Hizballah Is Trying to Take Over the Lebanese Economy

Nov. 29 2018

In March, Hizballah’s leader Hasan Nasrallah declared in a speech that his group, which effectively controls the Lebanese parliament, would begin to focus on reducing government corruption and enacting financial and monetary reforms. Elisheva Simon explains that this was not mere propaganda but signaled a shift away from the longstanding arrangement whereby the terrorist group left the management of the Lebanese economy to its Sunni allies. She writes:

Nasrallah’s [rhetoric may appeal to] many in Lebanon who complain about the corruption that has spread to all sectors of life, especially in government offices and public administration. Yet, . . . since its inception, Hizballah has been a fundamentally corrupt body that has no loyalty to the state and even undermines its foundations. It is a terrorist organization whose main funding comes from a global trade in drugs and arms; it possesses an arsenal of weapons on par with a country; . . . it is engaged in smuggling by land, sea, and air; it is involved in civil wars (in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen), terrorist activity, and the subversion of regimes throughout the Arab world (Bahrain and Saudi Arabia); and it cooperates with crime and drug rings . . . in order to obtain their political support. . . .

Hizballah’s decision to intervene actively in the management of the economic and monetary sectors is evidently another step in [its evolution] from an Islamic organization that views the country as a corrupt and ruthless entity into an organization partnering fully not only with political institutions but also with the economic system and public administration. . . .

Hizballah’s leadership has [also] come to realize that harsher U.S. sanctions pose a serious threat to the revolutionary regime in Tehran. It will become increasingly difficult for the regime to finance the full spectrum of its revolutionary ambitions, including its many “tentacles” in Lebanon and elsewhere. Hizballah therefore has to focus on securing its own sources of funding and providing employment for its members and followers through ever-deeper engagement in Lebanon’s economic and financial spheres of activity.

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Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies

More about: Hizballah, Iran sanctions, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs

Hizballah Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela