The U.S. Should Think Twice Before Giving a Financial Boost to Hizballah’s Criminal Empire

Besides having a small army that has been fighting to prop up Bashar Assad’s rule in Syria, an estimated 150,000 missiles aimed at Israel in Lebanon (a country it more or less controls), and engaging in terrorist attacks on Jewish, Israeli, and American targets worldwide, Hizballah also runs a global crime syndicate that serves to fund its other activities. Money laundering for drug cartels forms the core of the Iranian proxy group’s illicit activities, but it also runs its own narcotics operation, smuggles illegal timber, and much else. Emanuele Ottolenghi provides an example:

[In April], Saudi officials seized more than 5 million Captagon pills hidden in a pomegranate shipment from Lebanon. They believe Hizballah is behind the shipment. Captagon, a powerful synthetic drug currently flooding both European and Gulf markets, is increasingly produced in Syria and the Hizballah-controlled Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. From there, it is smuggled out through the Syrian port of Latakia or directly from Lebanon, thanks to the ongoing cooperation between the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, who controls the production, and Hizballah, which manages the logistics. Shipments tied to this racket of Iranian proxies keep showing up in alarming quantities all over the Mediterranean.

But more than narcotics-trafficking is at stake here:

As if its criminal empire was not concerning enough, there is another dimension to Hizballah’s racketeering that should have Washington’s attention. The same international network that conducts Hizballah’s business operations also provides the infrastructure for terror attacks.

The Iranian regime has also engaged in brazen human trafficking and exploitation of refugees. The Department of State Trafficking in Persons 2020 Report documents how the Iranian regime forces “Afghan migrants, including children as young as twelve years old,” to fight in in Syria under threat of arrest and deportation. The report also highlights “a government policy or pattern of recruiting and using child soldiers, and a pattern of government officials perpetrating sex trafficking of adults and children with impunity.”

Yet the White House is currently considering a deal that will lift numerous sanctions on the Iranian regime, and make it harder to impose new ones. Ottolenghi concludes:

Let Iran reopen for business, and the surplus cash will fund a global criminal enterprise. Restoring the flow of money to Tehran’s coffers means Washington will no longer leverage sanctions, vigorously prosecute money launderers and drug traffickers, or impose steeper penalties on their enablers in order to disrupt the Iranian regime and its proxies’ criminal endeavors. Neither will it use diplomatic pressure on allies who have not yet designated Hizballah as a terror organization. Instead, Washington will be complicit in the survival and expansion of a band of criminals who want to harm U.S. national interests.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Drugs, Hizballah, Iran, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

 

How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign

In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:

In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.

Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.

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Read more at Politico

More about: Europe, Iran, Israeli Security, Terrorism