate threat, they may not be our most serious long-term threat," Chertoff writes in a book to be published in September, a draft of which was obtained by AFP.
"Having operated for more than a quarter-century, (Hezbollah) has developed capabilities that Al-Qaeda can only dream of, including large quantities of missiles and highly sophisticated explosives."
Chertoff says the group, whose Arabic name means the "Party of God," also has "uniformly well trained operatives, an exceptionally well-disciplined force of nearly 30,000 fighters, and extraordinary political influence."
Forged in the in early 1980s in response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon, the Shiite Islamist group has long been proscribed as a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, although it is also a major political party in Lebanon.
According to Chertoff, the group was behind a suicide bombing that killed 200 US marines in Beirut in 1983 and the 1996 bombing of the Khobar towers in Saudi Arabia, which killed more than 20 people. Hezbollah has denied involvement.
Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war in July-August 2006 after the militia seized two soldiers in a cross-border raid. The war killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Despite its defeat in elections earlier this month, Hezbollah and its Christian allies remain a major force in Lebanese politics.
It is this power, along with Hezbollah's military weight and ties with Iran that are worrying, according to Chertoff.
"Hezbollah shows what an ideologically driven terrorist organization can become when it evolves into an army and a political party and gains a deeply embedded degree of control within a state, as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon's democratic infrastructure," he warns.
Chertoff's comments are likely to be greeted coolly by some European countries, who have attempted to engage the group in the hope of moderating its stance.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana recently drew fire from Israel for holding a first meeting with a Hezbollah member of parliament.
But Chertoff argues Hezbollah poses a growing threat in the Western Hemisphere, despite limited attacks on US targets.
"While Hezbollah may not have carried out attacks in the United States itself, it has developed a presence in the Western Hemisphere, specifically in South America," Chertoff says, alleging that the group carried out bombings of Jewish and Israeli targets in Buenos Aires.
"These acts disturbingly underscore Hezbollah's reach into the hemisphere, notably the tri-border areas at the margins of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay."
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