BY: Baria Alamuddin
While Lebanon bleeds, many essential medicines are unobtainable in mainstream hospitals and pharmacies. Yet in Hezbollah-land a parallel system of health facilities exists where a full spectrum of cheap Iran-imported drugs are readily available.
Hezbollah uses its control of the health ministry to systematically divert medical funds for its own purposes. Hospitals damaged by the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion, while treating thousands of injured blast victims, lost out on funds — but the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Rassoul Al-Azam Hospital, far from the blast zone, raked in $3.6m in additional funding. With its system of parallel ATMs from which dollars are miraculously available —parallel schools, parallel banks, parallel economies, parallel systems for paying salaries — Hezbollah is profiteering from Lebanon’s demise.
Hezbollah demands continued control over Lebanon’s finance, health and transport ministries precisely because the budgets and executive powers of these ministries multiply opportunities for criminal gain. Lebanon’s airport, ports and national borders are vital nodes for smuggling arms and narcotics. Lebanese financial institutions have been sanctioned for laundering funds for Iran.
Since Hezbollah’s 2018 State Department designation as one of the top five global criminal organizations, its criminal operations have massively increased, following explicit instructions from Tehran to “make money” any way it can to offset the impact of sanctions. Drug enforcement officials have been surprised to find Hezbollah criminal networks sometimes operating hand-in-hand with both Daesh operatives and Israeli criminal gangs to achieve this goal.
Hezbollah exports tons of the amphetamine-based drug Captagon throughout the Middle East and Europe,most of it produced in Hezbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon and Syria. A single 2020 seizure in Italy consisted of 84 million tablets worth $1.1bn.
Europol warns of intensified Hezbollah criminal activities “trafficking diamonds and drugs.” Between Africa and Europe, Hezbollah has used its Lebanese émigré connections to carve out a niche in the illegal diamond trade, as well as major arms-smuggling operations throughout Africa.
Two Hezbollah-linked Lebanese businessmen sanctioned by the US in 2019 for their role in illegally trading diamonds were also thought to be trading artworks by Warhol and Picasso for laundering purposes. The 2017 arrest of Ali Kourani highlighted Hezbollah’s efforts to deploy sleeper agents, identify attack targets, and engage in criminal activities in the US itself.
In 2011 a US Drug Enforcement Administration investigation highlighted the role of Hezbollah operative Ayman Jouma (still at large) in shipping an estimated 85 tons of cocaine into the US and laundering over $850 millionin drug money through various front companies, including the Lebanese Canadian Bank. Jouma’s labyrinthine trafficking network stretched from Panama and Columbia, via West Africa and back to Lebanon.
Although Hezbollah’s Latin American network (masterminded by the late Imad Mughniyeh) was initially based in the tri-border region of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, these operations have increasingly consolidated themselves in Maduro’s Venezuela.
Lebanese émigré clans operate vast narcotics networks embedded along the Venezuelan coast, primarily targeting the US. These clans enjoy intimate ties with Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela’s oil minister and specialenvoy to Iran, who has been sanctioned for his role in the drugs trade. In one 2020 scam, Aissami contracted the National Iranian Oil Company to fix several Venezuelan oil refineries. The refineries remain out of service, but Iran netted $1 billion in gold bars from Venezuela’s bankrupt economy.
Hezbollah’s international crime portfolio is primarily managed by Hassan Nasrallah’s cousin, Abdallah Safieddine, Hezbollah’s envoy to Tehran. Safieddine and Hezbollah official Adham Hussein Tabaja oversee a vast network of businesses active in tourism, real estate, beef, charcoal, electronics and construction that are essential for laundering Hezbollah’s criminal revenues. Bulk materials such as charcoal are frequently used as cover for smuggling cocaine.
In Iraq and Syria, Iran-backed Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary forces are part of these transregional smuggling rings. A crucial difference, particularly since the assassinations of Qassim Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, is that rival militias compete over territory and criminal opportunities, meaning that Iraq is torn apart by warring clans while citizens and their businesses are extorted for funds. These militias have made locations such as Basra world centers for crystal meth, and transit points for heroin and other contraband goods.
In southern Iraq, locals warn that a crackdown against Turkish alcohol, including paramilitary bomb attacks onshops, is motivated by aggressive efforts by Iran’s proxies to flood markets with infinitely more dangerous crystal meth and other Iran-sourced drugs. As one expert explained: “The drugs market rejoices in the misfortune of the alcoholic beverages market,” making Iraq the battleground between Turkey, the “mother of alcohol,” and Iran, the “mother of all drugs.”
Hezbollah’s spiritual advisers during the 1990s ruled that the narcotics trade was “morally acceptable if the drugs are sold to Western infidels as part of a war against the enemies of Islam.” Yet today, from Beirut to Tehran, these nations are plagued by millions of addicts, thanks to the theologically sanctioned criminality of the so-called “Party of God.”
One rarely discussed reason why Hezbollah and associates don’t want to put down their weapons is that Hassan Nasrallah, Hadi Al-Amiri, Ali Khamenei and their families manage billion-dollar criminal operations that make them unimaginably wealthy while their nations disintegrate as a direct consequence of these criminal enterprises.
In accordance with Israel’s predilection for panic-mongering about Hezbollah’s offensive capabilities, retired Israeli colonel, Eli Bar-On has been warning that Hezbollah’s firepower exceeded that of 95 percent of the world’s militaries. As usual, Al-Manar TV gleefully promoted Bar-On’s comments, proud of Hezbollah’s global-menace status.
I’ve always been proud to be Lebanese, but it’s a source of intense shame when the world sees our beautiful nation hijacked by Hezbollah’s corruption, criminality and terrorism.Baria Alamuddin
Too many states continue to ignore Hezbollah’s criminal and terrorist activities. Rather than Saad Hariri and French President Emmanuel Macron bending over backwards to meet Nasrallah halfway on government formation (with sympathetic Shiite appointees turning a blind-eye to long-running criminal operations), Hezbollah should be banished from politics altogether, and UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army should play a beefed-up role in combating industrial-scale smuggling and organized crime.
I’ve always been proud to be Lebanese, but it’s a source of intense shame when the world sees our beautiful nation hijacked by Hezbollah’s corruption, criminality and terrorism.
Iran and its mafioso affiliates represent one of the world’s largest and most lucrative criminal franchises. Only when we begin dealing with these entities as the criminal-terrorists they are can progress be made in confronting the hydra-like threat that Tehran poses.