The difficulties of fighting Hezbollah

August 23, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Trying to fight Hezbollah when only part of the group is designated as a terror organisation is like “trying to play cricket without a bat,” according to Dr Matthew Levitt, a former senior intelligence and counterterrorism official in the US government and now Director of the Washington Institute’s program on counterterrorism and intelligence.

Matthew Levitt

Dr Levitt, whose topic was “Mapping Hezbollah’s Worldwide Activities”, was the guest speaker at the most recent Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) webinar.

Asked about whether Australia should list the entirety of Hezbollah as a terror group, rather than only listing part of it, and how this impacts Hezbollah’s ability to engage in its many criminal schemes, Levitt referred to the latest report from EuroPol, the law enforcement agency of the EU, which dealt with a suspected Hezbollah diamond and drug trafficking and money laundering scheme.

He said, quoting from the report, “The report notes that investigations face the difficulty of demonstrating that the funds collected are channelled to the military wing of the organisation.” He explained, “Europol is publicly complaining here that by virtue of a partial designation, it’s incumbent upon them to prove that Hezbollah is spending the money on a bullet. Since money is fungible, it’s almost impossible to prove that.

“As many of you know, I started my career at the FBI, in FBI counterterrorism. In all of my time there, I ever knew of only one case where we were able to tie a dollar raised in the United States to a bullet procured for an operation abroad. And so it really is asking law enforcement to act with one, one and a half hands tied behind their back…It’s really, really important to ban an organisation in its entirety when the organisation is able to leverage its non-military activities for military purposes.”

He gave the example of two Hezbollah parliamentarians, noting one was working with Hezbollah’s security chief in identifying Lebanese Hezbollah supporters who would be good candidates to go abroad, become dual-citizens, and then could go abroad on their non-Lebanese passports, for Hezbollah operations. The other Hezbollah politician was threatening Lebanese bankers and the bankers’ families not to abide by anti-money laundering provisions.

He added, “Ironically, the one group that is just consistently honest and accurate about this is Hezbollah. They get very annoyed if you say that they’re different things.” They say everything they do is aimed at fighting their jihad, and although they try to claim that their jihad is all aimed at Israel, they’re also fighting in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.


Asked about Hezbollah’s activities in Australia, Levitt explained that Hezbollah uses many places for its criminal activities, including Australia.

He continued, “Muhammad Amar was the main Australian connection to this massive, massive money laundering and narco-trafficking ring which has been raising tremendous amounts, millions upon millions of dollars for Hezbollah.”

Hezbollah has run networks in and out of South East Asia, including sophisticated passport forging networks. It also came very close to blowing up Israel’s Bangkok embassy in 1992, and in the 1990s sent many Sunni Muslims from South East Asia to Israel to carry out operations, tried to blow up a ship in the Malacca Strait and has been very active in Singapore. There may be a lot more that Hezbollah is doing in our region that we don’t know about because the information is still classified.

Levitt, began by talking about his very detailed interactive and user-friendly mapping project of Hezbollah activities across the globe, which is available on the Washington Institute’s website.

As an example, a click on Sydney shows that Hezbollah planned but did not attempt an attack on the 2000 Olympics, and that Hezbollah has recruited people from Indonesia, had them stay in Australia for a while, and then travel to Israel.

It also includes proof from the CIA that it was Hezbollah that carried out the massive bombings in Lebanon in the early 1980s, and that Hezbollah, together with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, planned but did not carry out an attack on Russian Jewish emigres in a Warsaw synagogue.

His map also has lots of little-known facts, such as that according to Dutch intelligence, Hezbollah conducted covert surveillance on the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon just before the trial of the suspects in the murder of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.

It also reveals Hezbollah narcotics and money-laundering activities around the world, including a “significant footprint” in Australia.

Asked about the recent massive explosion in Beirut, he said it was unlikely it was a Hezbollah facility, but Hezbollah controls part of the port and runs all kinds of illicit goods through that part to avoid scrutiny. The ammonium nitrate that exploded was marked as explosives and Hezbollah had to know it was there.

He said we may well never know exactly what led to the explosion, because Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, who is very close to Hezbollah, assigned the investigation to a judge who is married to Aoun’s niece.

On the verdict in the Hariri case, he said that while there were not guilty verdicts against three of the accused, due to Lebanon’s strict laws of evidence in relation to circumstantial evidence, his takeaway is that “a senior Hezbollah commander has been convicted by an international court with carrying out and overseeing the assassination of Rafik Hariri for the express purpose not only of killing him, but of killing a great many other people, and of terrorising Lebanese society.”

He added that the court made it clear that Hezbollah had been surveilling Hariri, and that it was a conspiracy.

On the threat Hezbollah poses to Israel, Levitt said it’s important to Hezbollah to show it’s taking up the fight to Israel, especially since the Beirut explosion, because it is now being challenged within Lebanon on its place in politics as part of the corrupt system, so it needs to justify its existence.

It still wants to destroy Israel, and is working hard to recruit people to operate within Israel, including Israeli Arabs. One concern is that if it gets harder for Hezbollah to attack Israel along the border due to improved Israeli security measures, it may seek softer targets abroad.

The JCPOA nuclear deal, he says, could have been negotiated better, and clearly has big flaws, including the expiration of the arms embargo. He says that Biden, if he becomes president, needs to try to negotiate a new, better deal, and there is a lot a Biden administration could do that would be positive on Iran.

He thinks that “there are great opportunities, and that many of them would actually provide greater security. There’s lots of ways to contain Iran.”

Asked what Australia and New Zealand should do in regard to Hezbollah, he said that the first thing is to provide humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, not through the Government, but through trusted humanitarian organisations. Otherwise the Government would squander it, and mafia groups, especially Hezbollah, would take it. There also needs to be political stability which has to involve “an interim government, leading to a constitutional committee that will change the system of government in Lebanon. It is outdated. It does not serve the people. It is so outdated that you cannot even take a census in Lebanon because if the census reveals that one sectarian group has shrunk and the other one has gotten bigger, that would change the dynamic of who should hold what office. This system of government enriches the corrupt, at the expense of governance for the people.”

The second thing is to recognise that for Lebanon, for Israel and for the region more broadly, “there is arguably no group that contributes to instability more than Hezbollah.” He noted that there are about as many foreign fighters in the Middle East who are Shi’ite as there are Sunnis with groups like Daesh.

He concluded, “Designating Hezbollah, in full, is in the policy interests of Australia and New Zealand…because of the way they undermine Western interests in the region, because of the way they undermine the safety and stability of our allies, and I don’t only or even primarily mean Israel here, I mean Lebanon. I mean the Syrians who are suffering under the regime of Bashar al-Assad, who we should remember has killed and butchered more people than the Islamic State several times over, who’s supported by Iran, and Hezbollah, Shi’a militias under Hezbollah and the Russian air force.
“There are so many reasons why recognising Hezbollah for what it is, and taking the simple action of making it clear to them we will not allow them to get away with really, really bad activity – we’re talking about things like murder – just because they’re also involved in politics and other types of non-violent activity.”



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