Hezbollah – Next Door

by Mustang

Hezbollah (also the “Party of God”) is a Lebanese Shia Islamist militant group led by Hassan Nasrallah.  Hezbollah is the militant wing of a Shia Jihad Council; its political wing is the Resistance Bloc Party in the Lebanese Parliament.  Civilized nations have designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.  Lebanon, Iraq, and Russia are not among them.

Hezbollah Flag“Hezbollah Flag” by upyernoz is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Lebanese clerics adopted the model established by Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iranian Revolution of 1979.  The organization of Hezbollah was an Iranian effort, through funding and the dispatch of a core group of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to aggregate a variety of Lebanese Shia groups into a unified organization to resist Israeli occupation.

According to some, Hezbollah has grown more powerful than the Lebanese Army.  With control over radio and television stations, social services, and operational control over paramilitary fighters in other countries, Hezbollah, with financial support from Iran and Syria, has become a state within a state.

Hezbollah is responsible for carrying out terrorist attacks in Israel, Lebanon, Kuwait, Argentina, Panama, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Bulgaria.  In Latin America, Hezbollah was responsible for the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the Argentina Jewish Center in 1994.  In both incidents, Hezbollah murdered 114 people.  The bombing in 1994 was the first Hezbollah assault outside Lebanon or the Middle East.  The Hezbollah terror network is also suspected of downing Alas Chiricanas Flight 00901 in Panama one day after the Argentina Jewish Center.

Note: No one should be foolish enough to think that Hezbollah’s terrorist network is confined to Latin America. The Hezbollah terror network that moved from Lebanon to Colombia and the tri-border area between Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina to carry out the 1994 bombings, remains active today.  Known as Unit 910 (also its External Security Organization (ESO)), Hezbollah is popularly supported in Latin America because it co-opted Lebanese families living throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands.

Presently, 300,000 Shia Moslems live in the United States; they receive their religious instruction from Shia mosques, the largest of which is in Dearborn, Michigan.  If Lebanese immigrants residing in Central and South America can throw their support behind Hezbollah, there is no reason to think that Lebanese living in the United States would not do the same.

Since 1994, Hezbollah has morphed from a terrorist network into a narcotics cartel.  Of the more than 2,000 individuals identified as narcotics associates, 200 affiliate with Hezbollah.  Today, Hezbollah’s business affairs component (HBAC) directs and manages its growing money-laundering schemes and multi-ton shipments of cocaine.  Hezbollah’s involvement in drug trafficking is not new.  Since 1994, Hezbollah kingpins have invested in media outlets, established numerous investment mechanisms and cash/credit businesses to help launder illicit revenues.

One of these, the most notable, is Al-Inmaa Engineering and Contracting, whose managing director carries a Venezuelan passport.  Other business enterprises involve textile industries, beef, charcoal, electronics, tourism, real estate, and construction firms.  In 2018, the US Justice Department listed Hezbollah as one of the world’s top five transnational criminal organizations.

Naming Hezbollah (along with three Mexican cartels and the Central American criminal gang, popularly known as MS13) was a wake-up call for Latin American nations.  Most Latin American politicians did not know that Hezbollah had so thoroughly infiltrated their criminal elements.  Today, Hezbollah has become the principal hybrid threat to Latin American security.

For well over 150 years, beginning during the Ottoman Era, wave after wave of immigrants arrived in Venezuela from Lebanon, Syria, and Armenia.  Moslems, Christians, and Jews primarily settled in Margarita Island, Puerto Cabello, Punto Fijo, and La Guairá.  By 1975 (at the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War), tens of thousands of Lebanese migrated to Venezuela seeking safety.  At the time, Venezuela had a high standard of living, and the people were allowed to pursue their unfettered dreams by the government.

Hezbollah wasted no time exploiting transplanted Lebanese to build local support networks and did so, initially, without most Lebanese immigrants knowing about it.  Slowly, an army of logistics professionals, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and accountants, emerged from within the diaspora to raise money, conceal and move illicit funds, most of which funded Hezbollah’s global terror network.

Today, Hezbollah’s terrorist network operates through compartmentalized familial clan structures, now embedded within the Maduro regime’s illicit economy and its bureaucracy.  Many of these clans assimilated into the Maduro apparatus and bureaucracy; they are now high-ranking officials, have much to say about Venezuelan society, and these, in turn, are working their way into the political structures of neighboring countries.

Hezbollah’s crime-terror network in Colombia and Venezuela came to light in 2011.  Following a two-year investigation, law enforcement authorities arrested 130 criminals and seized $23 million of illicit funds that moved through West Africa into Lebanon through the Lebanese-Canadian Bank.  It was called Operation Titan.

Operation Titan was a joint Colombian-US effort started in 2008 targeting the Medellin Cartel, called La Oficina de Envigado.  The investigation connected Medellin to Lebanese families and communities and eventually to Hezbollah.  The investigation resulted in the collapse of Hezbollah’s transregional cocaine trafficking scheme through Ayman Saied Joumaa, a Colombian-Lebanese drug kingpin.  The United States indicted Joumaa for his involvement in drug trafficking with Los Zetas in Mexico. According to US federal authorities, he runs an extensive maritime shipping network tied to Hezbollah.  Sadly, Joumaa remains free.

Ali Mohamad Saleh, a prominent Shia businessman and Hezbollah kingpin facilitated a complex maze of cross-border trade and bulk-cash transactions between Colombia and Venezuela. It was more than drugs; it involved weapons, contraband, bulk-cash smuggling, and money laundering. Mohamad and his brother, Kassem, became Hezbollah’s primary Latin-American terror financiers in 2012. Colombian and US officials exposed Mohamad and Kassem, but they escaped to Venezuela.  Today, they are living in Maracaibo, working with another prominent Maduro-supported Lebanese clan.

The Saleh family is not the only terrorist clan operating with impunity in Venezuela.  Ghazi Nassereddine has been a person of interest to the Federal Bureau of Investigation since 2015.  Ghazi’s older brother, Abdallah, is a prominent businessman with substantial investments in real estate, commercial centers, and tourist traps.

Migrants from Lebanon, the Nassereddine rose to political prominence after Hugo Chávez became president of Venezuela.  Ghazi entered the foreign ministry, attaining official diplomatic status, and Abdallah worked his way into an important position within the United Socialist Party.  Ghazi used his position to establish relationships between Hezbollah operators, Venezuelan ministers, and military counterintelligence chief Carvajal Barrios.

The result of these interactions was a cocaine-for-weapons scheme between FARC[1] and Hezbollah.  FARC transferred cocaine to the Maduro regime, and a planeload of weapons arrived from Lebanon and found their way into Colombia.  Today, Ghazi directs a think tank called Global AZ; it has ties to France, Germany, and Italy.  Other members of Nassereddine run political indoctrination camps, paramilitary training camps, weapons and drug smuggling operations, and petroleum security operations.

Maicao is a historic commercial hub in La Guajira, Colombia.  It has a large concentration of Lebanese immigrants dating back to the 1800s.  In 2017, Colombian immigration officials deported a Lebanese-Hezbollah financier named Abdala Rada Ramel.  Ramel ran drug trafficking operations and a smuggling ring from Maicao to Cartagena.  Ramel bragged about his relationship with Hezbollah ESO leader Salman Raouf Salman — a known global terrorist thought to be instrumental in the 1992 and 1994 bombings.  Salman has more aliases than most people have socks.

Argentina issued an arrest warrant in 2009 and offered a $7 million reward for information leading to his capture.  Salman and his brother José Salman El Reda were instrumental in establishing Hezbollah support networks in Latin America.  Salman Raouf Salman and José Salman remain free.

Since 2014, US-Colombian joint investigations led to ten separate but interrelated kingpin designations and three federal indictments by the US federal government.  Involved in the convergence points were air and sea bridges between Venezuela, Iran, and Hezbollah.  It is a transregional threat that props up Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Concluding discussion

The situation in Venezuela is critical.  Millions of citizens are unable to access primary healthcare and adequate nutrition.  Most people have no access to safe water.  The Maduro government routinely commits atrocities against citizens, including extrajudicial executions, kidnapping, illegal incarceration, the summary court-martial of civilians, torture of detainees, and beatings of people the government declares as “trouble-makers.”

Venezuelan citizens today are fleeing repression and shortages of food, medicine, and medical supplies.  It is one of the most significant migration crises in recent Latin American history.  Some 5.5 of 32-million Venezuelans have fled their country since 2014.  Many of these forced immigrants remain in irregular status, meaning they cannot obtain work permits, send their children to school, or access health care.  This, in turn, subjects them to exploitation and abuse in their temporary refuges.

What can we do about any of this?  Actually, nothing.  But it is instructive to note that Venezuela regressed from a nation with a high standard of living to a fourth-world cesspool within the span of a single generation.  Latin American caudillos have been a plague among their people for two hundred years.  The list of them is long.  They all followed similar paths to achieve and maintain power.

Many met an untimely (but well-deserved) end … some met a much-deserved end but took their time achieving it.  Castro depended on Russia, and now Venezuela depends on Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.  The situation should elicit some empathy for these people, who have no guns to defend themselves nor any means of fighting for their liberty.  More disturbing, however, is that a lethal terrorist group has found its way into the political structure of Venezuela.  This cannot and will not end well for the Venezuelan people.

Meanwhile, there is a well-entrenched terrorist group in Central and South America, with swarms of illegal immigrants crossing the US border in Texas — people from Haiti, Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, and yes … Venezuela; people whose true identities we cannot ascertain.  And then, there are significant quantities of drugs flowing across the border, as well (as if hundreds of Covid-infected illegals weren’t enough).  Where is the fentanyl coming from?  According to the US DEA, it’s coming from China through Mexico.  According to the US DEA, 90,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2020 alone.

Oh, and one more thing.  In this toxic environment, the American people elected Joe Biden to lead their nation.


[1] Also, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC began as a guerrilla group in 1964 known to employ a variety of terrorist tactics.  Initially funded through kidnapping and ransom, illegal mining, and extortion.

Mustang also blogs at Fix Bayonets and Thoughts From Afar

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