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Why Hezbollah Is in Argentina

San Telmo city skyline at sunset. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg / UIG / Getty Images)
San Telmo city skyline at sunset. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg / UIG / Getty Images)

Threat analyses of Middle Eastern terror organizations in Latin American countries are now focusing on why Hezbollah is in Argentina. 

On November 15, 2018, two Argentine citizens were arrested in Buenos Aires for their suspected connections to Hezbollah. They were discovered in possession of weapons — including a rifle, shotgun and a number of handguns — as well as “credentials in Arabic and an image of the Hezbollah flag” along with evidence of travel abroad. 

Just this summer, Argentina’s government initiated a first strike against a Hezbollah fundraising network in the Triple Frontier (the junction between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil), where one of Hezbollah’s cash cow operations engages in drug trafficking and money laundering. 

In 2002, the Bush administration identified the Triple Frontier as a hotbed for terrorism finance activities that included Hezbollah. Counter-terrorism experts have identified the Triple Frontier as the most important Hezbollah base outside of Lebanon. 

A key question surrounding this story centers around the question of why we’re seeing Hezbollah-specific activity in Argentina. Part of the answer includes the fact that Argentina hosts a large Lebanese expat community. Hezbollah’s staunch anti-Israel views are culturally welcomed in Argentina, which has its own complex history. Argentina became an anti-Semitic conclave after World War II, when many high ranking Nazis fled Europe and found safe haven in Argentina. 

Hezbollah’s interests in Argentina might offer the organization unchallenged space for their deep-seated anti-Semitism, but Hezbollah’s primary equity in the region is establishing funding streams. The U.S. State Departments 2015 and 2016 Country Reports on Terrorism concluded that Hezbollah “continued to maintain a presence in the region [Latin America, extending] … an important regional nexus of arms, narcotics, pirated goods, human smuggling, counterfeiting, money laundering — all potential funding sources for terrorist organizations.” 

In June of 2018, the Trump administration increased sanctions against Hezbollah, at the same time as a conflict rose with the Lebanese embassy in Paraguay (part of the Triple Border territories). As Foreign Policy reported in an article titled Lebanon is Protecting Hezbollah’s Cocaine Trade in Latin America, “The Lebanese Embassy in Paraguay attempted to block the extradition of alleged Hezbollah financier.”

The question of the hour is where else in Latin America is Hezbollah attempting to gain a stronghold? 

As Clarion Project reported last week, Iran’s terror proxy is already ramping up south of the U.S. border, as discovered through arrests of operatives in Bolivia and Peru. The arrests there also pointed to a considerable stockpile of military equipment and explosives. 

As one of the richest terror organizations according to Forbes, Hezbollah in Lebanon functions as a state within a state, or a government within a government. In part because the Lebanese civil war was so devastating, Hezbollah rose at an opportune time that allowed it to expand under Shia revivalism and nationalism. It’s 1985 manifesto identified America and Israel as threats to Lebanon. The updated 2009 manifesto was noted for having cut the Islamist rhetoric, but maintained opposition against the U.S. and Israel.

 

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SQ
Shireen Qudosi
Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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