When United Airlines Flight 175 smashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Matthew Levitt was working in the Strategic Information Operations Center at the FBI headquarters in Washington, DC. He headed a team that investigated the combined terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
After leaving the FBI, Levitt served from 2005 to 2007 as deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Treasury Department’s terrorism and financial intelligence branch. He is especially concerned with counteracting the financing of terrorist threats and has consulted on counterterrorist efforts of the State, Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security Departments.
Levitt is currently the Fromer-Wexler fellow and director of The Washington Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence and has written extensively on the threats to Israel and the United States from Hizbullah and Hamas.
He is the author of the 2013 Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God and coauthor with Dennis Ross of the 2006 Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad.
On Sunday afternoon, Nov. 9, Levitt will speak at Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove. The community is invited.
NJJN: Apart from the fact that Hamas is made of Sunni Muslims and Hizbullah is composed of Shiites, how different are the two organizations in relation to Israel?
Levitt: Hizbullah is a much bigger organization and it has global reach. Hamas is limited in operational scope to the West Bank and Gaza. Hizbullah is the long arm of Iran in the region, and they are in a strategic partnership. They are intimately close.
NJJN: If Iran were to achieve building nuclear weapons, might they share them with Hizbullah for use against Israel?
Levitt: I am not willing to concede that Iran will be allowed to have nuclear weapons and Iran is a very rational actor, even if it is more aggressive in its behavior than Western states. I doubt it would be willing to give up control of something as powerful as a nuclear weapon if it had one.
NJJN: Can you factor ISIS into this whole equation and its possible threat to Israel and the West?
Levitt: ISIS is not presenting an immediate threat to Israel yet, but if it could, it would. ISIS is so extreme that it has been kicked out of Al Qaida, and whether they are raping women or killing fellow Muslims or beheading others, they are extraordinarily extreme. The threat they pose first and foremost is to fellow Muslims in the region.
NJJN: Should the United States be involved in a war with ISIS?
Levitt: There are times when we need to go to war but I don’t think there is a need for a large number of United States ground forces against ISIS.
NJJN: Do you see any possibility of peace between Israel and its neighbors?
Levitt: I am ultimately an optimist, and I think there are ways to secure a two-state solution, but I don’t see that on the agenda in the near to medium future, and that bothers me.