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

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