Trump Hands Iran Victory

For all of Donald Trump’s differences from his predecessor, during the presidential campaign he largely followed the same footsteps as Barack Obama when it came to to foreign-policy. They both agreed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were poorly managed and they both had similar visions for trade with Europe. One area where the two couldn’t be further apart however, is Iran.

In fact, one of President Trump’s most divisive acts was upending a piece of flagship legislature put into place by the previous administration. The nuclear agreement with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was referred to by Donald Trump as the “worst deal ever.” The Foundation for Defense of Democracies CEO, Mark Dubowitz notes that unlike President Obama the current administration’s rhetoric regarding Iran has been far from sugar-coated. Learn more about Mark Dubowitz here.

President Trump had little interest in being diplomatic with Tehran. As he promised, the nuclear deal was ended and sanctions were brought back, but for the most part his administration’s military advisors were able to deal with concerns about blowback in the Middle East and managed to contain Iran’s presence in Syria.

The relative success of President Trump’s controversial decision makes it even more bizarre what he did next. The announcement that the U.S. would withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria and reduce our military presence in Afghanistan left a lot of people shaking their heads for the consequences it would mean for our allies in the region. What’s more concerning though, is the effects the decision will have on the US’s efforts to enforce policies meant to prevent Iran from funding terrorism. Many experts suggest that it will only be a positive for the totalitarian regime.

The President’s threats against Iran were clear about what lines they needed to stop crossing – in short, supporting terrorist organizations in Lebanon and Palestine such as Hezbollah. However he did not state in what way these lines would be enforced. With a minimized military presence in the region the President has left himself few options to enforce his will besides sanctions, which Iran has shown little reverence for in the past.
The most baffling aspect of Trump’s decision to the experts is that it runs counter to the position held by the majority of Democrats and Republicans who believe the U.S. should maintain a military presence in Syria. For little cost and risk of US casualties our troops have provided a stopper against Russian, Iranian and ISIS aggressors and served as back up to our European allies in the region. It’s unclear what the President’s long-term plan is, if he has one, but one thing is certain, so far it looks good for Iran. Stay in the loop as the story progresses.

Hezbollah Global Finance

History of Hezbollah

Hezbollah first came into existence in 1985 with the official, objective, of expelling Americans and other Western powers from Lebanon. Thanks to a large part, in training, from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah’s military strength has grown to surpass the scale, and power of the Lebanese Army. Such extreme control, in addition to the widespread support of Hezbollah’s power, has led many to describe Hezbollah as a “state within a state”. With the ability to collect taxes within their region, as well as exert influence over local radio and TV stations, and provide fully funded social services – Hezbollah has managed to stand apart from various extremist groups in the region, as a form of self-governance.

However, despite Hezbollah’s high regard amongst Lebanese citizens, it is undeniably a lawless terrorist organization with a record rivaling AL Qaeda. Such attacks included frequent truck and suicide bombings. The targets have included the U.S. and French military and government forces, but have largely been focused on civilian Jewish communities ranging from Europe to Southeastern Asia and to South America. To understand how Hezbollah accomplishes its missions, it’s important to see where the money for training, and supplies, flow from.

Iran

For years Hezbollah has claimed to earn most of its revenue through donations from private citizens, as well as earnings through various investments, but Western intelligence agencies dispute these claims. Evidence suggests that, since its formation, Hezbollah has been dependent on Iran for the majority of its training, weapons, and financial aid to carry out all its operations. Some experts speculate that Iran provides Hezbollah up to $100 million a year or more.

In exchange, Hezbollah acts as Iran’s proxy in their conflict with Israel. The conflict between the Jewish nation and Palestine has long been stoked by outside forces and Hezbollah is often the primary party responsible. To get a sense of the extent of Iran and Hezbollah’s ties one only needs to look at Hezbollah’s formation when Iran provided the initial training necessary to get Hezbollah’s forces into fighting shape.

In light of Iran’s blatant aggression towards the West through its partnership with Hezbollah, many experts believe sanctions shouldn’t be lifted until the terms of a nuclear agreement that prohibit such financing are set into place. The past deal signed into law, by then, President Obama, and was lifted this year, by president Trump; called for the dissolution of Iran’s nuclear program – but had no such language regarding the extremist faction. Click here to read more.

Even more alarming, than the faulty nuclear agreement, is the recent allegations that the US made payments as high as 33.6 billion to the Iranian government, as a form of economic relief. Mark Dubowitz, from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, recently spoke on Fox News about the nature of these payments and their potential consequences. Click here to watch Mark Dubowtiz on YouTube.

Donations

Beyond Iran’s considerable financial involvement, Hezbollah earns a great deal of money from other sources and is in no way dependent on the Middle Eastern power. Every year Hezbollah manages to raise millions of dollars from private donors all throughout the world, mostly from wealthy Lebanese expatriates living in Africa, and South America. In one instance reported by Israeli intelligence, a transfer of $2 million was carried out by a human courier in Senegal (the second-highest rate of Hezbollah fundraising in Africa) made up entirely of donations by Lebanese business groups. The group claimed the money exchange was intended to avoid taxes.

Charities

To hide their fundraising activity, Hezbollah uses various charities to obscure the sources and eventual destination of money raised. The AL-Aqsa International Foundation, a terrorist financing scheme banned by the United States, Germany, and Great Britain raised funds for Hezbollah as part of a joint money laundering operation with the Palestinian group Hamas.

The “Martyr’s Organization” supplies finances to the family of suicide bombers. Many other charities donate to the group out of ideological motivation. Such tactics allow money to travel to Hezbollah from Western nations without financial institutions being aware of the deceit.

Criminal Enterprises

Thanks to its wide criminal network and well-trained operatives Hezbollah has found great success raising money through criminal means, such as diamond smuggling, money laundering, various types of fraud and electronic finance schemes, and drug production. These groups operate all over the world and have an elaborate system of transportation and money management built to avoid detection. Members of U.S. law enforcement agencies have stated that there is significant money moved out of the United States for terrorist operations each year. As much as $30 million dollars is generated from illicit scams in the United States alone.

Terror in The West

According to the Foreign Policy and the Observer Piece written by Emanuele Ottolenghi (FP) and Bridget Johnson (Observer)… Terror is in the West. Iran and Hezbollah have been generating a great influence in Latin America, with what can be seen as diplomatic gestures. In reality, Iran and Hezbollah are utilizing these foreign connections to strengthen their illegal activities. Alberto Nisman, an Argentinian prosecutor was murdered in 2015 during his attempt to expose the Iran connection between the “bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community center in Buenos Aires,” that occurred in 1994, Johnson states. This bombing killed 85 innocent people and when it came time for an investigation, former Argentine President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, decided to let the Islamic Republic investigate this crime on its own.

Johnson accuses Kirchner of being fully aware of the crime, stating that “Iran and its partners were behind the bombing.”But she signed off on the agreement anyway. Nisman began investigating the officials who signed the truth commission while Kirchner was busy firing the people involved in the investigation. The day Nisman was going to present his 288-page report to the federal judge charging those involved with an obstruction of justice and aggravated cover-up, he was found murdered with a shot to the head. Nisman’s report included findings discussing how “Argentia would profit from oil and grain deals while the Iranians wanted for the bombing would get off the Interpol Red Notice,” according to Johnson. And this is just the beginning.

Mark Dubowitz of Foundation for Defense of Democracies discusses this topic here. FDD’s Toby Dershowitz and Serena Frechter wrote in a policy brief that Hezbollah is currently on trial in Paris for their criminal activity in South America and the laundering of millions in euros in this area — similar to the situation between Hezbollah and the U.S.

It’s no secret that Latin America’s Triple Frontier (the border area shared by Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil) plays an important role in illicit activity. United States policymakers have neglected the Triple Frontier for over a decade, but recent federal investigations have brought to light multi-billion-dollar schemes run by Hezbollah. Earlier in the year, the Trump administration decided to pull away from the Iran nuclear deal and days after doing so, Washington “ramped up sanctions against Hezbollah,” Ottolenghi states. However, many are confused about where the U.S. stance and their policies currently lie. For example, the United States is against Hezbollah but supports “Lebanese State Institutions.” Because Lebanese State Institutions are run almost entirely by the Hezbollah, Ottolenghi believes that the “White House ends up undermining its own pursuit of the group’s illicit sources of finance.” This clear contradiction is being displayed in Paraguay now.

Ottolenghi states that there is evidence Hezbollah is “sending senior officials to the Triple Frontier to coordinate these activities” and that even “local operatives are involved in the local boom of cocaine trafficking.” While the U.S. Treasury was busy announcing the new Hezbollah sanctions, “Paraguayan authorities raided Unique SA, a currency exchange house”, Ottolenghi states. Farhat, the owner of this currency exchange house, was arrested for laundering $1.3 million in drug money. Farhat is said to be a member of the “Business Affairs Component”, Hezbollah’s External Security Organization. This organization is responsible for overseeing illicit finance and drug trafficking “overseas,” Ottolenghi explains .U.S. authorities are seeking to extradite Farhat, a sign that his actions have impacted the U.S. bank system. However, the Lebanese government is doing its best to prevent this from happening.

Hezbollah has chosen to push back by leveraging local influence through the Lebanese Embassy, Ottolenghi informs. Unfortunately, the Lebanese Embassy is considered a “state institution” one Washington looks forward to using as a “counterweight,” Ottolenghi explains. In May 2018, Hassan Hijazi, “the Lebanese charge d’affairs” in Asunción, sent a letter to Paraguay’s attorney general asking her to reject the request. Paraguayan authorities are apparently cooperative with the U.S., but they are also experiencing pressure from Lebanese Hezbollah.

An article in Foreign Policy states that for businesses like this to run smoothly, “such schemes rely on the complicity of local authorities, who rarely check incoming and outgoing merchandise that traverses the Triple Frontier weekly,” including through Ciudad Del Este’s Guaraní International Airport “by cargo plane from Dubai and the United States.” Just last year, Paraguay extradited a Lebanese drug trafficker to Miami who had ties to Hezbollah and was caught with shipping cocaine. Authorities found that in this case, the suspect was conspiring to ship “100 kilograms of cocaine a month to a Houston business associate by air cargo,” Ottolenghi states. Another similar case, also in Miami, had been investigated by the local FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, “mentions a weekly Miami-Ciudad Del Este cargo flight as the conduit for delivery of counterfeited electronics,” Ottolenghi continues. All at the same airport.

There is a fear that Farhat won’t be convicted if tried domestically, because of the history of “lost opportunities to go after Hezbollah in Paraguay.” Two Hezbollah criminals escaped a Paraguay penitentiary during a transfer between prisons last December. This, along with Asunción’s failure to enforce the “decade-old U.S. sanctions against Triple Frontier-based Hezbollah operatives, many of whom continue to live and trade on the Paraguayan side of the border” seems to lessen Ottolenghi’s confidence in them bringing these culprits to justice.

Ottolenghi believes the U.S. should send a clear message to Hezbollah, Hijazi, and Gebran Bassil- the Lebanese Foreign Minister. The message being: “You can get U.S. aid or you can do Hezbollah’s bidding. But you cannot do both at the same time and get away with it.” Ottolenghi also believes that the U.S. needs to give Paraguay some sort of reassurance, “ that punishing the envoy and extraditing the culprit is the right course of action.”

Ottolenghi knows that Washington will work with the Paraguayans to “bring Farhat to justice” and hopes that it inspires more dismantling of any other large schemes supporting Hezbollah’s finances in this particular region. In the end, Ottolenghi calls on Washington to recognize the Lebanese institutions as enablers, not counterweights.

 

References

Johnson, B. (2017, December 26). Western Shame: Tolerating Terrorists for Political Expediency. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from https://observer.com/2017/12/what-iran-and-hezbollah-want-with-latin-america/ 

Ottolenghi, E. (2018, June 15). Lebanon Is Protecting Hezbollah’s Cocaine Trade in Latin America. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/06/15/lebanon-is-protecting-hezbollahs-cocaine-and-cash-trade-in-latin-america/