Lebanese Hezbollah establishes bases in East Europe

Several years ago, while London police succeeded in busting an underground warehouse of Lebanese Hezbollah, which was being used for storing explosives and narcotic, February 24, 2023 arrest of a global terrorist and financial supporter of Hezbollah in Romania demonstrates that Hezbollah will insulate itself from US sanctions by establishing bases in several countries in East Europe. It may be mentioned here that, there are hundreds and thousands of Lebanese immigrants in the Western countries, many of whom are radicalized and heavily inclined towards Hezbollah and other terrorist entities.

According to an indictment from the US Department of Justice, an individual named Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi who is a fifty-eight-year-old Lebanese-Belgian Muslim conspired to secretly move hundreds of thousands dollars from the United States to Lebanon and has been providing continuous financial assistance to Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah.

Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi is declared a Specially Designed Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in 2018 is now awaiting extradition to the United States alongside another Lebanese citizen named Talal Chahine for participation in the same crime.

As described in the OFAC designation, Bazzi and Chahine’s offenses reach far beyond Romania and the United States, as Bazzi has generated millions of dollars for Hezbollah from business activities in a number of countries including Belgium, Gambia, Lebanon, and Iraq among other locations, while it has not mentioned his activities in Libya, Colombia, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Being a key Hezbollah financier, Bazzi maintains ties to other material supporters of Hezbollah and OFAC-designated and sanctioned SDGTs, as well as the Central Bank of Iran.

According to information, the Iran angle of Bazzi is particularly interesting as Hezbollah is known to receive the bulk of its funding and weapons from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hezbollah is considered as Iran’s foremost proxy which has carried out Iranian-backed terrorist operations in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and some other countries, while the density of ties between Hezbollah and Iran is considered “extensive” and “deep-rooted”. Due to Iranian munificence Hezbollah has grown so powerful that it has often been termed a “state within a state” and has leverages its capabilities to exert massive political influence over Lebanon’s internal and foreign policies.

While several counterterrorism experts believe, Hezbollah has faced numerous financial constraints during the past two decades due to Iran’s growing economic crises, international financial sanctions, political competition in Lebanon and combat operations in Syria, according to media reports, Hezbollah and Iran has been following other options in generating cash. Recently, Israel announced the discovery of a gold smuggling activity between Iran and Venezuela, in which Iran’s infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Qud’s Force was assigned to smuggle Venezuelan gold to Iran and later shift these consignments to other countries in the Middle East through transnational smuggling networks and generate cash through selling it with substantial profit, which has been later transferred to Hezbollah’s account. It was also learnt from sources that Venezuelan gold were being smuggled into a number of Western countries, including Spain, Italy and Belgium by the same axis of Iranian operatives. Similarly, Venezuelan gold is being smuggled into the United Arab Emirates via third country, where Iranians mainly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai use these Venezuelan golds in making fashionable jewelries and later sell to locals and foreigners.

Such revelations are not a matter of surprise as Hezbollah has worked assiduously to establish its footprint in Latin America, particularly in tri-border area between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, where the size of Lebanese immigrants is huge.

In his book titled – Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God, Matthew Levitt, a former senior official at the US Treasury Department said, Hezbollah not only built formal and informal support networks in this area, including sleeper cells, but engaged in drug trafficking and every financial crime to generate funds.

According to counterterrorism experts, Lebanese Hezbollah has established similar transnational networks in Europe, Africa, and even the United States, which are being used as its sources of funding. It may be mentioned here that, Hezbollah, in addition to controlling a worldwide criminal enterprise also enjoys large political following in Lebanon.

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