WASHINGTON, D.C. -- If recent surveys of public opinion are correct, war-weary Americans are already suffering "combat fatigue" from the most recent battle in the global war on terror -- the fight between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Apparently the U.S. public doesn't believe this bloody engagement to have to do with us -- thus, the waning interest. Those who believe that Hezbollah is simply an Israeli problem need to think again.
"Know your enemy" isn't just a hackneyed military slogan -- it's an essential survival tool in this new world disorder of global Islamic terror. Hezbollah is -- and has always been -- America's enemy.
When Lebanon descended into civil war along sectarian and ethnic lines in 1975, nearly a half dozen rival factions with armed militias began a deadly struggle for power -- Christian, Sunni, Shia, Druze and Palestinian. Into this chaos, and well before Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, Ayatollah Khomeini began sending Pasdaran -- Iranian Revolutionary Guards -- to the Lebanese Biqa Valley to organize, train and equip the poorly armed, disparate Shia militias into an effective politico-military force. Hezbollah was the result -- and almost immediately, Americans began to die.
From their bases in the Biqa, Hezbollah terrorists launched a series of spectacular attacks against Americans:
-- April 18, 1983: A suicide bomber driving a pickup truck loaded with explosives rams into the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 -- including 17 Americans.
-- Oct. 23, 1983: A suicide bomber detonates a truck full of explosives in the U.S. Marine barracks near Beirut International Airport, killing 241 U.S. servicemen.
-- Dec. 12, 1983: Hezbollah operatives attack the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. Near simultaneous attacks are carried out against the Emir of Kuwait, the French embassy, the airport, a major oil refinery and an American residential compound. In all, six people die; more than 80 are wounded.
-- April 2, 1986 -- a bomb aboard TWA Flight 840, en route from Athens to Rome Rome to Athens kills four members of the Kluge family from Annapolis, MD, an American family that included an infant girl.
-- Feb. 17, 1988: U.S. Marine Col. William Higgins, assigned to the U.N. Peacekeeping Force for Lebanon, is kidnapped, tortured and murdered.
-- June 14, 1985: TWA Flight 847 is hijacked and landed at Beirut International Airport. During the 17 day stand-off, U.S. Navy Seabee Diver Robert Stethem is murdered aboard the aircraft and his body is dumped on the tarmac.
-- In a wave of kidnappings between 1982 and 1988, Hezbollah took more than 30 Westerners hostage in Lebanon, among them, CIA station chief William Buckley, American University of Beirut President David Dodge, AP reporter Terry Anderson, American University of Beirut librarian Peter Kilburn, American University Hospital Administrator David Jacobsen, Father Martin Jenco, a Roman Catholic Priest, and Rev. Benjamin Weir, a Presbyterian missionary. Though most survived captivity -- Anderson was held 2,454 days -- some, like Buckley, were tortured to death.
-- June 25, 1996, the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia is bombed, killing 19 U.S. Air Force personnel and wounding more than 400.
Though all of these terrorist attacks were perpetrated by Hezbollah operatives, the individuals carrying them out were trained, equipped and controlled by Iran. We have known that with absolute certainty since 1986, when I went secretly to Tehran seeking the release of Americans being held hostage in Beirut. Though the Reagan administration's covert overtures to Iran remain highly controversial, there is no doubt Tehran directed the capture -- and eventually the release -- of Weir, Jenco and Jacobsen.
For those who think this is all ancient history and that Hezbollah is no longer a threat to the United States, consider that just last week, Iranian Hezbollah spokesman Mojtaba Bigdeli issued a threat to dispatch 2,000 operatives "to every corner of the world to jeopardize Israel and America's interests." He continued: "If America wants to ignite World War III ... we welcome it."
Idle threat? Not to the FBI. Two months ago, before Hezbollah attacks on Israel precipitated the most recent round of hostilities, the New York Post reported the group "may be planning to activate sleeper cells in New York and other big cities to stage an attack as the nuclear showdown with Iran heats up." The threat seemed credible enough for the FBI to launch "urgent new probes in New York and other cities," including Detroit, Los Angeles and Boston. The effort, the Post reported, identified "about a dozen hard-core supporters of Hezbollah" in New York City alone.
President Bush has repeatedly warned the global war on terror will not be short, cost-free or without losses. We can reduce our losses by knowing our enemies and acting against them. Hezbollah is surely such an enemy.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.