Fighting Hizballah Should Be on the U.S. Anti-Corruption Agenda

May 9, 2023 | Emanuele Ottolenghi
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In 2021, the Biden administration announced that countering corruption abroad should be considered a “core United States national-security interest,” and mobilized a variety of government resources to advance this agenda. Emanuele Ottolenghi finds this initiative laudable, but takes the White House to task for failing to connect it to the fight on terrorism and on the international drug trade, all of which are inextricably linked. Nowhere is this nexus more evident than in the activities of Hizballah:

Outside of Lebanon, Hizballah buys impunity from local scrutiny and prosecution for its illicit networks through bribery and corruption at the highest levels of government and local public administration. In Lebanon, it uses its influence and political power to buy impunity—through bribes—for those running illicit businesses. Such extensive corruption contributes to the erosion of good governance, weakens democratic institutions, undermines the rule of law, and empowers corrupt officials and politicians.

Corruption, then, is a critical tool in Hizballah’s strategy of funding itself through illicit activities, which has been underscored by previous Treasury Department designations against Hizballah operations in the Gambia, Guinea, and Paraguay. Since it is also a top foreign-policy priority for the Biden White House, the president should recognize that corruption is an integral element of Hizballah’s modus operandi, and target, through [sanctions], both sides of the corruption equation.

The crime-terror finance nexus is nothing new. Across the span of history and geography, terrorism has been self-financed, at least in part, through criminal activities. The Bolsheviks in tsarist Russia funded their subversive activities through crime—which catapulted a young Joseph Stalin to center stage in the party machine. More recently, Ireland’s Irish Republican Army, the Italian Red Brigades, the Basque ETA, Colombia’s FARC, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Islamic State all engaged in criminal activities to fundraise—including the illicit drug trade, human trafficking and organ harvesting, and trafficking in antiquities. Hizballah continues to be involved in a multiplicity of criminal activities, including, critically, money laundering on behalf of international criminal syndicates.

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