Friday, July 28, 2006

State Spin: 'Iran Does Not Completely Own Hizbullah'

The State Department said that Hizbullah, despite Iranian sponsorship, remains an independent organization. A senior official said Hizbullah has been influenced rather than dominated by Iran and Syria. Officials said the department sees Hizbullah as capable of flouting dictates by Damascus and Teheran.

"Iran does not completely own Hizbullah," Henry Crumpton, the department's counterterrorism coordinator, told a briefing on Tuesday. READ MORE

A former CIA operative, Crumpton said Iran has been financing Hizbullah and supplying much of the weapons of the Shi'ite militia. But he said Teheran could not force Hizbullah to change policy.

"I am confident that Iranian operatives are inside Lebanon right now with Hizbullah," Crumpton said. "They [Iran] have spent hundreds of millions of dollars arming Hizbullah and supporting them. Iran is the paymaster. They are clearly directing a lot of Hizbullah actions. Hizbullah asks their permission to do things, especially if it has broader international implications."

Despite being a key facilitator, Syria has even less influence on Hizbullah than Iran, Crumpton said. He said Syria's main role has been the control of weapons, fighters and finances into Lebanon.

"Syria can stop the flow of weapons, materiel and people into Lebanon," Crumpton told a briefing. "Yes, they can take a lot of action that they haven't. In terms of them controlling Hizbullah, no. They cannot put Hizbullah out of business."

Earlier, U.S. intelligence sources said Iran has trained, financed and directed the Hizbullah rocket war against Israel. The sources said Hizbullah, whose leadership was approved by Teheran, has received $100 million per year in an effort to convert the Shi'ite militia into an expeditionary military force of Iran.

Crumpton's assertion of Hizbullah's independence — issued as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concluded talks in Israel — echoed the statements by the Bush administration during the first days of the war. On July 15, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said the United States lacked evidence that implicated Iran or Syria in the Hizbullah war.

In his briefing, Crumpton, who did not rule out Iranian operation of Hizbullah's strategic rockets, said the flow of missiles and rockets to Hizbullah has been significantly reduced if not halted. He said Hizbullah has not received medium- or long-range rockets for several days.

"We haven't seen anything in the last few days of missiles coming from Syria across the border into southern Lebanon," Crumpton said. "Right now it's very difficult for any kind of movement into southern Lebanon because of the Israeli efforts. I think that flow [of medium- and long-range rockets] has been slowed if not completely stopped right now."

Still, the U.S. official did not envision a rapid Israeli victory. Crumpton said Hizbullah has established an elaborate system of bunkers that could withstand an Israeli ground assault.

"They are fighting hard right now," Crumpton said. "So it will take a while for the Israelis to get in there and deny that space."

Crumpton said he did not see evidence of Hizbullah plots against U.S. interests. But he said he could not rule out such a possibility.

"We don't have any evidence of their plans and intentions to do so right now," Crumpton said. "And I think it would not be in their interest. Our response would be swift and pretty definitive. But I think it's a possibility they might do that, especially if they are on the ropes."