Former Ambassador Ron Prosor and the Emirati researcher Dr. Ebtisam Al-Ketbi urge France to tighten restrictions on the organization’s civilian activity that serves as a cover for terrorist activity • Economic crisis in Iran and Lebanon increased Hezbollah’s dependence on drug production and trafficking
Dani Zaken/Globes December 4, 2020
In January 2016, Lebanese businessman Mohammed Nur al-Din landed at the Paris Orly Airport. After passing the passport control, five Interpol detectives jumped on him and took him away for questioning. Concurrently, another 14 people were arrested – members of the Hezbollah drug trafficking and money laundering network. No less than €9 million were found in Nur al-Din’s possession and in other places related to him, including mosques and offices of Islamic charities. More funds were discovered in the form of gold bars and jewelry.
The arrests were made possible following an intensive investigation by the Interpol with the assistance of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that provided valuable information, as well as intelligence organizations, such as the Mossad. Investigations discovered a branched network engaged in drug trafficking from South America to Benin in Africa, where they were concealed in luxury cars purchased from Europe, and returned to the mainland, to car lots that belonged to Hezbollah members with German, Belgian or French citizenship. From there, drugs were distributed in the streets.
Profits from this complicated process were laundered by purchasing cars, jewelry, gold and diamonds, which were later sold mainly to the Gulf. The profits went to South American drug lords, couriers and intermediaries, but the most important share as long as we are concerned – about a quarter of the revenues – went to the organization that operates this entire network, which is Hezbollah.
Extensive drug-related activities
According to the data gathered by experts from the International Institute For Counter-Terrorism Institute (ICT) that works in cooperation with the Abba Eban Institute for Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Hezbollah operates drug distribution networks as part of its economic branch, which provides a significant portion of its revenue. Among various activities, revenue comes from the sales of hashish grown by Lebanese farmers in the Beqaa Valley, and cocaine grown and produced in South America, particularly in Colombia.
According to the Institute, Hezbollah has established organizations in the countries involved via the Shia Muslim immigrants from Lebanon. These organizations, allegedly serving as charities, are actually the centers of the drug trafficking and money laundering network, and act as the bases of terrorist activity.
The Institute also mentions that in Colombia, for example, there is a huge Lebanese drug cartel headed by a Shiite drug lord named Iman Juma’a. According to DEA, its monthly trading volume amounts to $200 million, while about a quarter of that amount goes to Hezbollah.
The annual budget of the Lebanese organization is about $1 billion. A significant portion of this sum comes from Iran. In the last two years, due to American sanctions, this amount has been significantly reduced. Due to the sanctions, as well as international monitoring capabilities, it is very difficult to transfer funds to the organization by regular banking methods, and transfers in cash are preferred. Couriers arrive from Tehran to Beirut, carrying suitcases with millions of dollars for Hezbollah.
Daniel Cohen, a research fellow at ICT, estimates that the organization’s revenue from drug and firearms trafficking amounts to $300-400 million a year. According to Mr. Cohen, that money is needed more than ever due to the heavy cost of the war in Syria, where the organization suffered over 2,000 casualties and near ten thousand wounded. The families of the dead and wounded receive monthly allowances, which were cut in the past year along with the organization members’ salaries. Another reason for being dependent on these funds is the economic and political crisis in Lebanon.
Another source of income for the organization is “Daawa” chain of charity associations that raise donations, allegedly for the needy in Lebanon or for purposes, such as construction of kindergartens and educational institutions. In practice, for the most part, these funds are used to finance Hezbollah’s activities. For example, collaborative investigations in Germany with the Interpol have revealed that these funds were transferred to finance the involvement in Syria.
Civilian activity as a cover for terrorism
According to Mr. Cohen, there is a critical need to take action in order to outlaw all parts of Hezbollah in Europe and define them as a terrorist organization. Most of Hezbollah’s operatives in Europe belong to charities that are affiliated with the political-civilian arm of the organization, which is still legitimate in most European countries. That is the reason why the punishment tends to be relatively light – even when they are caught, the charges and penalties are for drug trafficking and financial offenses.
Adding Hezbollah’s political arm to the definition of a terrorist organization will increase punishment and legitimize the efforts and budgets used to fight against them and against international terrorism in general.
Ron Prosor, former Ambassador of Israel to the United Nations and the United Kingdom, and current Head of the Abba Eban Institute, has written an article last week with a colleague from the Emirates, Dr. Ebtisam Al-Ketbi, urging the French President Emmanuel Macron to declare a total war on the organization, and to recognize all of its activities as a terrorist activity.
In the article, the authors elaborate on the connection between Hezbollah’s international terrorist arm and Iran, and the danger it poses to Europe and the entire world. They make it clear that as long as Hezbollah maintains its power in Lebanon, the Land of Cedars has no chance of recovering. They are warning that Hezbollah and Iran are constantly making efforts to infiltrate and take control of other countries in the region, including Syria and Iraq, and pose a threat to all other countries.
According to Mr. Prosor, Israel and the Emirates share this position, based on which a stable infrastructure of interests and cooperation was established in the previous decade, before the peace treaties. “According to macro analysis, the Gulf states currently see Israel as part of the solution and not as part of the problems in the Middle East. The connection with Israel will allow them to influence the policy of Jerusalem policy, but their main significance is in cooperating on issues of national security, and in creating a mechanism against their rivals, Iran and Hezbollah, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“We chose to speak to France,” he says, “because it is the spiritual mother of Lebanon, its patron saint.” According to him, the approach of the French government and particularly the Foreign Ministry is to have dialogue with Hezbollah, due to its influence in Lebanon. He adds, “They did not sober up even after the Beirut port explosion that exposed the dangerous substances stored by Hezbollah in Lebanese cities. Such storages were also found, in a much lesser amount, in the organization’s warehouses in Europe.”
The article shows the French that it is not only Israel that is coming out against Hezbollah, but the Arab countries as well. Al-Ketbi has a direct contact with the Crown Prince of the Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed, and her attitudes make an impact on Abu Dhabi’s policy and reflect it.
“We should not tell Europeans how dangerous Hezbollah is to Israel, it does not interest them, therefore, they have not defined all its branches as a terrorist organization. The goal is to see that they are harming Europe itself. Financially, by drug distribution, terrorism, etc.”
According to Prosor, his efforts with regard to Britain and Germany are bearing fruit, and both countries are currently in the process of declaring Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.
Prosor explains that one of the arguments of the Europeans is that if we ban the political arm of Hezbollah, there will be no one to talk to, but he also says that the extensive information and studies he has shown to European leaders have refuted this argument.