JISS - The Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies

Comment by Prof. Efraim Inbar, Jerusalem Post, 21.1.2018

By Charles Bybelezer

 

The trial of two Hezbollah operatives accused of blowing up an Israeli tour bus in 2012, killing five Israelis and the Bulgarian driver, kicked off this week in Sofia. The suspects, Meliad Farah and Hassan El Hajj Hassan, are being tried in absentia after fleeing to Lebanon, which refuses to extradite them despite Interpol warrants for their arrest.

This comes against the backdrop of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement last week of the formation of a new task force to combat Hezbollah’s vast drug trafficking and money laundering empire, worth an estimated $1 billion annually. That decision followed a Politico report claiming that the Obama administration interfered with a Drug Enforcement Agency initiative—code-named Project Cassandra—to crack down on the Iranian-sponsored Shi’ite organization’s illicit activities for fear of jeopardizing the nuclear deal with Iran.

Concurrently, the British House of Commons is slated on January 25 to discuss fully blacklisting Hezbollah, whose so-called “political arm” has until now been allowed to fundraise and recruit in major European capitals in a successful attempt to bifurcate the terrorist organization into legitimate civic and martial elements. While Israel, the US and, most recently, the Arab League have listed Hezbollah, in its entirety, as a terror group, the European Union, like the UK, banned only the organization’s “military wing” in the wake of the Burgas attack.

“While European governments have outlawed Hezbollah’s armed body, this has no distinction because, as Hezbollah itself says, it is a monolithic organization,” Benjamin Weinthal, a Fellow at the Washington-based Foundation For Defense of Democracies, explained to The Media Line. “In this respect, the Europeans have engaged in a sort of savvy appeasement of Hezbollah because they are afraid of it.”

Hezbollah was created by the Iranian regime in the early 1980s, foremost to counter Israel’s presence at the time in southern Lebanon. However, its hatred for the West quickly manifested in the 1983 attack on American military barracks in Beirut which killed 241 US Marines and 58 French peacekeepers. In the ensuing decades,Hezbollah has effectively taken control of the Lebanese government while developing into one of the Middle East’s most powerful military forces, currently engaged in the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

According to Professor Efraim Inbar, President of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, “Hezbollah uses Arab communities abroad to make inroads not only in the Middle East, but also in Europe, South America and even Asia. They are there to establish cells that will eventually attack Jewish and Israeli targets,” he told The Media Line, while noting that “Hezbollah’s Islamic ideological underpinnings also motivate its expansion.” Inbar further explained that while Hezbollah’s overarching policies are coordinated by Iran, its local branches maintain freedom of action.

 

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