Tony Badran

Hezbollah acts local, thinks global

A couple of recent arrests have once again shined the spotlight on the subject of Hezbollah’s global networks, namely its financial networks and illicit sources of funding worldwide. Some of these are based not only at the United States’ doorstep, but actually within its borders.
On June 3, it was reported that a Lebanese couple was arrested in Ohio for attempting to smuggle $500,000 to Hezbollah in the hollow sections of a vehicle. Then last week, Interpol announced that it had arrested Moussa Hamdan (a dual Lebanese-American national who was indicted in the US last year) on suspicion of funneling money to Hezbollah in Ciudad del Este, on the Paraguayan side of the notorious tri-border area where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet. Hezbollah has allegedly set up a lucrative base in this region from which to finance its operations.
The Ohio couple was not the first to be held in the US this year on charges of Hezbollah-related smuggling. For instance, back in February, three Florida businessmen were arrested for smuggling game consoles and other electronics to a mall in Paraguay, which was identified by the US Treasury Department as a Hezbollah front establishment. The episode highlighted the potential danger posed by the party’s logistical bases in South America.
The question of Hezbollah’s finances remains somewhat obscure, and the militia’s budget continues to be the subject of speculation. Hezbollah watchers regularly note that the group receives anywhere from $100 to $200 million a year from its patrons in Iran (a sum that may have been increased substantially in 2006 to cover for the losses suffered in that year’s war and the compensation effort that followed).
Hezbollah is also said to depend on an array of illicit enterprises the world over. According to a 2004 report by the American Naval War College, Hezbollah raises $10 million annually in the tri-border region alone. This is not to mention its assets in Africa and the Persian Gulf, or, for that matter, in the US. These ventures are said to cover such activities as contraband (for example cigarette smuggling); CD, DVD and software pirating; fraud schemes; money laundering; counterfeit currency (with Iranian help); and, according to media reports and official testimonies, narcotics trafficking, and the trade in diamonds.
As in Lebanon, Hezbollah embeds itself in tightly-knit Shia communities of the diaspora. In this way it makes it difficult for law enforcement and other agencies to penetrate their networks.
In the course of discussing the group’s sources of funding with a reporter in 2004, Hezbollah parliamentarian Mohammad Raad noted that the party also counted on the support of “wealthy Shia.” Raad was being truthful. When Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 crashed off the Lebanese coast this year, one passenger, Hassan Tajeddin, received the Hezbollah equivalent of a state funeral. Tajeddin was identified as the owner of the Angola-based Arosfran Company, which he ran with his brothers. One of the firm’s board members, Kassim Tajeddin, was designated by the US Treasury Department in May of last year.
The Treasury declared that Kassim and his brothers ran several cover companies for Hezbollah in Africa. Kassim had also “contributed tens of millions of dollars to Hezbollah and has sent funds to Hezbollah through his brother, a Hezbollah commander in Lebanon.” He was also previously imprisoned in Belgium on charges of large-scale tax fraud, money laundering and trade in conflict diamonds.
Another Tajeddin, this one named Ali, also said to be involved in the conflict-diamond trade, is better known in Lebanon for buying swaths of real estate in Druze and Christian areas. In this way, he has helped provide geographical continuity between Lebanon’s disparate Shia areas, in which Hezbollah has allegedly established “security zones.”
Much in the same way that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has set up multiple business ventures, Hezbollah is partnering with Shia businessmen in the diaspora, voluntarily or through coercion and intimidation. This is not without consequences for the Shia communities abroad. For instance, in October of last year, news broke that the Emirati authorities had deported dozens of Lebanese Shia, perhaps more, on suspicion of working with Hezbollah.
Aside from embedding themselves with local diaspora communities and taking advantage of lawless areas in weak or failed states, Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons have also allegedly collaborated with accomplice states such as Venezuela. There, the US Treasury has designated Ghazi Nasreddin as a Hezbollah facilitator and financier employed by the Venezuelan government.
The US authorities view these Latin American bases and transit routes (through Mexico) with much concern for the potential threat they pose for US national security. For example, it has been suggested that bombings in Buenos Aires during the early 1990s were planned in the tri-border area, and that the highest echelons of the Iranian regime were also implicated.

When Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, declared, after the 2008 assassination of the group’s military commander, Imad Mugniyah, that he was ready for “open war” well beyond the Lebanese theater of operations, he wasn't exaggerating. As has been evident from the early 1990s, Hezbollah has by many accounts been setting up a global infrastructure to support such a capacity.

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

  • samisax

    Jean, Hizbollah wasn't the original resistance. The resistance was a collection of leftist groups, headed by the LCP, fighting the Capitalist West, spearheaded by Israel. Hizbullah came to the scene after the Taef Accord marginalized the left in favor of the right. Our country has been a battleground for all the right wingers ever since, and we can barely spell progress now. And we have no industry. Forget about Fortune 500. Maybe Bankrupt 500.

    June 23, 2010

  • Hassan Ali Hussaini

    Another fact and for the record, something anyone can check, the Lebanese treasury has always allocated to the South more than it's fair share of the states budget and the people of the south should ask the politicians they voted for since 1948 what happened to those funds.

    June 23, 2010

  • Hassan Ali Hussaini

    "Jean" you are reality challenged I'm afraid. From 1948 to 1969 our southern border was mostly quiet under the 1949 armistice agreement save a few skirmishes between the Israeli and Lebanese border guards and the occasional PLO incursion without forgetting the Syrian invasion and occupation of the Shebaa area which they were not able to defend and surrendered to the Israeli army in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. After the 1969 Cairo agreement of doom for Lebanon the PLO had a free reign along our Southern border going further that anything the Cairo agreement had allowed with the full backing of so called "progressive nationalists". In fact the PLO was "kicked out" as you put it by the Israeli invasion of 82 the only thing Hezballah or Islamic resistance (call it what it is) "kicked out" was the Lebanese resistance by murdering it's leaders in the late 80's and early 90's those are the facts.

    June 23, 2010

  • Michael Dar

    You have no idea Monsieur Jean what a "battleground" Lebanon will look like once Hizbollah will have taken over the whole of Lebanon..which is not that far away. Unless the Lebanese do something about it..and kwickly. Hisbollah doesn'l care about Lebanon which is only a small step in the global world Jihad! And it is Israel's actions who drove Arafat and gang out of Lebanon and it is the Israeli politicians and public opinion who made the IDF get out of Lebanon not the "mighty" Hizbullah. South Lebanon will soon find out it was better off under Israelis occupation than in the war zone Hizbollah is setting in place!

    June 23, 2010

  • Georges Butros Estaphan

    Look south Lebanon was from 1948 until 1978 the endless battleground between Israeli and Palestinian forces, and for three decades the people there suffered endlessly as innocents in the crossfire - the Lebanese President and Parliament did nothing to help. So yes OK a resistance grew up and kicked out both the PLO and the IDF - get over it, that's history. The southerners aren't going to be put back in that position, no one is prepared to be a slave forever. In the meantime there at lots of other foreard looking things to think and occupy the writer's mind with!!! Like the highest GDP growth in Asia, strong performing banks and the Liban-based companies headed for the top 500. Cheer up buddy!

    June 23, 2010

  • Jackie Wright

    Hezbollah, exporting "enlightenment" to the world and beyond, branches in Iran (HQ), Lebanon (Warehouse), Iraq, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Germany, USA, Canada, Argentina, Columbia, Paraguay, Mexico and very soon to a neighborhood near you, franchises also available for inquiries please call !-...

    June 22, 2010