WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. intelligence is reportedly considering Hezbollah as a political as well as a terrorist entity.
David Ignatius, a Washington Post foreign affairs columnist with close ties to the Obama administration, reported March 18 that the distinction will appear in a National Intelligence Estimate that is now in its draft stages.
"Officials who have read draft versions of the estimate say it assesses Hezbollah in a broad context, as a political and social force in Lebanon in addition to the militia officially designated by the United States as a ‘foreign terrorist organization,’ " Ignatius said. "Like most NIEs, this one is said to contain a broad array of views, with some analysts stressing Hezbollah’s terrorist capabilities and others noting the organization’s growing political role, including its representation in the Lebanese cabinet."
NIEs — reports that are meant to reflect the cumulative knowledge of U.S. intelligence agencies — do not necessarily inform policy. Nevertheless, such an assessment is likely to set off alarm bells.
John Brennan, the White House counterintelligence adviser, has taken heat from conservatives and congressional Republicans for past statements noting Hezbollah’s evolution from a terrorist group to one with political pre-eminence in Lebanon.
The Obama administration, in a statement, reiterated its position that there would be no engagement with Hezbollah. "“Hezbollah is a designated foreign terrorist organization and our efforts against the group are in line with that status," Tommy Vietor, the National Security Council spokesman, said in a statement.
Vietor’s statement was welcomed by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the umbrella body for U.S. Jewish groups.
"Hezbollah recruits serve as agents for Iran in many countries and any hint of U.S. contact will be a blow to the democratic forces in Lebanon who continue to resist the Hezbollah takeover of the Lebanese government," its statement said. "Moreover, it would be read as a sign of weakening of U.S. policy in the war on terrorism.