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Hezbollah-al Qaeda Ties Increase Danger in Lebanon
In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, the conventional wisdom in the intelligence community was that the Shi'ite Hezbollah and the Sunni al Qaeda did not and could not operate together because of the religious divide between the two groups.

However, al Qaeda's own writings, and testimony of senior al Qaeda operatives in U.S. custody (Jamal al Fadl) recount the extensive contacts bewtween the two organizations while bin Laden was in Sudan, including joint military and explosives training.

It has taken the conventional wisdom a long time to catch up with reality on the ground, but it is important to remember that things that were often considered inconceivable in the shadow infrastructure of non-state actors were simply based on our preconceptions, not reality.

If the Lebanese conflict drags on, it would be likely that al Qaeda would try to work again with its occassional ally in an alliance of convenience that could benefit both groups. The chaos in the region benefits all the non-state armed groups, and such circumstances often give rise to transitory (or perhaps permanent) alliances between groups that share the same goals and resources. While Zarqawi fanned the flames of the Sunni-Shi'ite divide inside Iraq, it was in part a tactical decision to weaken the government and cause a civil war, rather than a theological decison.

The point of contact with bin Laden in Sudan was Imad Mugniya, the person currently considered to be Hezbollah's chief of military operations and the likely instigator of the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers. Mugniya, as noted elsewhere on this blog, has been at this for a long time and the sophisticated operation bear the hallmarks of his style. in addition, his high-level contacts in Iran, and his long-time protection from Iran's revolutionary government have given him the ability to operate with impunity and survive for many years.

Since the early 1990s contact between the two groups there have been other interactions. Hezbollah operatives-Aziz Nassour and Samih Osailly- provided the infrastructure for al Qaeda's diamond operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone that helped al Qaeda transfer millions of dollars into fungible assets and out of the range of the West's financial sanctions.

Mugniya has worked extensively in West Africa among the Lebanese diaspora of several hundred thousand that populate the West coast. The Ivory Coast is an especially active place for Hezbollah, both for fund raising and R&R.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and in the case of Lebanon, that saying could well apply to Hezbollah and al Qaeda regardless of religious differences.
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