Hezbollah’s International Crime Enterprise: A Breach of Sovereignty

For most, Hezbollah is a Shiite terrorist organization based out of Lebanon that has entrenched itself in war. Whether on behalf of Assad in Syria or against its archenemy—Israel. The violent group has orchestrated suicide attacks and kidnappings against Jewish Israelis and non-Israelis alike since its conception.

Today, we know that Hezbollah houses thousands of rockets and often attempts to transfer more via Syria from Iran. When we think of the “Party of God”— especially in Israel—images of the radical Shi’ite cleric, the group’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, broadcasting fiery speeches calling on the annihilation of the “Zionist entity” come to mind.

However, there is another side to Hezbollah that we see and hear less of. It’s no less violent and certainly not limited to Lebanon or the Middle East, but rather, is a direct threat to the security and sovereignty of both Europe and the United States. While it is of acute importance to analyze the group through its political and terrorist activity, we must be keen to research and expose its criminal activity taking place all over the globe.

The party is not just a political party in the Lebanese parliament, nor is it just an Islamic terrorist organization, but an international criminal organization that expresses expertise in money laundering and the drug trade.

It is no secret that a hefty amount of Hezbollah’s funding derives from the government in Tehran. In fact, it is now understood that nearly $800 million dollars is funneled to Hezbollah annually which makes up for about 70-80 percent of the group’s budget.

Iranian funding is just one source of many and is not enough to cover the extent of Hezbollah’s military expenditures. Their direct participation in the front lines of the Syrian civil war has cost them the lives of over a thousand of their prized fighters, which has led to a fierce blow in morale and popular support for their objectives in Syria. Hezbollah has also paid heavy monetary costs as a result of the resources spent on the battlefield. This has upped the demand for additional sources of illicit funding that are already in operation in foreign countries.

What are the illicit activities from which Hezbollah is receiving further funding? One significant source is from the international drug trade. Beginning with a fatwa in the 1980s from a Hezbollah cleric permitting the sale of drugs to non-muslims, the group’s drug involvement has proliferated  into different parts of Latin America and has produced a substantial amount of their income.

According to a United States House Committee on Homeland Security report from 2011, Ayman Joumaa, a Hezbollah supporter, is claimed to have had ties to the Mexican Los Zetas cartel and responsible for shipments of tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine to them. This same Joumaa has also been involved in the coordination of large cash transactions to companies and organizations that have relations with Hezbollah.

This drug activity has also become prevalent in the United States and Europe. In 2008, four Lebanese that were connected to a Hezbollah cocaine trafficking ring were found with $13.4 million in cash confiscated by German authorities in Frankfurt. Additionally, in 2013, there were two Hezbollah supporters in Detroit that were accused of trafficking cocaine, heroin, and marijuana.

To make matters even more interesting Hezbollah also relies on illicit businesses to launder money to the organization. For example, two brothers by the names of Ali and Husayn Tajideen are said to have sent millions of dollars to Hezbollah via a multibillion-dollar operation that is involved in the production and sales of numerous products and services. Many of the companies they own are located in Africa and are said to have been utilized by a major U.S. exporting company, the Seaboard Corp.

From the information presented above, one can easily see that Hezbollah is not only a threat to Israel’s security as its enemy from the north, but its presence of its illicit activities can be found in several countries on nearly every continent. Drug trafficking is a threat to a country’s internal security; it produces an environment that is conducive to violence and poses harm to citizens. This is imposed by a foreign body that happens to be a an accepted political party that sits in the Lebanese parliament. Hezbollah’s illicit activity in foreign nations should thus be seen as a breach of their external sovereignty as it is a foreign power posing a security threat to their homeland.

Europe still only recognizes Hezbollah’s armed wing as a terrorist organization. European countries such as Germany have in the past targeted organizations that have had associations with Hezbollah. For example, the German authorities shut down a charity called Orphans Project Lebanon, which had raised close to $4.5 million for an organization tied to Hezbollah called the Shahid Foundation.

Of course, Hezbollah’s political wing is not entirely separate from its militant counterpart and, thus, must be held to a certain degree of responsibility for the actions of the members of its own party. The EU recognizes the party as legitimate while its members are also involved in its militant faction that they define as a terrorist organization. On the other hand, the United States does recognize Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization—which, unfortunately, is not enough.

Lebanon is one of the top recipients of US foreign aid in which at his head stands President Michel Aoun, historically an ally of Hezbollah, whom has stated clearly that its militant wing is an essential asset to the state’s military apparatus. The separation between the Lebanese state and Hezbollah is slowly fading away as the group is now so deeply intertwined with Lebanon’s institutions and politics. Perhaps it’s now time to challenge the current paradigms and stop separating the two.

It should be mentioned that Washington has done more in an attempt to halt Hezbollah’s illicit activity at home and abroad. In 2015, under the Obama Administration, the United States instituted HIFPA (Hezballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015). This act, “Strengthened U.S. sanctions by imposing new sanctions on Hezbollah’s domestic and international fundraising channels and by targeting the foreign banks that knowingly did business with Hezbollah facilitators.” More recently, Chairman of The House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, R-Calif., has introduced legislation that has been passed that takes aim at countering Hezbollah’s illegal funding operations.

While Hezbollah certainly serves as a prime national security threat for the State of Israel, there is no doubt that the group imposes a significant threat for many other nations as well. One cannot forget the terrorist attacks implemented abroad such the infamous bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994. Hezbollah’s deep involvement in money laundering and drug trafficking abroad threatens the internal security of those respective countries. And the only way to impede its continuance is to pass more legislation and impose further sanctions in order to pressure the Lebanese government and banks to assume responsibility and to cease its support for the organization.

About the Author
Jason Silverman holds a BA in Middle East Studies and Hebrew from the Ohio State University. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Jason decided to make Aliyah in August, 2014 and served in the IDF as a tank commander. He currently resides in Jerusalem and is a graduate student in International Relations at Hebrew University.