“Prior to September 11, 2001, Hezbollah was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist organization. Since that time their capabilities have grown, enabling them to attack the U.S. and our allies around the world — from the Philippines, to Bulgaria, and in even on our doorstep in South America. We cannot afford to ignore this threat.” Senator Ed Royce (Ernst, 2014)
Terrorism remains one of the biggest threats to the international community in the twenty first century; the terror attacks of September 2011 on American soil highlighted the nation-state’s vulnerabilities towards these networks and organised crime. Terrorist groups have often been viewed in mono-dimensional terms as religious fundamentalist militants largely. How these groups were able to fund themselves to grow from relatively small actors to international multidimensional terror networks brought into question just how little the world understood these elusive networks.
The terrorist threat is not static. Terrorists adapt and evolve in response to counter-measures as well as changes in their strategic environment. As the terrorist threat has evolved, the means by which terrorist groups raise, store, and move funds have grown more sophisticated which have often hindered government efforts to thwart terrorist activities. Studies show that terrorist groups learn from one another, exchange information on new technologies, and share innovations. This is particularly evident in the financing and resourcing of terrorist activities (Levit & Jacobson, 2010).
Hezbollah, a terrorist group which finds its origins in Lebanon, has perfected this marriage between terror and organised crime. With an expansive network of splinter cells and various illicit activities across the world Hezbollah is able to fund itself well beyond survival and feeds into a variety of structured programs which range from political to social welfare. Under the circumstances, it is understandable perhaps when former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director, George Tenet declared that, “Hezbollah, as an organization with capability and worldwide presence, is al Qaeda’s equal, if not a more capable organisation” (Quoted in Levitt, 2005: 3).
According to intelligence estimates Hezbollah needs around US$500 million annually to fund all its activities. Around a US$100 million of that comes from the Iranian and Syrian governments; the rest however is predominantly made from its vast criminal enterprise (Anti-Defamation League, 2010).
This article will be investigating the criminal activities Hezbollah uses to fund itself; dissecting each illicit activity and provide examples through case studies. The first section focuses on Hezbollah as a terrorist group. It provides a brief history of the organisation, its structure and the various terror attacks which it has been involved in. The next section will focus on the various criminal activities which Hezbollah uses to fund itself including drug trafficking, kidnapping, diamond trade, intellectual property crime and cigarette smuggling. The final section will provide policy recommendations which can be used to curb these illicit activities; this includes current and proposed policy.
Hezbollah has proven itself as a tangible threat to international peace and security and will continue to do so as long as its criminal network stays intact. The effectiveness of this threat to the future of the international political economy and to nation-states depends on how policy makers respond to these criminal activities today.
2. HISTORICAL OVERVIEW: HEZBOLLAH
Hezbollah meaning the “Party of God” began as a radical Shiite Muslim organisation established in 1982 in response to a series of events running up to the Israeli-Lebanese war. The group originated in Lebanon however has evolved to include supporters and members around the world.
The first factor behind the creation of Hezbollah emanates during the 1960’s. Political appointments were made along sectarian lines due to the religiously diverse population in Lebanon. This, in turn, affected many of the Shia Muslims in the south of the country who felt marginalised politically and economically by this system. Popular dissent to this legislation grew within the marginalised communities which agitated for greater representation (Saad-Ghorayeb, 2002). The second influence in the creation of Hezbollah was the 1979 Iranian Revolution which resulted in the creation of an Islamic state and spurred Lebanese Shia Muslims on to follow suit. However, perhaps the most influential factor assisting in the creation of this organisation was the invasion of Lebanon by Israel in 1982 known as the Operation Peace for Galilee (Arena, 2006).
After the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 and unrest in the region, Palestinians based in Lebanon stared attacking the northern borders of Israel. Following several years of these sporadic attacks Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to eliminate the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) for good. The invasion was by and large a success pushing the PLO’s defences all the way to Beirut and ultimately causing them to flee to surrounding Arab States.
However the victory was short-lived, after many in the Shia community welcomed the presence of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) in the hopes that Amal, a Shia party which was founded as the "Movement of the Dispossessed" in 1974, now could rule in peace were disillusioned by the fact that the IDF were intent on staying in Lebanon until a security plan was put in place; thus the Israeli’s were now as occupiers (Jaber, 1997).
Pockets of Shia militants formed across Lebanon and started guerrilla attacks against Israeli targets within the country and with the help of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard came together under the umbrella name of Hezbollah or the “Party of God”.
The IDF partially withdrew from Lebanon in 1985. However it seized a 15 kilometre stretch of land between the Lebanon/Israeli border as part of its defence plan. This stretch of land became synonymous with Hezbollah’s battle against the Israeli occupation and ultimately also gave the organisation the opportunity to prove itself until Israel finally withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 (Harik, 2004).
Hezbollah has grown significantly since its inception from a guerrilla militia to a multidimensional organisation which consists of a party structure which contests elections, a social welfare branch and a standing militia with advanced military capabilities which is currently assisting the Assad regime in Syria against rebel forces.
Hezbollah continues to have a strategic partnership with Iran or as one American defence expert put it more of a patron/proxy relationship. The organisation has become more hierarchical in nature and consumes and distributes massive amounts of resources through its criminal activities and support from diaspora communities across the world.
The organisational structure of Hezbollah has several different tiers, the first is the Consultative Council or Majlis al-Shurawhich is made up of Shia clergy. This seven man council oversees all the rest of the tiers of the organisation and in many ways is the highest decision making body within the organisation. The second tier consists of the Executive Administrative Apparatus or Shura Tanfiz which oversees the party’s parliamentary caucus, the judicial council (which serves as a court system to deal with conflicts within the Hezbollah controlled areas) and the executive council which deals with the day-to-day running of the organisation through various units or desks. The third tier, which is divided up into several desks/units, deal with civic duties ranging from healthcare to education. There are two additional components that fall outside these tiers which report directly to the Consultative Council, they are the Islamic Resistance and the Security Apparatus, these two components encompass Hezbollah’s militia and criminal activities which is used to fund the organisation (Arena, 2006).