Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy and Shia Islamist terror group based in Lebanon, poses a grave threat to the Jewish state. A senior Israeli military official recently claimed that if Israel faces war on its northern front, the Jewish state can expect to absorb 2,000 rockets per day from Hezbollah, the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronot reported.
As we speak, Lebanon is experiencing a major economic crisis and clashes recently broke out in Beirut between a Christian group and Hezbollah terrorists, after Hezbollah was protesting for the removal of a judge that is investigating the Beirut Port explosion, which many blame on Hezbollah’s ineptitude. These clashes left seven people dead. In such an atmosphere, Hezbollah could seek to target the State of Israel as a diversion, as Iran has already blamed Israel for the shooting at the Hezbollah protesters.
In Israel, the greatest fear is that these tensions could lead to rockets being fired from Lebanon into Israel. Last May, July and August, Palestinian terrorists did successfully fire missiles at Israeli cities and towns, although reportedly without the support of Hezbollah. However, should Hezbollah start supporting such rocket attacks, the situation could become far deadlier. Nevertheless, given the grave crisis presently in Lebanon, Hezbollah directly targeting Israel via rocket attacks is not as likely as the Shia terror group targeting Israelis abroad, perhaps in Africa and Latin America.
Israel Today spoke with prominent Middle East scholar Dr. Mordechai Kedar, who stated: “There are Israelis who are going to these places for business. They might be kidnapped in order to release terrorists. This is the main threat, and it is real. They don’t even have to cross over from Lebanon. All they have to do is kill someone, bury someone in Africa and then to only release info on where he is buried after terrorists are released. It is not hard for them to do such a thing. Of course, the country where they did it from might not like it and might take measures against Hezbollah. But if they do it in a country like Nigeria, where parts of it are Islamist, not much can be done.”
Dr. Kedar cited the case of Elhanan Tenenbaum, an Israeli who was kidnapped in 2000, who was held by Hezbollah for several years and then was released in a prisoner exchange together with the bodies of several Israeli soldiers. 435 terrorists were freed as part of that prisoner exchange. According to Dr. Kedar, Hezbollah could not only kidnap Israelis, but also can potentially recruit Israeli Arabs that travel to Africa and Latin America to do business as Hezbollah operatives. They could potentially be spies for the terror group or can assist the terror group with the narcotics trade.
Dr. Kedar added: “In addition, Hezbollah has the ability to attack Israeli interests, like embassies, to recruit local people and workers who work in the Israeli embassies in order to damage the communication system, to put malware into the computers which might damage or spy on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Everyone has their price. They might take a worker who has access to the computers just to put a flash drive on them. This will be enough, especially in Africa, where they don’t earn so much, if you pay them big money. This is the kind of harm that Hezbollah can cause in addition to its regular activities.”
Counter-terrorism expert Mathew Leavitt once wrote for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy: “At the height of the Lebanese civil war, Hezbollah clerics began planting agents and recruiting sympathizers among Arab and Muslim immigrants in the Tri-Border-Area of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.” He called this area of Latin America a “terrorist safe haven” and “counterfeiting capital,” which made it “a natural safe haven for operatives seeking to build financial and logistical existing Hezbollah support networks within existing Shia and Lebanese diaspora communities.”
Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, wrote an article for the Began-Sadat Institute for Strategic Studies, which concurred with Leavitt: “On January 6, 2021, the Gulf news network Al Arabiya published an explosive revelation. In late 2016, a high-placed Hezbollah operative named Nasser Abbas Bahmad came to what is known as the Tri-Border Area (TBA), where the frontiers of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. His apparent mission: establish a supply line of multi-ton shipments of cocaine from Latin America to overseas markets in order to generate funds for the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah.”
According to Ottolenghi, “Over the past decades, Hezbollah 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.”
A recent report in MEMRI highlighted that Lebanese media personality Baria Alamuddin wrote for the Saudi-daily Arab News that since the GCC countries banned shipments from Hezbollah, the group is utilizing Latin America and Africa as transit points for the narcotics trade, which she warned could be the closest Tehran gets to achieving its goal of “death to America.” Nevertheless, she added: “West Africa has become a preferred option, with 450,000 Captagon pills turning up at a port in Lagos, discovered as a result of Saudi-Nigerian cooperation. GCC authorities have also discovered millions of Captagon pills in West African shipments of cocoa.”
According to Alamuddin, “Cote d’Ivoire has an 80,000-strong Lebanese diaspora who dominate about 50 percent of the economy, while Hezbollah-affiliated mafia elements play major roles in the narcotics trade. Cote d’Ivoire is a major transit point for money laundering, with numerous instances of youths being stopped trying to carry suitcases containing millions of dollars back to Lebanon. Other West African states such as Guinea, Togo, the Congo, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, have played pivotal roles in Hezbollah operations, involving money laundering, weapons proliferation, drugs and organized crime.”
“One 2021 calculation suggests that this activity nets the group about $1 billion a year, probably in the same ballpark as the stipends Hezbollah receives from Iran,” she added. “With the annual worldwide narcotics trade worth about $500 billion, this could be a gross underestimate. As Lebanon’s economy continues its remorseless slide, the day may come soon when this Hezbollah black economy comes to dominate Lebanon’s markets, with the risk that country permanently descends into being a narco state.”
In conclusion, Alamuddin stated: “Iran and Hezbollah are meanwhile involved in millions of dollars’ worth of weapons shipments, to Yemen, Africa, Iraq, and a host of other war-wracked states. Thus, we have a perfect storm, with the narcotics trade being used to fund terrorism and paramilitarism. Yet still I encounter a remarkable lack of curiosity about these issues among diplomats and journalists.”
Although the threat that Hezbollah poses to Israel in Africa and Latin America is under the radar screen in the Jewish state, this does not mean that it should not be taken seriously. A couple of weeks ago, Iran threatened Israeli businessmen in Cyprus, forcing one who lived on the island to flee. Fortunately, the Mossad was able to uncover the plot before anything happened.
However, this happened only because Cyprus is a country that Israelis know well, as it is geographically close to Israel and is part of the European Union. If the same threat came up in Africa or Latin America, perhaps the results would have been different, as Israelis are not paying enough attention to what happens there. This should be a warning sign that Israelis need to start paying attention.