World should not overlook Hezbollah’s illegal activities
The pomegranate shipment from Lebanon that was used to smuggle Captagon drugs and was seized by the Saudi authorities last week should not come as a surprise to anyone. Indeed, it has been well known for some time now that Hezbollah protects and engages in a myriad illegal activities.
This once again highlights the fact that this organization has no respect for the law, governments, citizens’ interests and well-being or anything that does not support its own interests. And in that case, all that matters is that it gets its share of the drug smuggling money. This was, of course, not an isolated incident. In June last year, the European law enforcement agency warned that Hezbollah operatives were believed to be “trafficking in diamonds and drugs.” Also last year, two major seizures of Captagon pills were achieved by police in Italy and Greece, with a combined value exceeding $1 billion.
Hezbollah, with the support of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has for decades been relying on illegal activities to finance part of its activities. When one knows the control Hezbollah has over every single port and airport in Lebanon, as well as its control of all smuggling routes and its international network from Africa to the Americas that has been targeted by the US Justice Department, there is no doubt about the role it plays in international drug trafficking.
As Saudi Arabia takes the necessary action and bans agricultural products from Lebanon, I wonder how the Lebanese authorities might guarantee strong measures against drug organizations and launch a strong crackdown on their protectors. This is simply impossible. Lebanon is now the land of lawlessness. It has no credibility, as everything is permitted. Once again, one should remember that the Saudi decision came after repeated similar smuggling attempts from Lebanon, and patience and support have their limits.
This time it was drugs, but knowing that Hezbollah and the IRGC are ultimately behind these activities means that these routes and channels could also be used to try and smuggle other illegal materials, such as explosives and weapons. In short, Lebanon is no longer eroding but simply destroying its international relations for the sake and interests of Hezbollah and Iran. This not only applies to the Gulf, but also to countries from Asia to Europe.I am nevertheless expecting several Western analysts to shift the topic of Hezbollah’s nefarious role in Lebanon and take the usual spin of “Arab countries are abandoning Lebanon,” as if everyone should yield to the blackmail imposed by Hezbollah with a smile on their face. We insult you but we need you to welcome our expatriates; we send you smuggled drugs in fruits, but you need to keep importing our products; we threaten your security, but you still need to lobby for us internationally; we disappear your deposits in our banks, but you still need to send us subsidies and support our corrupt, rotten economy. Am I missing something else?
Lebanon is simply destroying its international relations for the sake and interests of Hezbollah and Iran.
Khaled Abou Zahr
This time, they might start adding a third wing to their usual Hezbollah description that separates the political organization from the armed one — an illegal wing. They might as well start justifying such activities as they provide Hezbollah with resources due to the dire economic situation and the inability of the IRGC to support it due to US sanctions. They have absolved Hezbollah and Iran from so much more, so this would not be a surprise, especially as the nuclear deal is back on track.
It has also become shameful and humiliating that Lebanese political leaders are asking other countries to not take measures against it while all this is taking place and Lebanon bears responsibility. This is “Stockholm syndrome” politics at its highest level. If Lebanon cannot clean its own house, we should not expect change from others. There is no longer a place for the politicians’ justification of a “bitter pill” for the greater good. The greater good of Lebanon comes with the end of Hezbollah’s status. It is time all politicians stopped marketing this greater good phrase while protecting Hezbollah, as this is what is dragging the country into more chaos. Change will only come with an end to Hezbollah’s military arsenal and its status of being above and controlling the state; Vichy-like trials would also be needed.
Another important point to investigate is that there is no drug trade without money laundering. For every flow of goods, there is a flow of money going in the opposite direction. At the very least, investigations should focus on this. Which banks or local financial institutions might have facilitated this? Could the Banque du Liban have played a historical role in covering such operations for Hezbollah until the US sanctions were imposed? It is high time for a thorough, forensic investigation into trading and financial institutions — private and public — in Lebanon.
We are at a decisive time. As the world re-engages with Iran through the nuclear deal, it should not ease up on Hezbollah’s illegal activities and the IRGC. The US should continue sanctioning Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon and everywhere else. The US Justice Department, which in 2018 designated Hezbollah as a transnational crime organization, should keep focusing on and disrupting these activities. It is also a much-needed message to Iran that Hezbollah’s activities will not be tolerated.
It is also important for the US and the European nations involved in the nuclear deal to properly categorize Hezbollah as what it really is. It is not a Lebanese political party, it is not a group resisting occupation, it is not a social organization for the Shiite community — it is a non-state terrorist organization with its master in Tehran.
The international community needs to understand that one cannot build a country with an organization that conducts such activities. This cannot be accepted; even pragmatism does not allow it. It is time to put pressure on Iran in Lebanon, or else this will be its first step toward blackmailing the Mediterranean region and Europe. Iran should integrate and play a role in the future of the region as the nuclear deal intends, but it needs to give up these activities and Hezbollah’s current structure. This is as essential as a nuclear deal.
• Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.