Hezbollah trafficking in drugs and conflict diamonds should be reason enough for European Union sanctions. Europe would only be strengthening its own position in Lebanon, not giving Hezbollah a reason to grab total power. But if Hezbollah does make a move, it wouldn’t have been possible if the EU hadn’t been so permissive about their financing for so long.
Hezbollah goes far beyond Europe, and way beyond social welfare. The services they provide are funded by conflict diamonds and drug trafficking. Hezbollah offers armed protection of smuggled goods in hostile countries, plus facilitates hashish exports out of Lebanon for an elite club of Shiite clans entrenched in Lebanese organized crime.
Hezbollah works with the most powerful families in Southern Lebanon, with the resources and money to make Hezbollah’s operations possible. Iranian and Syrian cash is only part of the budget; Hezbollah deals with enough money to operate independently. The real center of influence is in the hashish of the Bekaa Valley and the blood diamonds of the Congo.
Shiite Lebanese abroad have deep involvement in the diamond industry. During the Sierra Leone civil war in 2002, Lebanese traders helped smuggle the countries blacklisted conflict diamonds out of the country. They opened operations in the Congo around 2005. They’ve worked through the Tajideen business family in both countries for years.
“Today’s designation targets two of Hizballah’s top financiers in Africa. Ali and Husayn Tajideen’s multinational network generates millions of dollars in funding and secures strategic geographical strongholds for Hizballah,” – Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey, 2010
The EU is weak when it comes to blocking conflict diamonds. Last week, the EU dropped sanctions against Zimbabwe’s diamond trade. Belgium is worried that its diamond sector in Antwerp is losing out to the competition – diamond districts emerging in India and China. All this despite the fact most of the revelations that Hezbollah has been muscling the Lebanese diaspora in West Africa into diamond smuggling were unearthed by Belgian intelligence more than 10 years ago, even making arrests in Antwerp.
Even when those less-than-ethical diamond merchants don’t want to donate to Hezbollah operations, they face intimidation to do so. According to former US Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Larry Andre:
“It’s not even an open secret; there is no secret. There’s a lot of social pressure and extortionate pressure brought to bear. ‘You had better support our cause, or we’ll visit your people back home’.”
Europe is also inundated by drugs shipped into Europe and the United States. The organization has links to South American cartels, including the infamous Los Zetas gang in Mexico responsible for hundreds of murders in the last 10 years. The US arrested courier Ayman Joumaa on account of his money laundering and cocaine trafficking, millions of dollars for the Lebanese group. Just last year, the US confiscated $150 million from three Lebanese banks that were laundering on their behalf.
European funds are profits from of the drug trade bring South American cocaine and Afghan heroin that’s been smuggled into the European Union. A major chunk from the narcotics directly traced back to hashish in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Who’s growing the hashish? Shiite clans whose revenues contribute to Hezbollah’s accounts: the al-Mikdad clan, the Jaafar clan, the Shammas and the Sharifs. Family member Hassane Salim al-Mikdad was caught by the Free Syrian Army last summer fighting for Hezbollah.
And where is Europe right now? They are in West Africa fighting al-Qaeda in Mali, a group also tied in with drug trafficking and mineral smuggling. The group isn’t aligned with Hezbollah, but they are in the same businesses. I can cite an avalanche of articles from Europe over the last month talking about the Islamist connection to hard drugs. Everyone cares about demonizing al-Qaeda, which ain’t so hard to do. Hezbollah is much more entrenched in the industry, so why so coy?
As much as the EU positions itself as a moral pillar in politics and with a flood of reports about al-Qaeda in Mali to the blood diamond trade, the continent won’t sanction Hezbollah for the same crimes.
Hezbollah will continue moving rough cut diamonds, trafficked from conflict zones, into Europe. They will continue to draw on their network of traders to invest in more weapons coming from Russia via Syria. The EU’s response? ‘We can’t block their finances, because that will destabilize Lebanon.’ Let’s think about this argument again and consider what the rational thing to do would be.