(Reuters) – The warning last month from Representative Peter King, the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, was blunt: An investigation by his staff had determined that “hundreds” of people he described as “Iranian and Hezbollah terrorists” were in the United States. But interviews with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as private experts, about the Iranian-sponsored group paint a more nuanced picture. There is a threat, though whether it is imminent or extensive is far from clear, they say.
An alarming part of the officials’ assessments focuses on the apparent surveillance missions that Iranian diplomats and possible Hezbollah operatives have been seen conducting at sensitive targets such as New York subways and bridges, and at nuclear power plants and tunnels elsewhere in the United States in the past 10 years.
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At the same time, U.S. officials caution that Hezbollah, a Shiite militia based in Lebanon, has largely avoided attacking U.S. targets since it carried out mass-casualty bombings in the 1980s against the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut. One reason may be that it does not want to endanger its lucrative North American fund-raising operations.
The renewed focus on Hezbollah – which U.S. counter-terrorism officials regard as the most potent and disciplined of Islamic militant groups, even more so than al Qaeda – comes amid a growing confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program.
An Israeli or U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear sites could prompt Hezbollah to change strategy, moving from surveillance and fund-raising in North America to launching retaliatory attacks on either country, several U.S. officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss security matters.