Hezbollah in Latin America

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With so much attention paid on Iran’s nuclear interests, there has been another threat growing beneath the surface for decades that is far closer to home. The Iranian funded terrorist group, Hezbollah. The Lebanese founded paramilitary organization has been around since the 80’s and was created with the goal of reclaiming land from Israel. They have repeatedly stated their hatred of the Jewish state and are determined to see its end. It’s in that belief that they found an ally in Iran.

On March 17, 1992, a suicide bomber smashed an explosives-filled car into the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people. This was the first major international terrorist attack in the Western Hemisphere. In 1994, another car crashed into the Jewish Center of Argentina, once again in Buenos Aires, killing 85 and injuring hundreds — the deadliest terrorist attack in Latin American history. Hezbollah was responsible for both attacks.

Only a few decades after establishing a presence in Argentina, Hezbollah has built up its power in Latin America. The U.S. State Department warned that Hezbollah has continued to maintain strength in the region with large numbers of supporters, infrastructure, and fundraising power through businesses both criminal and legal. Hezbollah relies on existing networks of weapons sales, narcotics, pirated goods, human trafficking, counterfeiting, and money laundering for its gain.

One way to fight against the growing terrorist foothold in Latin America would be for the Organization of American States (OAS) and all member countries to formally designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group. This unanimous designation would help provide the necessary finances and resources for international law enforcement and intelligence organizations to tackle the problem together.

This past May, President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal set up during the Obama administration and promised to reinstate the economic sanctions against the country in an attempt to deter them from continuing their nuclear development program. Since then world leaders and the media have watched and waited to see if Iran will become the nuclear threat that so many fear.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has talked in depth about the fall out of the U.S.’s departure from the Nuclear deal. The CEO of FDD, Mark Dubowitz, laid out the key points. Click here to learn more about Mark.

The early leaders of Hezbollah were inspired in part by the teachings of Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the 1979 revolution in Iran. Iran saw the value in having a proxy military force who could fight Israel on their Southern border and assisted by providing training through the Iran Revolutionary Guard and direct financial assistance. Some estimates suggest that Iran pays Hezbollah between $100 and $200 Million a year.

Beyond the threat that Hezbollah poses to Israel, the organization has launched numerous attacks abroad in Europe, North America, and South America. In Latin America, Hezbollah has managed to create a home base and has even had a great deal of success with financing through various criminal enterprises, including diamond smuggling, money laundering, fraud, and drug production.

Many countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The European Union only acknowledges the military wing of Hezbollah, as a terrorist entity despite calls to designate the entirety of Hezbollah. It’s the Latin American nations, however, that have the most incentive to act.

A joint operation would make it significantly easier for financial institutions to provide intelligence that might help track Hezbollah’s movement. The OAS has the power to put a severe dent in the money-making wing of the terrorist organization and doing so is vital to keep the Americas from becoming the next terrorist battleground.