Todays word on the state of our state, our nation, and the world.
By: Brent Parrish The Right Planet
Back in 2011, Patrick Meehan, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security and chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, warned that the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah was expanding its influence in South America, stating Hezbollah “has a vast network in the region.”
In 2012, former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, stated Hezbollah had a base in Latin America. On November 22nd, 2011, at a Republican debate in Washington, Romney warned:
“We have, right now, Hezbollah, which is working throughout Latin America, in Venezuela, in Mexico, throughout Latin America, which poses a very significant and imminent threat to the United States of America.”
At the time, the “fact-checking” website PolitiFact.com was quick to downplay the threat posed by terrorist groups like Hezbollah operating in Latin America, claiming Romney’s allegations were “mostly false.”
In 2012, Glenn Greenwald posted at the lefty rag Salon:
“For quite some time, right-wing dogma has warned that Iranian Terror is taking hold and expanding in Central and South America thanks to improving relations between Iran and several Latin American governments, as well as due to growing Hezbollah cells. In fact, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum all warned of these menaces at various points during the GOP debate, prompting a rating of ‘Mostly False’ from PolitiFact after a detailed analysis of those claims. Like so much inane right-wing dogma, this has now been formally embraced by top-level Obama officials.”
The 2011, the PoliFact article also cited so-called terrorism experts from the Brookings Institute who insinuated the growing threat of Islamic terrorism in Latin America is overblown:
Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution, who testified in 2009 for the House subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs on illicit economies, organized crime, and their impact on U.S. and global security, said, “Allegations of al-Qaida, Hamas, and Hezbollah contacts with the FARC or these groups’ penetration of the Latin American drug trade have not proven robust.”
Another Brookings scholar, senior fellow on foreign policy Kevin Casas-Zamora, told PolitiFact, “Hezbollah roaming free in Latin America — that’s a gross exaggeration.”
Interestingly, the Brookings Institute has accepted large donations from the gulf state of Qatar, whose involvement in financing Islamic terrorists has increasingly faced greater scrutiny.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism reported:
A September New York Times exposé revealed Qatar’s status as the single largest foreign donor to the Brookings Institution. Qatar gave Brookings $14.8 million in 2013, $100,000 in 2012 and $2.9 million in 2011. In 2002, Qatar started subsidizing the Brookings outreach program to the Muslim World which has continues today. Between 2002 and 2010, Brookings never disclosed the annual amount of funds provided by the Government of Qatar.
The area related to the Lebanese terrorist network Romney and others were referring to is located in the tri-border region between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, where a significant Arab community exists.
According to the South American website InfoBAE.com, Hezbollah has been expanding its influence in the region. On Monday, Peruvian police arrested a man, Muamad Amadar, who is allegedly connected with Hezbollah:
In recent years, the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah expanded its network in Latin America. On Monday, a member of the extremist organization [Hezbollah] was arrested in Surquillo district of Lima, capital of Peru, after handling explosives in the house where he was staying.
Following the raid at the house where Amadar was staying, Peruvian police discovered the remains of detonators, TNT and gunpowder in the trash.
Muamad Amadar is married to an “American nationalized Peruvian.”
Peruvian authorities are attempting to confirm their identity and nationality, and the reason for their presence in the country—in addition to investigating any possible illegal activity the couple might have been engaged in during their stay in Peru.
The arrest of Muamad Amadar was ordered by Peru’s Third National Criminal Court for Organized Crime, according to the local newspaper La Republica.
According to InfoBAE.com, Iran is one of the major financiers of terrorist groups operating in South America.
On July 18th, 1994, a terrorist crashed a van carrying 400 kilos of explosives into the Mutual Israeli Argentina Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The attack left 85 dead and over 300 injured. The van was driven by Mohsen Ibrahim Hussein Berro, whose family still lives in the Bekaa Valley—the heart of Hezbollah.
On October 25, 2006, a team of Argentinian prosecutors led by Alberto Nisman formally accused Iran of having conceived and organized the AMIA attack in Buenos Aries.
Iranian President Hasan Rohani threw himself into the controversy, defending Hezbollah, despite overwhelming evidence the Shiite terrorist group executed the AMIA bombing. Rohani wrote on his Twitter account that he “does not understand” why the Argentinians would implicate the Lebanese terrorist militia in the AMIA attack.
“I’m surprised you call [Hezbollah] terrorists, when they are voted in by the Lebanese people. They are part of the government,” Rohani wrote on his twitter account.
While the American left bends over backwards and goes out of their way to minimize and downplay the terrorist threat in Latin America, there is increasing concern in the region, and in the U.S., about the presence of Islamic terrorists and the growing relationship between Venezuela and Iran.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is pursuing a friendlier relationship with the Iranian regime, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal:
The Obama administration also has markedly softened its confrontational stance toward Iran’s most important nonstate allies, the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the Lebanese militant and political organization, Hezbollah. American diplomats, including Secretary of State John Kerry, negotiated with Hamas leaders through Turkish and Qatari intermediaries during cease-fire talks in July that were aimed at ending the Palestinian group’s rocket attacks on Israel, according to senior U.S. officials.
Only in Obama’s America does a senior Obama official refer to the leader of Israel as “chickenshit,” while the administration simultaneously pursues “best buds” status with Iran.
h/t: George C.
Accuracy in Media
The single most important fact to understand about Hizballah is that its chain of command goes directly to the Iranian Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, by way of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Qods Force. That Iranian connection, as well as Hizballah’s close and long-standing relationship with al-Qa’eda, the global reach of this Shi’ite jihadist group, and above all, its extensive presence and criminal activities in the Western Hemisphere, including inside the United States, all merit a closer look. With U.S. national security directly in Hizballah’s cross-hairs, it’s more important than ever to understand what this group is, who leads it, what has motivated them along a bloody 30-year trail of terrorism, and what damage this group is capable of inflicting on American interests.
For even as Hizballah is an Islamic terror organization, an Iranian proxy for power projection, a Transnational Criminal Organization, and a Lebanese military, political, and social domestic entity, it is above all a direct threat to U.S. national security. After all, and despite a complete media blackout on the topic that prevails to this day, on Iranian orders and working together with al-Qa’eda, Hizballah participated in the worst strike ever against the American homeland: the attacks of 9/11. There is no threshold, ideological or otherwise, that Hizballah has not already crossed or would not cross again, given a direct order from Tehran.
Word out of London in late 2013 is that the U.S. is engaged in secret, indirect negotiations with Hizballah, with British diplomats acting as intermediaries. Those talks followed closely on the U.S. capitulation to Iran over its nuclear weapons program during November 2013 discussions in Geneva and reflect a White House policy of seeking to normalize relations with the regime designated by the Department of State as the number one global state sponsor of terror. Hizballah remains a designated terror organization on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list. And while the story about the U.S.-Hizballah talks in London made the Israeli and U.K. media, not one major U.S. media outlet thought it significant to report that the U.S. administration is reaching out to mend relations with what many describe as the most dangerous Islamic terror organization in the world.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called Hizballah the “A Team” and al-Qa’eda the “B Team.” Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that Hizballah makes “al-Qa’eda look like a minor league team.” And former CIA Director George Tenet testified in 2003 that Hizballah was every bit al-Qa’eda’s “equal, if not a far more capable organization.”
And yet, since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the biggest share of counterterrorism bandwidth among national security agencies and the media alike has been devoted to al-Qa’eda “and its affiliates,” as they’re often called. Current internecine civil war in Syria aside, for many years Hizballah happens to have been one of those affiliates, but many would never know that from either the media coverage or official government attention paid to this Shi’ite jihadist group that works mostly for the Iranian mullahs. So, when it’s discussed at all, as on each year’s remembrance of the October 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, Hizballah continues to be thought of primarily as a Lebanese terror outfit. However, as Tony Badran pointed out in an important historical look back in his November 25, 2013 Weekly Standard essay, “The Secret History of Hezbollah,” a critical Iranian connection has been there from the beginning.
Media coverage of the Syrian civil war that broke out in 2011 often cites Hizballah as somehow mixed up in supporting the Ba’athist regime of Bashar al-Assad against a conglomeration of al-Qa’eda- and Muslim Brotherhood-dominated militias. But what that coverage often ignores is that Hizballah’s contribution of thousands of fighters to the survival of the Assad regime is not necessarily in the best interests (or any interests) of Hizballah’s supposed home team, the Lebanese Shi’ites. The reason Hizballah fights on, even after its Syrian adventures have drawn probable Sunni al-Qa’eda retaliation deep into the very heart of its Beirut stronghold in the Dahiyeh, is because Iran wants it to.
Hizballah’s Power Base
Hizballah’s power base remains grounded in Lebanon where it arose amid the savage sectarian civil war that raged in that country from 1975 to 1990. Its military and political dominance there has been unchallenged since its takeover of large parts of Beirut in a show of force in May 2008. Its social base of operations among the Shi’ites of southern Lebanon buys Hizballah a great deal of good will and loyalty. An expansive social welfare program that includes clinics, hospitals, schools, and youth summer camps targets a population that long felt marginalized by Lebanon’s central government. A well-organized system of charity and non-profit groups spreads Iranian largesse while also attracting donations, remittances, and taxes from around the world.
Since its creation in the early 1980s, Hizballah has maintained a tightly-organized command structure reflected in a top-down military style inherited from its Iranian sponsors. This hierarchical organization subordinates itself to the Khomeinist Velayat-e Faqih concept, which acknowledges the overall leadership of the current Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei, to whom, in fact, Hizballah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has pledged bayat (allegiance). Naim Qassem, another Lebanese cleric and a politician who arose out of the Amal movement, is Hizballah’s second-in-command after Nasrallah. Although something of a pan-Islamist who has called in the past for an end to Shi’a-Sunni rifts, when it came to Syria, Qassem fell in loyally behind Nasrallah and the Iranian and Russian campaign to save Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
One of the most important figures in Hizballah history was Imad Mughniyah, a wanted figure across the globe for decades, and arguably Iran’s most effective terror chieftain. Assassinated in Damascus in February 2008, Mughniyah led Iranian-Hizballah terror operations, often in close coordination with al-Qa’eda, whose cadres he trained. From the 1983 Marine barracks bombing, to the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847; and from the 1992 and 1994 Buenos Aires attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets, to 9/11 itself, Mughniyah was the strategist whose malignant brilliance filled a terror rap sheet that spanned more than two decades. His absence from Hizballah’s ranks since 2008 has been a setback to Hizballah’s international terror operations, which, to date, have even been unsuccessful in exacting revenge for Mughniyah’s assassination.
A Shared Ideology
Another matter normally overlooked by the media, as well as by national security “experts,” is the shared ideology of jihad made obligatory by Islamic law (shariah) that motivates both Iran and its Hizballah terror proxies. Whether cowed into silence by threats of being labeled “Islamophobic” or simply uninformed about Islamic doctrine, law, and scripture, too many who present themselves as knowledgeable about why Hizballah does the things it does, simply aren’t—or, at least, fail to explain the group’s deep commitment to Islam and the specifically Khomeinist institution of the Velayat-e Faqih. The Iranian constitution of 1989 includes not only an explicit dedication of the regime to global export of the revolution, but also a Qur’anic citation that incites the Muslim faithful to wage terror against its enemies:
Make ready your power to the utmost of your ability, including steeds of war, to strike terror into the hearts of the enemy… (Q 8:60)
Hizballah communicated its full alignment with Islam, Iran, and the Iranian Supreme Leader in its political platform, published in 1985:
We view the Iranian regime as the vanguard and new nucleus of the leading Islamic State in the world. We abide by the orders of one single wise and just leadership, represented by “Wali Faqih” and personified by Khomeini… Whoever offends the Muslims, offends in fact the body of our Umma, and we shall therefore endeavor to stand up against this threat, guided by a legitimate ruling and an all-embracing political doctrine determined by the leader i.e., Wilayat al-Faqih.
As many are aware, Hizballah was funded largely by Iran for many years after its formation in the early 1980s. Estimates vary, but Iranian payments to Hizballah reportedly reached hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and, perhaps, even as much a $1 billion immediately following Hizballah’s severe losses in the 2006 war with Israel. Today, however, the picture is quite different. Rarely do the mainstream media adequately address Hizballah’s recent transformation into a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) and global narcotrafficker. In the think-tank world, Matthew Levitt of The Washington Institute is one of the foremost experts on Hizballah and reveals how the Shi’ite terrorist organization “also runs one of the largest and most sophisticated criminal operations in the world.” As he explains, Hizballah has been involved in a range of criminal enterprises for many years, but has moved even deeper into the world of drug cartels and illicit activities since international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear weapons program have caused serious economic hardship for the Tehran regime.
Hizballah’s fundraising operations span the globe and include both legal and illegal business dealings, often conducted under cover of false-front commercial firms. While relying in many cases on an existing network of Lebanese expatriate businessmen for camouflage as well as income from ‘charity donations,’ ‘profit taxes,’ and outright mobster-like extortion, Hizballah also works closely with its Iranian contacts. Those contacts often are operating under commercial, diplomatic, and other cover arrangements, including as clerics in mosques and Islamic Centers.
As described by Alberto Nisman, the Argentinean prosecutor who, in May 2013, issued a 502-page indictment of Iran and Hizballah for the 1994 bombing of the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, Iran’s and Hizballah’s complex cell networks serve multiple interlocking purposes. Iran’s diplomatic expansion gives it a geo-strategic presence and veneer of legitimacy, while its embassies and consulates provide cover slots for the IRGC/Qods Force and MOIS operatives who interact with local Hizballah cells, among others. By extension, those Hizballah cell members reach into gangs, narco cartels, and TCOs. Overall, these highly organized, sophisticated networks enable Iran and Hizballah to fund and support themselves, plot and execute terror operations, and acquire proscribed weaponry and technical gear on black markets.
Incredibly, it should be noted that Hizballah also raises funds entirely legitimately, if not with what might be called ‘full disclosure.’ Although sanctions regimes and terrorist designations imposed by individual countries like the U.S. and various European governments do limit Hizballah’s freedom of action to some degree, the reluctance of many of these entities to designate Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization leaves fundraising channels open through ostensibly charitable and religious fronts. By permitting Hizballah to perpetuate the myth that it is comprised of various so-called ‘wings’—such as military, political, or terrorist—countries that may designate Hizballah’s ‘terrorist’ wing, still allow Hizballah to continue raising money legally through mosques, Islamic Centers, and at religious events, as long as it can get away with claiming such proceeds go to fund clinics, orphanages, or schools in Hizballah-controlled Lebanon.
Such quasi-legitimate fundraising mechanisms aside, however, Hizballah engages in a vast array of criminal activities around the world that include dealing in blood diamonds, counterfeiting, fraud, scams, theft and fencing of stolen goods, and smuggling. This is all in addition to narcotrafficking, which is considered by experts to provide the largest share of Hizballah financing today. Hizballah conducts these criminal operations on virtually every continent in the world (except perhaps Antarctica), which is why the group is termed a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) in the truest sense of the term.
Iran and Hizballah have both been caught counterfeiting U.S. and European currency, reportedly using printers located in Baalbeck in Lebanon’s Beka’a Valley. The U.S. Treasury has sanctioned individuals from the Tri-Border Area (TBA) in South America for trafficking in counterfeit U.S. currency. Among other extensive fundraising activities in Africa, especially West Africa, Hizballah has been involved in the blood diamond trade since the 1980s. Prior to 9/11, Hizballah introduced al-Qa’eda to the blood diamond (sometimes called the ‘conflict diamond’) business so that it could move its assets out of banking channels sure to be investigated after the attacks. In addition to currency counterfeiting, Hizballah also traffics in other counterfeit products, including pharmaceuticals. In a 2010 case, Lebanese police uncovered an Iranian/Hizballah operation that manufactured tons of fake “Captagon,” a drug used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The counterfeit tablets were distributed worldwide, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit profits for Hizballah.
Hizballah established itself in South America’s TBA soon after its establishment in the early 1980s. The TBA refers to the place where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay come together. Riding the vector of Lebanese Shi’ite emigrants fleeing a vicious civil war, Hizballah successfully set up operations that are estimated by various sources to bring in $10 to $20 million annually. Although the TBA was known as a lawless area long before Hizballah’s arrival, the lack of effective law enforcement there made it an ideal location for Hizballah to take advantage of a criminal environment. It saw the area as a location where it could engage, relatively unchallenged, in recruitment and terror operations, planning and training even while fundraising through arms and drug trafficking, counterfeiting, document forgery, and music and software piracy. In fact both the 1992 and 1994 suicide bombing attacks in Buenos Aires were organized by Hizballah (working in collaboration with the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires) out of the TBA.
In 2002, U.S. federal officials dismantled a Hizballah cigarette smuggling ring headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. Known as “Operation Smokescreen,” the cell had been taking advantage of differences in cigarette taxes from state to state and raking in some $8 million in profits over the 4-year span that the scam had been in operation. Hizballah operatives associated with the operation had also supplied currency, financial services, false documentation, communications equipment, and explosives in support of the smuggling ring. Mohamad Youssef Hammoud, the ringleader of the group, and other cell members had entered New York City initially on forged visas provided to them in Venezuela.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) investigated a December 2011 car smuggling operation based in Florida that involved some 70 used car dealerships across the U.S. that channeled profits to Hizballah. Cars bought in the U.S. were shipped to West Africa and other destinations. The transactions were facilitated through the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB), the Prime Bank of Gambia, and other subsidiaries, and ultimately transferred more than $480 million to Hizballah. As Matthew Levitt notes in his 2013 book, Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God, the operation highlighted the global reach of Hizballah’s criminal operations.
As noted above, narcotrafficking has moved into the top spot as a source of funding for Hizballah. Although Hizballah got its start smuggling hashish, heroin, and opium through traditional Lebanese clan smuggling channels out of the Beka’a Valley, it eventually leveraged those routes and criminal connections for terror operations. In the Western Hemisphere, Hizballah’s drug running operations expanded throughout South America from that first foothold in the TBA. A leading Lebanese Shi’ite cleric, the Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Abdullah Ali Fadlallah (sometimes called Hizballah’s ‘spiritual leader’) issued a convenient fatwa to permit Hizballah’s drug dealing, which otherwise would have been considered “impure.” Because the narcotics were intended “for Satan—America and the Jews,” the theological justification went, “[i]f we cannot kill them with guns, we will kill them with drugs.”
Hizballah’s narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere involve the trafficking primarily of Colombian cocaine, which is moved north through Central America, via Mexican drug cartels to consumers in the U.S. and Canada, and also eastward through Venezuela, across the Atlantic Ocean, overland through West and North Africa, and eventually to target markets in Europe. Along the way, Hizballah collaborates with drug cartels, gangs, nation states, and other terrorist organizations like Colombia’s FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and al-Qa’eda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Money-laundering the massive amounts of cash generated by narcotrafficking and other criminal activities presents Hizballah with a challenge that is both financial and physical. The group uses both legal and illegal methods to move its dirty money, much of which is sent back to Lebanon. The rest is used to fund local operations. Couriers, friends, and family members are enlisted to carry cash either concealed on their persons or inside luggage. The advantages of a relationship with a nation state sponsor like Iran include regular (illicit) use of the diplomatic pouch system to transport bulk cash as well as other items.
The Hawala system, in which money can be transferred across borders or across the world without actual physical transport, relies on personal relationships to avoid the possible scrutiny of customs officials. Legal money transfer systems such as Western Union are also used. Introducing ill-gotten cash profits into the legal banking system must clear regulatory hurdles, but is another way that Hizballah launders money. The use of the Lebanese-Canadian Bank in Hizballah’s Florida-based car smuggling operation, described above, offers a good example of how this is done.
As Iran and Hizballah well know, modern day terrorism costs money—lots of money. Even the few examples presented here of Hizballah fundraising activities, both legal and illegal, provide an idea of the massive amounts of profits raked in. The cycle of terror is completed as Hizballah turns those profits to the arming, outfitting, and training of its cadres. Although exact numbers are hard to come by, Hizballah fields thousands of fighters, including several thousand sent to prop up the Ba’athist regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In addition to their fanatical devotion to Shi’ite Islam and their Iranian sponsors, Hizballah operatives are superbly trained commandos who often boast advanced degrees and university educations.
Hizballah’s missile arsenal, much of it provided by Iran in the years following the 2006 war with Israel, includes upwards of 80,000 rockets and missiles, many with the range and accuracy to strike anywhere in Israel. Among these are the Fajr-3, Fajr-5 surface-to-surface models, a variety of surface-to-air missiles, and an updated version of the Fateh-110 missile with the range to reach Tel Aviv and even beyond with high accuracy. Southern Lebanon is studded with hundreds of Hizballah military facilities and missile launch sites, including many built into civilian homes located in scores of villages near Lebanon’s southern border with Israel. Hizballah has constructed many of its weapons storage and other military installations in underground bunkers.
Among other coveted—and expensive—dual-use, military, and other hi-tech gear that Hizballah has sought to acquire (for instance, with the proceeds of the North Carolina cigarette smuggling operation) are: night vision goggles and scopes, surveying equipment, Global Positioning Systems, metal detection equipment, video equipment, aircraft analysis & design software, military compasses, binoculars, naval equipment, ultrasonic dog repellers, laser range finders, digital cameras, zoom lenses, computer equipment (laptops, high-speed modems, processors, joysticks, plotters, scanners, and printers), stun guns, handheld radios and receivers, cellular telephones, nitrogen cutters, mining, and drilling and blasting equipment.
Finally, it should be noted that Hizballah has developed an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) capability with Iranian assistance. The group assembles the Iranian-designed Ababil (“Swallow”) UAV and reportedly has launched at least five UAVs of this and other types towards Israel since 2004. Each has been intercepted and destroyed by the Israeli Air Force and none has been armed, although concern exists that Hizballah could configure a UAV to carry an explosive or even a biological warfare agent payload. Although there is little information available about Hizballah’s chemical or biological weapons (CBW) capabilities, if any, the group’s close relationship with Iran and Syria, both of which have advanced, sophisticated CBW programs, makes it likely that they have transferred at least some of that technological know-how, if not actual materials, to Hizballah.
The Hizballah Threat to North America
Hizballah’s significant capabilities, its close and continuing relationship with Iran, a shared ideological commitment to the Shi’ite belief in the 12th Imam and the Jewish genocide that supposedly will bring on the End Times, and its deep involvement in criminal activities across the globe, are enough to make them a priority subject of national security concern. Add to that the extensive presence that Hizballah has established in the Western Hemisphere and the reality of its expanding collaboration with Mexican drug cartels that operate, not just along the U.S. southern border, but across it and into the majority of U.S. metropolitan areas, and that concern for national security can only deepen.
In its 2012 Country Reports on Terrorism, the Department of State rightly took note of Iran’s and Hizballah’s marked upsurge in terrorist activity:
In 2012, there was a clear resurgence of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Tehran’s ally Hizballah…
Given this situation, it seems inexplicable that the Department of State would also say the following in the very same Country Reports on Terrorism for 2012:
There were no known operational cells of either al-Qa’ida or Hizballah in the hemisphere.
Further, despite decades of evidence about the Hizballah presence in the Tri-Border Area (TBA), the same report refers to it as a criminal problem, rather than a terror issue. Most serious observers, in the media as well as the analytical, counterterrorism, and Local Law Enforcement (LLE) communities, know that this is inaccurate.
Rather, as noted above, Hizballah’s presence, narcotrafficking, and terrorist activities are all enabled by the expanding presence of Iran in the Hemisphere. Iran’s own presence, in particular in South America, expanded significantly in the years after 2005, when Mahmud Ahmadinejad became president of Iran. As Alberto Nisman, the Argentinean prosecutor, explained in his May 2013 indictment, the numerous new diplomatic facilities and Islamic Centers that Iran opened across the region provided the cover slots Iran needed to accommodate IRGC/Qods Force and MOIS operatives in countries that include Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Paraguay, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. According to Nisman, Iran seeks to infiltrate South American countries “by building local clandestine intelligence stations…to sponsor, foster and execute terrorist attacks, within the principles to export the Islamic revolution.”
Bilateral agreements between Iran and various Latin American countries provide Iranians with troubling access to citizenship, travel documents, and visas. For example, in 2008, Dominica signed an agreement with Iran that allowed Iranians to obtain second citizenship and the Dominican passport to go with it. It is worth noting that Dominica is a member of the British Commonwealth. St. Kitts and Nevis also sell passports to Iran, while in St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, passport and document control is reportedly so loose that practically anyone can change identity there at will.
The relationship that Ahmadinejad forged with Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez over the eight years from 2005 to 2013 was perhaps the closest of all, and included the signing of hundreds of bilateral accords and the establishment of dozens of wholly owned Iranian firms in Venezuela, plus many more joint venture companies. Financial institutions in particular were used to help Iran evade the restrictions imposed by international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, generate cash, and conduct money laundering. Margarita Island, in the Caribbean off Venezuela’s northern coast, has become a key hub of Hizballah operations and its primary banking and finance center in the Western Hemisphere. Hizballah maintains businesses, safe houses, and training camps there. In February 2013, Mohammed Razza Hidari, Iran’s former ambassador to Venezuela, told El Universal, a Venezuelan daily, that Hizballah recruits train locally in Venezuela before being sent to Iran for more advanced military, political, and religious training before returning to Latin America to begin their missions.
Closer to home, Hizballah conducts a wide array of criminal activities in Mexico where its growing nexus with Mexican drug cartels provides entrée directly into the U.S. Ambassador Roger Noriega, a former U.S. envoy to the Organization of American States (OAS) and an Undersecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, testifies regularly before Congress to warn about Hizballah’s expanding encroachment into the U.S. In March 2013, he testified before the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-Proliferation, and Trade to sound the alarm on “Hezbollah’s Strategic Shift: A Global Terrorist Threat.”
Noriega told them that Hizballah is no lone wolf but operates at the behest of Iran for the purpose of targeting the U.S. because of their shared hostility to this country. He discussed how Hizballah engages in smuggling, money laundering, training and fund-raising as part of doing business with the Mexican drug cartels. It is not simply as another “modus operandi of powerful international drug syndicates that can be tackled by law enforcement,” but rather as the by-product of a “conscious strategy by Iran to wage asymmetrical warfare against the U.S.” Unfortunately, as evidenced by the State Department’s 2012 Country Report on Terrorism as well as the scarce attention paid in the mainstream media, whether print or broadcast, both have tended to minimize this threat.
At a time when the southern border of the U.S. with Mexico, especially in places along the Arizona and Texas borders, has become a virtual war zone, according to sheriffs and ranchers living there, Hizballah and other Islamic terrorist organizations are taking full advantage of that deteriorating security situation. The composition of the flow of illegal border crossers has changed in recent years, according to accounts given this author, who visited the border in September 2013. That flow increasingly is made up of either militarized columns of drug mules, (complete with armed escorts toting AK-47s and scouts with sniper rifles and hi-tech commo gear guarding the high ground on both sides of the border along their routes), or dedicated cartel operations to bring ‘special interest aliens’ (be they al-Qa’eda, al-Shabaab, or Hizballah) across the border and into the U.S. A July 22, 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) disclosed that “some Mexican drug trafficking organizations specialize in smuggling special-interest aliens into the United States.” “Special interest aliens” are defined as those from places that pose a terrorist threat to the U.S. Ranchers tell of finding abandoned prayer rugs and Qur’ans on their land, while the special night vision cameras they set up catch images of border crossers who drop to the ground, facing towards the east, to pray just as the sun is coming up.
According to frustrated sheriffs along the border, like Arizona Pima County Sheriff Paul Babeau and then-Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever who appeared on FOX News in 2011, Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) officers are deeply frustrated by explicit orders not to find illegal border crossers even when they know there are thousands of them crossing by the week. According to Dever, CPB in Arizona is under orders from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Washington, D.C. to “keep apprehension numbers down…” This author was told the same thing in September 2013, when the “turn south” policy was explained: CPB officers wielding flashlights and sticks advance in a line across the desert at night when they know there will be hundreds of illegal border crossers in a particular area, and literally beat the bushes to drive the illegals back towards and across the Mexican border. This accomplishes nothing of a serious nature, but helps to keep those apprehension numbers down. DHS representatives naturally deny any such thing is occurring. And aside from local Arizona papers and a few conservative outlets, there is little attention paid to America’s increasingly porous and increasingly dangerous southern border. The desperation there is real and it is growing.
The current six-month deal with Iran is all about the future development and uses of Iran’s nuclear program. In the meantime, Hizballah is still generally viewed as an Iranian backed militia situated in Lebanon, operating as a surrogate fighting force against Israel and on behalf of the Syrian regime. But in fact it has grown into an international threat of enormous proportions that must be confronted regardless of the outcome of the current negotiations with Iran. ##