Russia, Iran, and Hizballah Expand Their Presence in Venezuela to Support Nicolas Maduro

The Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro—who has held on to the reins of power after his country’s national assembly declared Juan Guaidó the legitimate president in January—has turned to his longtime allies in Moscow and Tehran for support as domestic unrest increases. In moves strongly reminiscent of their efforts to prop up Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the two countries have sent arms, military advisers, and possibly troops to Venezuela. Jay Solomon writes:

Russia is believed to have deployed around 150 military and security personnel in Caracas in recent months. Iran has commenced weekly flights to Caracas, potentially to ferry military supplies to Maduro. Meanwhile, Hizballah and Cuba have deployed a network of intelligence officials to help him maintain control of the military and the streets, according to Venezuelan and American officials briefed on the relevant intelligence.

If Maduro survives, Russia, Iran, and Hizballah would score another major victory against the West, essentially replicating their defense of Assad in the Western Hemisphere at a much lower cost in lives and treasure. They would also solidify a beachhead in Latin America through which to challenge U.S. allies while drawing from Venezuela’s enormous energy and mineral wealth. U.S. officials are particularly concerned about Hizballah’s ability to exploit the weakened state to generate more revenue from narcotics trafficking. . . .

[The Iranian flights to Venezuela] commenced just a week after Maduro’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, visited Lebanon and Syria to meet with two of Tehran’s closest allies: Assad and Hizballah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah. . . . The Iranian proxy militia has been active in Latin America for decades, often infiltrating Arab émigré populations to conduct operations. For example, investigators concluded that the group coordinated with Iran to bomb the Israeli embassy and Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s, with some senior Argentinian officials accused of complicity in the latter crime. More recently, the Treasury Department blacklisted the Lebanese Canadian Bank in 2011 on charges of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars of Latin American drug money into Hizballah accounts in Beirut.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism