Understanding Hizballah’s Sprawling South American Crime Syndicate

July 29 2021

Sunday marked the 27th anniversary of Hizballah’s bloody bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which demonstrated to the world the long reach of the Lebanon-based terrorist group. But its presence in Latin America goes far beyond plotting attacks: located on the continent is the heart of its global criminal empire, which Hizballah uses to supplement the income it receives from its masters in Tehran. Emanuele Ottolenghi, drawing on detailed and extensive research, explains the inner workings of the group’s illicit operations, and its recent attempt to relocate networks disrupted by the U.S. and Europe to the tri-border area (TBA), where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil meet.

Over the past decades, Hizballah has built a well-oiled, multibillion-dollar money-laundering and drug-trafficking machine in Latin America that cleans organized crime’s ill-gotten gains through multiple waypoints in the Western hemisphere, West Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Traditionally, Hizballah used the TBA’s illicit economy as a hub for money-laundering—less so for cocaine trafficking. For years, Hizballah-linked drug traffickers in the TBA moved only relatively small quantities of cocaine. Multi-ton shipments are another story.

That, Ottolenghi argues, has started to change, as the Shiite militant group has expanded its operations into shipping large amounts of cocaine across the globe.

Why would drug cartels embrace the business arm of a Shiite radical millenarian terror group? The short answer is that purveyors of dirty money are ecumenical, and Hizballah itself has never been picky about the bona fides of its financial partners. In fact, U.S. court cases reveal that Hezbollah has assiduously cultivated relations with organized crime across the world for some time. These relations are crucial to its operations.

Hizballah established its largest financial laundromat in Latin America, and now, despite efforts by U.S. and South American law-enforcement agencies, it is running at full speed and bankrolling the arming of enemies of America and Israel.

By constructing a financial laundromat run through local supporters [in Paraguay], Hizballah has become a permanent staple of the landscape, providing logistical and financial services to organized crime—for a fee, of course. And given Paraguay’s widespread corruption—the country ranks among the most corrupt in the world—it was easy to buy friends in key positions in law enforcement, the judiciary, government, and the media to keep the wheels greased and turning.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Crime, Drugs, Hizballah, Iran, Latin America

 

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia