The terrorist organization has already pre-designated targets across the EU
Hezbollah first came to notice outside of Lebanon in 1983, when it was blamed for the bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 240 soldiers. Now it has an armed militia more powerful than the Lebanese Army and a sprawling infrastructure that delivers welfare to its Shiite constituency, Lebanon’s largest community. Much of Europe remains impervious to Hezbollah’s record of ongoing war crimes.  In July of 2012, a tour bus carrying Israeli civilians was bombed in Bulgaria. Exhaustive investigations by the Bulgarians traced the bomb unequivocally back to Hezbollah.
According to Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, “We need to meet at the EU level as soon as possible to discuss what consequences this should have.” This is the first time that an EU member state has established that Hezbollah is guilty of a terrorist attack on EU territory. Hezbollah in the Netherlands represents an immediate risk both in terms of conventional and unconventional weapons. The Netherlands is the only continental European nation to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
Unfortunately, the threat Hezbollah poses to Europe and specifically the Netherlands has for the most part fallen under the radar. When we discuss a terrorist proxy organization, supported by states that are not only armed with Weapons of Mass Destruction (Iran and Syria), but who have proven themselves in the past to provide every other class of weapon to Hezbollah, we need to be very concerned. Hezbollah has been operating in Europe almost since it’s emergence in 1982. What has significantly changed the current security landscape for Europe and specifically the Netherlands, and potentially increased the risk of attack with biological weapons, is the evolving situation in Syria and the possible loss of control by Bashar al-Assad over his laboratory infrastructure (BW Complex)
Hezbollah and Iran are said to be building a 50,000 strong force to take control of weapon stockpiles should the regime fall. Today Hezbollah is very probably armed with both biological and chemical weapons. Moreover, according to a report by the Atlantic Council, Iran and Hezbollah, it’s Lebanese proxy, are building a network of militias inside Syria to preserve and protect their interests in the event that President Bashar al-Assad’s government falls or is forced to retreat from Damascus. One of those interests is their biological weapons’ program based at the SSRC (Scientific Studies and Research Centre) near Damascus. Understanding the relationship between Syria and Hezbollah is critical to analyzing the threat they pose. Their networks across Europe are extensive, long term and strategic in nature.
According to Matthew Levitt, the Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s counterterrorism and intelligence program, the Europeans are afraid to stir up a hornet’s nest. “Proscribing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization could potentially lead to the activation of Hezbollah terror cells across the continent. … Hezbollah is not very active in Europe and the Europeans feel that if you poke Hezbollah or Iran in the eye, they will do the same to you. If you leave them alone, then maybe they will leave you alone.”
The inability to comprehend that Hezbollah is as a terrorist organization places all of Europe at risk. Most Europeans are unaware of the threat Hezbollah and Iran’s Quds forces pose to average European citizens. For years Hezbollah has pre-designated targets across Europe. In the Netherlands, for example, the likely designated targets for biological weapons (BW) are Schipol Airport and its underground transit system, the Dutch Parliament, specific members of Parliament, The Hague, the Port of Rotterdam, NATO installations located throughout the Netherlands, all major cities and transportation hubs and military installations, to name some.
If Hezbollah were to release a genetically modified version of b. anthracis (anthrax) under Schipol Airport, it is highly unlikely that existing treatments would be effective even if it were detected. If they choose to release something highly virulent and transmissible, like variola major (smallpox), with the current global air travel and train transportation connecting Amsterdam to all of Europe, this would have the potential, given lengthy incubation periods, to become a global pandemic. Hezbollah would likely have medical countermeasures for its own personnel and sections of the Shiite population it controls in Lebanon.
So extreme is Hezbollah’s ideology that we cannot risk underestimating their strategic plans for Europe and particularly the Netherlands. While many within the intelligence community and security services hold the belief that the threat of a BW attack by Hezbollah is marginal at best, nothing could be farther from the truth. The primary reason this view is deeply held by security services is a lack of understanding of the biological weapons’ programs Hezbollah has current access too. The standard national approach tends to be based on detection, prevention and medical countermeasures.
The Netherlands holds for example a 1:1 ratio of smallpox vaccine. However, if another highly transmissible and genetically modified virus were used in an attack on the transportation system, there would be no medical countermeasures to prevent or inhibit an epidemic or pandemic. The likely types of biological weapons which Hezbollah could use would likely not be treatable with current medical countermeasures.
A 2006 study conducted by the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, Clingendael, entitled Jihadi Terrorists in Europe cites 12 active terrorist networks in the U.K., 7 in the Netherlands, 4 in France, 3 in Spain and 3 in Belgium. “The networks show similarities with regard to the location of their targets; most of them are within capital cities (Madrid, London, Paris, Amsterdam) or seats of government (The Hague). Finally many networks have in common that they have used, or wanted to use of have been interested in using explosives both homemade and industrial.”
Hezbollah’s biological weapons arsenal likely includes: anthrax, plague, botulinum, ricin and possibly a highly transmissible form of pneumonia, which has been studied at the SSRC. This form has an extremely high mortality rate with no known countermeasures available. These bacteria, toxins and viruses have likely been acquired some time ago and are likely to have been genetically modified by Syria and Iran in their warfare laboratories. Unlike chemical weapons, there are no countermeasures available for most genetically modified, weaponized BW agents. What the European community needs to fully understand is that what we call Category A biological agents, which have been weaponized, are engineered to be extremely virulent, highly transmissible, multi-resistant and calculated for kill ratios; meaning this is not like getting a head cold or the flu.
If Hezbollah were to release a smallpox variant in the transportation system at Schipol Airport, given the lengthy incubation periods of a genetically modified version, it could go undetected for 12 to 30 days or longer. Enough time for travelers through Schipol to carry and transmit this to the entire global community. Released undetected through the ventilation systems via several small spurt release type deployment platforms and controlled remotely by mobile telephones, the release could occur over several days and go completely undetected. A non-modified version of a virus like smallpox kills up to 30 percent of victims leaving the rest scared and blinded for life – and that is just a non-modified strain.
Should botulinum be selected, it is one of the most toxic substances known to mankind and relatively easy to transport and deploy undetected. Although not generally transmissible, it would have an exceptionally high kill ratio in an airport or released in an underground transportation system.
The deteriorating situation in Syria increases the risks Hezbollah will or has acquired BW agents. Europe should be very concerned about its growing Muslim communities and its inability to comprehend the consequences a massive BW attack would have across its territory. If we fail to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, if we continue to fear reprisals, we are all at risk. Should Hezbollah decide to deploy a biological weapons next time instead of a conventional bomb, the consequences could be devastating not only to Europe but to the international community.
By Jill Bellamy Van Aalst
Jill Bellamy Van Aalst is an internationally recognized expert on biological warfare and CEO of Warfare Technology Analytics.