The new world expansion of Hezbollah
Written by John C. Thompson
Wednesday, 25 August 2010 /jewish tribune

In the last 15 years, Hezbollah – on its own and as a proxy of Iran – rapidly expanded beyond the Middle East. Its recent entry into the cocaine trade makes it more dangerous yet.
Like al-Qaeda, Hezbollah’s ideology seeks the supremacy of Shari’a law and the global exultation of Islam. It seeks to supplant corrupt local governments, destroy Israel and defeat the United States. Hezbollah is capable of cooperating with Sunni terrorists against common enemies.

Although Iran’s junior partner, Hezbollah can operate on its own. Given Iranian support and 25 years of frequent clashes with Israel, Hezbollah has more expertise than any other Islamic terrorist group.

Hezbollah is well disciplined and always emphasizes intelligence gathering. Hezbollah’s political arm is a major Lebanese party, which lets it operate with impunity inside Lebanon.
It owns its own media services, as was evident in the fabricated ‘news’ that came out of Lebanon in 2006.

Hezbollah draws on charitable donations made by Lebanese Shiites, subsidies from Iran (much reduced for now) and from its own business activities. It has long been involved in organized crime; ‘taxes’ imports into Lebanon and takes a piece of transactions made by Lebanese Shiites abroad.

By 2010, Hezbollah had greatly reinforced its position in South Lebanon and now has more than 60,000 artillery rockets – some with the range to reach southern Israel. They have prepared four ‘brigades’ to capture Israeli border communities. Hezbollah has even drawn hundreds of new recruits from Palestinian groups. The threat it poses is rapidly growing. This makes examining its presence in the Americas even more important.

Lebanon’s population is around 4.2 million, but 10 to 11 million Lebanese are strewn around Africa and the Americas. Lebanese were the first Middle Eastern immigrants into North and South America; with some coming as early as the 1870s.

Not being as commercially oriented or as comfortable abroad as Christians and Sunnis, Lebanon’s Shiites were slow to follow, but they have come in increasing numbers since the 1970s.

Hezbollah startled the world by bombing the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992 and an Argentine synagogue in 1994. Attention was soon drawn to the tri-state area where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet. This area has been home to a lively smuggling industry. In 2000, Paraguayan authorities insisted there were 460 Hezbollah operatives in the region.
Venezuela has 130,000 Lebanese; over half of whom are Muslim. Since Hugo Chavez took power, international cooperation with Venezuelan police over Hezbollah has markedly declined. Chavez has been making overtures to Iran and Hezbollah.

By 2006 Chavez sent 500 men to train in Iran for “Oil Field Security” but he really seeks a large new militia composed of his supporters. The IRGC was eager to help train the new force’s cadre. Since March 2007, Iran Air has run a weekly scheduled flight from Tehran to Caracas, a sign of the growing ties between the two governments.
Shiite Islamic Missionaries are hard at work, especially among Wayuu Indians – a tribe with a strong militant tradition whose reserves overlap the Columbian/Venezuelan border. An organization named Autonomia Islamica Wayuu announced its presence in 2007 on a Hezbollah web site.

A March 2008 Colombian raid inside Ecuador killed a senior FARC leader Paul Reyes and captured laptop computers, which detailed involvement in the cocaine industry by senior Ecuadoran and Venezuelan government figures. The ties between Chavez and FARC were confirmed in July 2009 when anti-tank rockets surfaced among FARC guerrillas after having been sold to Venezuela.

After the Colombian government got the upper hand on the narco-guerrillas of FARC in 2008, it became clear that Venezuela and Hezbollah had an increasing role in the cocaine industry.

With the recent slump in oil prices, Hezbollah had seen diminished subsidies from Iran. However, the group is more prosperous than ever and is even picking up the tab for Iranian-backed insurgents in Yemen. Hezbollah is also becoming the world’s leading distributor of cocaine.

With its own ships and aircraft, Lebanese government connections and their international alliances, Hezbollah can make hundreds of millions of dollars annually from cocaine.
In March 2009, the DEA chief of operations stated Hezbollah was involved in Mexico’s drug cartels. The FBI noticed Hezbollah agents on the US-Mexican border in early 2009. In July 2010, Mexican authorities broke up a Hezbollah network in Tijuana.

Since 1945, 180,000 Lebanese have immigrated into the United States. Shiites now form the majority in some old Lebanese neighbourhoods, which also attract many Palestinian Arabs and are forming radicalized hubs.

Hezbollah uses the US for money raising, technology purchases and recruiting. The Hammoud brothers in North Carolina were a case in point. They shipped low-taxed cigarettes from the tobacco-growing state into Michigan and New York for the black market. Another businessman made illegal bulk purchases of cigarettes from Native smoke-shops in upstate New York and resold them in Detroit. Federal investigators found he had funneled $8 million back to Lebanon.

More modest cases involved grocery stores selling promotional products or condemned and stale-dated goods – with the proceeds going to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah continually plans possible attacks. Since 9/11, there have been hundreds of reports inside the US of hostile surveillance of hospitals, schools, emergency responders, office towers, power plants, refineries and public sites.

James Woolsey, former head of the CIA, told a Senate committee in February 2009 that Hezbollah identified 29 key targets whose destruction would – in the words of Iran’s president Ahmadinejad – “end Anglo-Saxon civilization.”

Like the United States, Canada has attracted Lebanese immigrants since the 1880s; most were French-speaking Christians until the 1970s.

Canada’s 2006 Census found 270,000 Canadians claiming Lebanese origin. The Hezbollah-Israeli clash of that year revealed that 50,000 had returned to Lebanon as dual citizens.
Lebanese Shi’ites came to Canada in the tens of thousands with Hezbollah members among them. Ali Adham Amhaz, Fauzi Ayub, Mohammed Hassan Dbouk, Mohammed Hussein al Husseini and Omar el Sayed are among Canadian residents identified as Hezbollah members in the past. At least one was recruited in Canada. Three purchased high-tech equipment for Hezbollah, two used scams to raise more than $1.3 million for it; another trafficked cocaine and heroin.

One of the five was arrested in Israel travelling on a Canadian passport to position gear for Hezbollah. One produced propaganda material in Lebanon as recently as 2007. At least two gathered intelligence for potential attacks inside Canada.

In 2008, CSIS monitored 20 Hezbollah members from four recently activated sleeper cells inside Canada. These conducted reconnaissance against targets in Canada in response to the February 2008 death of Imad Mugnniyah, Hezbollah’s master bomb-maker. After briefly sticking their periscopes up, Hezbollah’s Canadian assets have slid underwater again.
Hezbollah is the largest, best trained, best disciplined, best financed and best armed terrorist group in the world… and they are here.
**John Thompson is the president of the Mackenzie Institute, which studies organized violence and political instability.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 25 August 2010 )