Russia’s 4 Syrian ceasefire zones – Kremlin spin

Russian Gen. Sergei Rudskoy

DEBKAfile, May 6, 2017:

The widely reported Kremlin plan to set up four safe or “de-escalation” zones, that were supposed to have gone into effect in Syria Friday night, May 5, turns out to be nothing but a propaganda ploy. The spin factor leaps to the eye from the small print of the plan that was released by Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, head of Russian General Staffs Operations Division, Friday night.  He outlined four steps that may never take off

1. Observation points will be set up to monitor the ceasefire (in the four designated de-escalation zones).

So when the putative safe zones were to have started operating Friday night, there were no observation points to monitor them.

2. The boundaries of the zones will be determined in accordance with the observation points.

This means that the zones don’t exist.

3. By June 4, a working team made up of officers of the three guarantors, Russia, Turkey and Iran, will be created to administer the observation points.

Who can tell what will happen in Syrian in a month’s time.

4. Only after the observation groups of the three sponsor-nations’ armies finish mapping the ceasefire zones can it be determined whether the plan is doable or not.

Still no zones.
The Russian propaganda machine worked overtime this weekend to convince the Western media that the ceasefire zones plan had won the support of the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The truth is that US President Donald Trump did not commit himself one way or another when he talked on the phone with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, May 2, although most of their conversation was devoted to Syria, rather than the North Korean crisis. There was no agreement between them on any Syrian issue, except for a decision that American and Russian forces in the war-torn country would stay out of each other’s way.
In sum, Moscow’s ceasefire zones plan, though effectively propagandized, has changed nothing in Syria’s bloody predicament.

With so much still up in the air, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked by phone Friday to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, after which he gave the following statement: “The secretary looks forward to further meetings with the foreign minister to discuss the respective roles of the United States and Russia in de-escalating the conflict and supporting the talks in Geneva to move the political solution forward.”

Tillerson made no mention of any safe zones which Moscow claims to be setting up with Ankara and Tehran, or of the Russian-sponsored Syrian peace conference in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Rebel groups, supposed to be holding a dialogue with Assad regime representatives, walked out of its fourth round last week. And the Trump administration appears unwilling to throw its support behind the Russian-sponsored peace initiative, preferring to stand solidly behind the UN-sponsored Geneva process.

Turkey and Iran, the other two “sponsors” of the Astana framework, and putative “guarantors” of the safe zones, are strangely silent about the roles assigned them by the Kremlin. And no wonder. As rivals in the Syrian arena, their forces are ranged against each other in both Syria and Iraq. It is hard to see them working shoulder to shoulder alongside Russian officers to monitor safety zones which are still pie in the sky.

The situation at the moment is this: In Iraq, Turkish and Iranian troops – essentially pro-Iranian militias under the command of Revolutionary Guards officers – glare at each other across two warfronts, Tel Afar and Sinjar. In Syria, each of their armies is poised to grab Al-Bab in the Aleppo province.

The only real change in Syria’s military situation is a surreptitious one, which may present a fresh, wide-ranging peril: The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah has agreed to place the 8,000 members fighting in Syria for Bashar Assad under direct Iranian command. This is part of a radical reorganization of all the military outfits Iran has deployed in Syria, whereby all the Shiite militias including Hizballah fall henceforth directly under a single centralized Iranian command.
This fundamental shift in the military balance in Syria was initiated by Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Suleiman, commander of Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq. He convinced supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that there was no other way to safeguard Iran’s military supremacy in the Syrian war arena, guarantee a land bridge to Lebanon, or mobilize tactically for future confrontations with Israel.
The Syrian ruler also submitted to this step. Therefore, Hizballah and the Shiite militias will henceforth operate under the orders of the Iranian military mission which has its seat at Syrian High Command Headquarters in Damascus.

This “reorganization” opens the door for Hizballah officers to assume Iranian army uniforms and act as “ceasefire monitors” if Russia’s fictitious safe zones ever get off the ground.

UTT Throwback Thursday: IRAN is Still a Threat

Understanding the Threat, by John Guandolo, April 6, 2017:

President Jimmy Carter’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, said “(Ayatollah) Khomeini will eventually be hailed as a saint.”

As a result of the U.S. administration being soft-hearted, soft-minded, and naive, Iran launched an Islamic revolution, and on November 4, 1979 52 American hostages were taken from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held for 444 days until President Reagan’s Inauguration Day.

The following month, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

President Obama’s administration appeased Iran and provided it billions of dollars in violation of federal law.

This was done despite the recognition by the U.S. government that Iran is the most dangerous state sponsor of terrorism in the world, continues to aggressively pursue nuclear weapons, and makes it’s desire to destroy the United States and Israel clear.

Iran’s constitution states:  “In the organization and equipping of the countries (sic) defense forces, there must be regard for faith and religion as their basis and rules. And so the Islamic Republic’s army, and the corps of Revolutionary Guards must be organized in accordance with this aim. They have responsibility not only for the safeguarding of the frontiers, but also for a religious mission, which is Holy War (JIHAD) along the way of God, and the struggle to extend the supremacy of God’s Law in the world.”

The Iranian constitution then quotes Koran 8:60 which is:  “Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of God and your enemies, and others beside.”

This is the same Koranic quote referenced on the International Muslim Brotherhood’s logo.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah – a designated terrorist organization – reports to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah kisses the sleeve of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a sign of respect and deference.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei stands with Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah under a portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini.

From the Congressional Record dated October 4, 2002:  “Prior to September 11, Hezbollah, through its terrorist wing, the Islamic Jihad Organization, had killed more Americans, by far, than any other terrorist organization in the world. The bombing of U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, the hijacking of TWA flight 847, numerous other brutal kidnappings and murders of Americans.”

From the 9/11 Commission Report:  “In June 1996, a truck bomb demolished the Khobar Towers apartment complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. servicemen and wounding hundreds.  The attack was carried out primarily by Saudi Hezbollah, an organization that had received help from the government of Iran…In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan between Al Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to cooperate in providing support – even if only training – for action carried out primarily against Israel and the United States.  Not long afterward, senior Al Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives…The relationship between Al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier…Senior managers in Al Qaeda maintained contacts with Iran and the Iranian-supported worldwide terrorist organization Hezbollah…Al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hezbollah.  Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior Al Qaeda figures after Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan…In October 2000, two future muscle hijackers Mohand al Shehri and Hamza al Ghamdi, flew from Iran to Kuwait…In November (3 other muscle hijackers) traveled in a group from Saudi Arabia to Beirut and then onward to Iran.  An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative was on the same flight that took the future hijackers to Iran…There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of Al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

Additionally, senior Al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his family lived in Iran.

FBI officials testified in February 2002 “FBI investigations to date continue to indicate that many Hezbollah subjects based in the United States have the capability to attempt terrorist attacks here should this be a desired objective of the group.”

CIA Director George Tenet testified in February 2003 “Hezbollah, as an organization with capability and worldwide presence, is [Al Qaeda’s] equal, if not a far more capable organization.”

A July 28, 2011 U.S. State Department press release reads:  “The U.S. Department of the Treasury today announced the designation of six members of an al-Qa’ida network headed by Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a prominent Iran-based al-Qa’ida facilitator, operating under an agreement between al-Qa’ida and the Iranian government.”

In 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security – Iran’s primary intelligence agency – for providing material support to Hezbollah and Hamas (TERRORIST organizations), for providing Al Qaeda operatives with documents (passports, ID), facilitating Al Qaeda’s movement in Iran, and providing weapons and money to Al Qaeda in Iraq during the war there.

Approximately one week ago, U.S. Central Command Commander General Votel testified before Congress that “Iran posses the greatest long-term threat to stability in this part of the world.”

It is high time the United States government destroy Iran’s ability to wage war at all levels, including Hezbollah’s operations in Lebanon, Iran, and their cells here in the United States.

Hezbollah is Lebanon is Hezbollah

The Times of Israel, by Naftali Bennett, April 2, 2017:

In July 2006 mortars and rockets were fired from Lebanon at Israel’s cities and infrastructure. At the same time, Lebanese militants crossed the border and attacked Israeli soldiers – killing three and abducting the bodies of two others to the Lebanese town of Ayta a-Shab. More Israelis were killed as they chased the attackers into Lebanese territory. Despite this, Israel did not retaliate against Lebanon.

Following a request by the US, Israel distinguished between Sovereign Lebanon and Hezbollah. As a result, I – and thousands of other Israeli soldiers – found myself trying to stop an Iranian paramilitary organization using only tweezers. After weeks behind enemy lines, I can tell you: it is impossible to fight like that.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s recent comments on Egyptian television make it clear he sees no distinction between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. Hezbollah’s weapons “are essential, in that they complement the actions of the army and do not contradict them,” he said, and noted: “They are a major part of Lebanon’s defense.”

Now that Lebanon has made it clear it is Hezbollah and Hezbollah is Lebanon, it is time for Israel and the world to let the Lebanese public know: if a rocket or mortar is fired from Lebanon at Israel it will be considered an act of war conducted by the Lebanese government; if Lebanon allows and enables terrorists to stage attacks from its sovereign territory, Israel will hold it accountable.

Unlike last time, if we defend ourselves against a future Lebanese attack we will not use tweezers to search for a needle in a haystack: we will neutralize the haystack.

In the decade since 2006 Iran strengthened Hezbollah as its well-trained and well-equipped proxy. Its arsenal now contains more than one-hundred-thousand rockets, and many of its members have gained combat experience fighting for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in the civil war. Moreover, even as it lost hundreds of fighters helping Assad butcher other Syrians, Hezbollah readied itself for a potential war with Israel, stocking itself with advanced weaponry and fortifying its positions and command centers throughout Lebanon.

But Hezbollah is not only an Iranian-trained army stationed in Lebanon. It is part and parcel of the Lebanese government, boasting 12 seats in Parliament and two ministers in Cabinet. In fact, Aoun made it clear he no longer views the group as an alternative but as part of his government and strategy: “It is no longer an urgent matter to discuss the need to strip Hezbollah of its weapons,” he said in Cairo, hinting that Hezbollah is part of his army’s strategic planning.

This leads to a simple conclusion: if Hezbollah attacks Israel, it is tantamount to a Lebanese declaration of war against Israel.

If we are forced to fight – and to be clear, we have no desire to go to war – we will view all Lebanese governmental institutions as potential targets: any place used as a launch site for rockets at Israel a military post; any village hosting munition storages or command centers a military base; any Lebanese building or infrastructure used to attack Israel would become a valid military target for us to strike.

The results would be tragic for the Lebanese people.

However, the Lebanese people are the only ones who can make sure this scenario never becomes reality.

By removing Hezbollah’s rocket launchers from their backyards, hundreds of Lebanese families can save their homes. By stopping Hezbollah from using their schools as command centers, principals can protect their pupils. So long as Hezbollah is a welcome guest, the hosts are responsible for its actions.

Hezbollah’s power stems from its being embedded in Lebanon, and from Lebanon not being held accountable for Hezbollah’s acts of terror. Aoun made it clear this separation was artificial and irrelevant. As a result, Israel must let the world, and especially the Lebanese people, know Hezbollah is Lebanon.

Naftali Bennett, a Major in the IDF (reserves), is Israel’s Minister of Education and a member of the Inner Security Cabinet.

The US May Get Drawn Into War With Syria, And ISIS Has Nothing To Do With It

Four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters provide air support for Soldiers conducting an air assault exercise as part of the Full Spectrum Training Event in Hohenfels, Germany, Oct. 14, 2011. The UH-60 crews are assigned to the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade-Europe. U.S. Army photo by Richard Bumgardner

Daily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, March 22, 2017:

Tensions between U.S. ally Israel and the Syrian regime are flaring up after a series of military confrontations, which could escalate into a larger military surge in the already crowded war zone.

Tensions reached their highest level Friday when Syria launched a series of anti-aircraft missiles intended for Israeli jets engaging Hezbollah supply lines. One of the Syrian missiles was destroyed by Israel’s Arrow missile defense system. The incident marked the first known time Syria has fired on Israeli aircraft since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, and prompted a fierce Israeli response.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared to Israeli media “The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added Friday, “When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah and we have intelligence and it is operationally feasible, we act to prevent it.”

Russia, the Syrian regime’s main sponsor, also summoned the Israeli Ambassador Friday for an explanation of the strike.

Russia’s concern underscores the interwoven role of multiple global powers in Syria. Other countries involved directly in Syria include the U.S., Turkey, Iran, Russia, multiple rebel groups, al-Qaida, and the Islamic State. Many of these rebel groups have international sponsors including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other gulf countries.

Any military confrontation between Damascus and Jerusalem would almost certainly draw U.S. support, which could in turn endanger U.S. troops inside Syria. Military confrontation could threaten conventional escalation between Israel and Syria, the U.S. and Moscow, the U.S. and Iran, and deepen the already ongoing conflict.

Israel defiantly followed up on Netanyahu and Lieberman’s pledges when it carried out a series of airstrikes against Hezbollah and the Syrian regime Sunday and Monday. The Sunday strike, carried out by an Israeli drone, killed a pro-regime soldier with reported deep ties to Assad.

Israel appears likely to continue its air campaign and Assad increasingly appears emboldened after his victory in the city of Aleppo. This stance could put the two, and their global allies at war.

Follow Saagar Enjeti on Twitter

World Shrugs as Hizballah Prepares Massive Civilian Deaths

by Noah Beck
Special to IPT News
March 21, 2017

Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently warned Israel that his Iran-backed terror group could attack targets producing mass Israeli casualties, including a huge ammonia storage tank in Haifa, and a nuclear reactor in Dimona.

Also last month, Tower Magazine reported that, since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Iran provided Hizballah with a vast supply of “game-changing,” state-of-the art weapons, despite Israel’s occasional airstrikes against weapons convoys.

In a future conflict, Hizballah has the capacity to fire 1,500 rockets into Israel each day, overwhelming Israel’s missile defense systems. Should such a scenario materialize, Israel will be forced to respond with unprecedented firepower to defend its own civilians.

Hizballah’s advanced weapons and the systems needed to launch them reportedly are embedded across a staggering 10,000 locations in the heart of more than 200 civilian towns and villages. The Israeli military has openly warned about this Hizballah war crime and the grave threats it poses to both sides, but that alarm generated almost no attention from the global media, the United Nations, or other international institutions.

Like the terror group Hamas, Hizballah knows that civilian deaths at the hands of Israel are a strategic asset, because they produce diplomatic pressure to limit Israel’s military response. Hizballah reportedly went so far as offering reduced-price housing to Shiite families who allowed the terrorist group to store rocket launchers in their homes.

But if the global media, the UN, human rights organizations, and other international institutions predictably pounce on Israel after it causes civilian casualties, why are they doing nothing to prevent them? Hizballah’s very presence in southern Lebanon is a flagrant violation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1701, which called for the area to be a zone “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons” other than the Lebanese military and the U.N. Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

The resolution also required Hizballah to be disarmed, but the terror group today has an arsenal that rivals that of most armies. Hizballah possesses an estimated 140,000 missiles and rockets, and reportedly now can manufacture advanced weapons in underground factories that are impervious to aerial attack.

“Israel must stress again and again, before it happens, that these villages [storing Hizballah weapons] have become military posts, and are therefore legitimate targets,” said Yoram Schweitzer, senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

Meir Litvak, director of Tel Aviv University’s Alliance Center for Iranian Studies, agrees, adding that global attention would “expose Hizballah’s hypocrisy in its cynical use of civilians as… human shields.”

Even a concerted campaign to showcase Hizballah’s war preparation is unlikely to change things, said Eyal Zisser, a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. Hizballah exploits the fact that “the international community is too busy and…weak to do something about it,” Zisser said. All of “these talks and reports have no meaning. See what is happening in Syria.”

Israel has targeted Hizballah-bound weapons caches in Syria twice during the past week. Syria responded last Friday by firing a missile carrying 200 kilograms of explosives, which Israel successfully intercepted.

If Hizballah provokes a war, Israel can legitimately attack civilian areas storing Hizballah arms if the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) first attempts to warn the targeted civilians to leave those areas, Litvak said. But “it will certainly be very difficult and will look bad on TV.”

While Sunni Arab states are generally united against the Shiite Iranian-Hizballah axis, Litvak, Zisser, and Schweitzer all agreed that Israel could hope for no more than silent support from them when the missiles fly.

Indeed, the “Sunni Arab street” is likely to be inflamed by the images of civilian death and destruction caused by Israel that international media will inevitably broadcast, further limiting support for Israel from Iran’s Sunni state foes.

Rather perversely, the Lebanese government has embraced the very terrorist organization that could cause hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilian deaths by converting residential areas into war zones. “As long as Israel occupies land and covets the natural resources of Lebanon, and as long as the Lebanese military lacks the power to stand up to Israel, [Hizballah’s] arms are essential, in that they complement the actions of the army and do not contradict them,” President Michel Aoun told Egyptian television last month. Hizballah, he said, “has a complementary role to the Lebanese army.”

Aoun’s declaration means that Lebanon “takes full responsibility for all of Hizballah’s actions, including against Israel, and for their consequences to Lebanon and its entire population, even though the Lebanese government has little ability to actually control the organization’s decisions or policy,” said INSS Senior Research Fellow Assaf Orion.

MK Naftali Bennett, a veteran of Israel’s 2006 war with Hizballah, believes that Lebanon’s official acceptance of Hizballah and its policy of embedding military assets inside residential areas removes any constraints on Israeli targeting of civilian areas. “The Lebanese institutions, its infrastructure, airport, power stations, traffic junctions, Lebanese Army bases – they should all be legitimate targets if a war breaks out,” he said. “That’s what we should already be saying to them and the world now.”

In a future war, Hizballah is certain to try bombarding Israeli civilian communities with missile barrages. Israel, in response, will have to target missile launchers and weapons caches surrounded by Lebanese civilians.

But it need not be so. Global attention by journalists and diplomats on Hizballah’s abuses could lead to international pressure that ultimately reduces or even prevents civilian deaths.

Those truly concerned about civilians do not have a difficult case to make. Hizballah has shown a callous disregard for innocent life in Syria.

It helped the Syrian regime violently suppress largely peaceful protests that preceded the Syrian civil war in 2011. Last April, Hizballah and Syrian army troops reportedly killed civilians attempting to flee the Sunni-populated town of Madaya, near the Lebanese border. In 2008, its fighters seized control of several West Beirut neighborhoods and killed innocent civilians after the Lebanese government moved to shut down Hizballah’s telecommunication network.

Hizballah terrorism has claimed civilian lives for decades, including a 1994 suicide bombing at Argentina’s main Jewish center that killed 85 people. As the IDF notes, “Since 1982, hundreds of innocent civilians have lost their lives and thousands more have been injured thanks to Hizballah.”

If world powers and the international media genuinely care about avoiding civilian casualties, they should be loudly condemning Hizballah’s ongoing efforts – in flagrant violation of a UN resolution – to cause massive civilian death and destruction in Lebanon’s next war with Israel.

Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, an apocalyptic novel about Iranian nukes and other geopolitical issues in the Middle East.

Also see:

Report: Iranian sleeper cells operating in U.S.

Hezbollah forces in Lebanon

WND, by Leo Hohmann, March 12, 2017:

American intelligence agencies have growing evidence that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group maintains a network of sleeper cells in the United States, according to a new report.

Though Hezbollah has not conducted a major attack on U.S. soil, the group could decide to strike key American sites should U.S.-Iran relations deteriorate substantially, according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

“Preparations to combat Islamist terrorism broadly should strongly consider the nuanced and growing Hezbollah threat to U.S. national security,” the report concludes.

Hezbollah or “the Party of God” is based in southern Lebanon and has long served as Iran’s way of Islamizing a formerly Christian country while also stoking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and periodically launching rockets into northern Israel.

But the organization has other enemies besides Israel and should not be viewed within the narrow scope of the Arab-Israel conflict.

In fact, the Shiite terror group has been building its presence in South America since the late 1980s and was able to make inroads on the North American continent during the Obama years, terror analysts say.

The problem is not new but it is reaching a point where a major terrorist event on U.S. soil is more possible, said John Guandolo, a former FBI counter-terrorism specialist who now operates a private consulting business at Understanding the Threat.

He says there is now a sizable Hezbollah presence in the U.S.

Urging Trump to take action

“There is a great deal of testimony – much of it by senior Drug Enforcement Agency officials – over the years revealing how dangerous the situation is,” Guandolo told WND.

“They operate under the direct authority of the leadership of Iran which makes them, legally, an agent of an enemy state operating in the U.S.,” he added. “Our response, in my opinion, should be very strong. For the last eight or nine years we have not taken any strong action, but hopefully that will change.”

About a dozen U.S. mosques in several states are owned or supported by the New York City-based Alavi Foundation, which has ties to the government of Iran. One such mosque is the Islamic Education Center in Potomac, Maryland, Guandolo said.

Alavi’s mosques and all its U.S. assets, including a 36-story glass tower in Manhattan, were seized in 2013-14 for alleged links to Iran’s government in violation of sanctions against that country, but the forfeiture was reversed on appeal in July 2016.

Bush, Obama ignored the threat

Hezbollah is known for having “broader penetration in the Western Hemisphere than any other terrorist organization,” stated the U.S. State Department’s acting coordinator for counter-terrorism, Mark F. Wong, in testimony before the U.S. House International Relations Committee in 2002.

Hezbollah “is a multi-faceted, multinational” organization that “has a presence in virtually every country in North and South America. …” Wong reported to Congress at the time.

Both al-Qaida and Hezbollah have been known to be active along the border region of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.

The tri-border area known as the “Muslim triangle”

Hezbollah and Hamas have also been setting up shop in the tri-border region of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, also known as the “Muslim Triangle.”

Hezbollah has set up legitimate businesses that also deal in counterfeiting U.S. currency, drug smuggling and other illicit trades. This area of South and Central America has been described as a “haven for Islamic extremists” by the former administrator of the DEA, Asa Hutchinson, in testimony before the House International Relations Committee.

Another wave of warnings came in August 2013, again in testimony before Congress. That’s when Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., then-chair of the House Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, warned that Iran was building an “extensive intelligence and terrorist network” in Latin America that the Obama administration was ignoring.

Ros-Lehtinen blasted the Obama administration for putting “politics over national security” in refusing to “get serious” about Iran’s growing infiltration of Latin American nations.

Matthew Levitt’s in-depth essay in Prism magazine last year cited extensive evidence of Iran’s growing influence in Latin America and detailed how Iran works to circumvent economic sanctions through some 36 cultural centers in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Hezbollah is now believed to have penetrated the U.S. during the lax border security that became endemic during the Obama years.

Another wave of warnings came in August 2013, again in testimony before Congress. That’s when Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., then-chair of the House Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, warned that Iran was building an “extensive intelligence and terrorist network” in Latin America that the Obama administration was ignoring.

Ros-Lehtinen blasted the Obama administration for putting “politics over national security” in refusing to “get serious” about Iran’s growing infiltration of Latin American nations.

Matthew Levitt’s in-depth essay in Prism magazine last year cited extensive evidence of Iran’s growing influence in Latin America and detailed how Iran works to circumvent economic sanctions through some 36 cultural centers in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Hezbollah is now believed to have penetrated the U.S. during the lax border security that became endemic during the Obama years.

Philip B. Haney

Philip Haney, a retired Homeland Security officer who developed data templates for radical Islamic sects, said Caracas, Venezuela is home to the largest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere – the Al Ibrahim mosque, which is Shia and has ties to Iran.

“That would be an obvious transport point for a lot of things going on there,” said Haney, co-author of “See Something Say Nothing.”

He points to the Panama Free Trade Zone as a “wild west” type of region for fraudulent commercial activity, much of it conducted by Lebanese businessmen funneling money to Hezbollah.

“There are a lot of Lebanese immigrants operating there and they’re there for a reason, it’s kind of like the Switzerland of Latin America,” he said. “They deal in the movement of vehicles, cigarettes and infant formula, cigarettes in particular, and they’re run by Lebanese crews here in the U.S.”

There are so many tactical operations going on in the Western Hemisphere – visa fraud, drug trafficking, contraband, car and cigarette fraud – that it’s hard to keep track of them, Haney said.

“You have to remember the Lebanese have been moving money through non-conventional channels for many years and have become very good at it. It’s a form of underground economy generating huge off-market revenue,” Haney said.

“And that’s where the free trade zone comes in because it’s like a wide-open environment, it’s a source of capital for both legitimate and illicit transactions.”

There is a whole network of Lebanese financiers who operate in the zone.

Here’s how some of them work:

  • Passport fraud: These are real passports but they’re issued to people with false names and identities. “It’s a legit passport obtained illegitimately. It’s not fake, it’s real, but it’s issued normally to a person who created a new identity or a false identity,” Haney said.
    “We’ve known about all this stuff for probably a good 10 years.”

CNN reported just last month on a fake passport ring run out of Venezuela that included allegations that passports were given to people with ties to terrorism.

One confidential intelligence document obtained by CNN links Venezuela’s new Vice President Tareck El Aissami to 173 Venezuelan passports and ID’s that were issued to individuals from the Middle East, including people connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah, CNN reports.

One of CNN’s sources for the story was a cop who said he was offered a cut of the profits if he had cooperated with the scheme.

Here’s more from the CNN report:

The accusation that the country was issuing passports to people who are not Venezuelan first surfaced in the early 2000s when Hugo Chavez was the country’s president, interviews and records show.
A Venezuelan passport permits entry into more than 130 countries without a visa, including 26 countries in the European Union, according to a ranking by Henley and Partners. A visa is required to enter the United States.

  • Vehicle shipment fraud: Cars originating in Venezuela often get shipped to the Middle East for resale. They are bought low and sold higher for profit, which is legal. But it’s what’s stashed inside the cars that are illegal contraband.

“It’s very common. They use the cars as cover and they put contraband in them because most of the shipping containers these cars get loaded into are not inspected,” Haney said. “Some are stuffed with millions of dollars in cash. It’s in the seats and in the floor boards.”

“These cars can even turn up in car-bombings in Baghdad and sometimes they were tracked all the way back to the united states,” he added.

  • Illicit cigarette sales: What does cigarette smuggling have to do with terrorism? A lot, say terrorism experts. The market for illicit cigarettes is $3 billion a year and growing, and the Lebanese are a huge player in this market.

The Lebanese buy cigarettes in low-tax states like Missouri, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia and then sell them in high-tax states like New York, where they can undercut highly taxed cigarettes and make huge profits.

For example, a pack of cigarettes in New York City can sell for upwards of $14 due to the $4.35 tax. But in Missouri the cigarette tax is only 17 cents, and in Georgia it is 35 cents, so a pack sells at retail for $6. That means a single truckload of black-market cigarettes can be worth up to $2 million to a ringleader.

A recent arrest in the Bronx netted charges against Mohamed Mustafa and Hiyad Chaib for running the illicit cigarette ring, Pix 11 reported.

Two brothers in North Carolina were convicted in 1992 of sending millions to the militant group, Hezbelloh, in Lebanon. The money made on the illicit cigarette sales is often laundered through a legitimate business here in the U.S. but much of the money ends up in the Middle East.

In 2002 Operation Smokescreen was a multi-agency federal counter-terrorism effort focused on black-market cigarette sales in Iredell County, North Carolina, that served as a fundraising effort for Hezbollah.

Detectives made repeated observations of a group of men purchasing large quantities of cigarettes, often with $20,000 – $30,000 in cash. The joint counterterrorism operation ended the fundraising operation, resulting in the arrest, trial, and conviction of the cell members.

In 2013, one of the defendants in another Brooklyn ring had long-time ties to Rashid Baz, the Lebanese cab driver accused of shooting up a van full of Orthodox Jewish students on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994, Pix 11 reported.

“Lebanese immigrant gangs are doing these different criminal enterprises in the U.S. You’re talking macro truckloads of cigarettes,” Haney said. “They sell to vendors at about the same price but they didn’t have to pay the tax so they make a profit. So you have the cocaine trade, the cigarette trade here, the shipment of vehicles going to the Middle East, you have the Panama free trade zone being exploited.”

  • Drug trafficking: Hezbollah launders money through the free trade zone in Panama and they work with the Mexicans in the drug cartels, Haney said. “That’s why you started seeing really violent beheadings and stuff like that in the drug trade over the last couple of years,” he said. “Hezbollah is using the drug trade to finance its operations.”

Five types of jihad

So what’s all this have to do with sleeper cells and possible terror on U.S. soil? Not only do the smuggling and fraudster operations finance terrorist organizations, but they plunder the legitimate businesses here in the United States.

“There’s different forms of jihad. Financial jihad is one,” Haney said. “It has to do with the concept of plundering the unbelievers. You don’t have to blow them up, you can just make them go broke.”

He said there are five major types of jihad and warfare conducted with bombs and guns is only one of them.

Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born imam of Yemeni parents who helped plan terror attacks for al-Qaida, specialized in financial jihad, Haney said.

“It comes from Quran chapter 8 on the spoils of war, plundering the unbelievers,” he said.

So while most intelligence is geared toward stopping the next big terrorist attacks, groups like Hezbollah are busy nibbling away at the edges of Western society. It’s less sensational but just as damaging over the long haul.

“This is more like the death by a thousand cuts kind of thing, not one fatal thrust but a thousand small ones,” Haney said. “If you approach everything from the expectation that there’s going to be one big attack you bias yourself because you’ve misdiagnosed the nature of the threat. One size doesn’t necessarily fit all.”

“There’s a lot more going on over on the Shia side of the fence than most people realize because we mostly focus on the Sunni groups like the Muslim Brotherhood,” Haney added.

In fact, the two sides are increasingly working together.

Notwithstanding the current disagreements over Syria, there is a long history of cooperation between Muslim extremists on both the Sunni and Shia sides, according to the Washington Institute, which published a policy paper on the issue in May 2013. There have been many meetings aimed at global reconciliation between the two, facilitated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The Muslim Brotherhood acts as a liaison between the two in terms of how they are addressing their enemies, the U.S. and Israel,” Haney said. “There’s a lot of overlap. And there are a lot of refugees coming out of the Middle East that are not all Sunni, they’re also Shia.”

Hizballah’s Ongoing Threat to U.S. National Security

by IPT News  •  Mar 7, 2017

Most analyses of Hizballah focus on the terrorist group’s intervention in Syria or its threat to Israel. But the Iranian-backed organization maintains a significant presence in and near the United States, threatening national security. Current American proposals to strengthen borders and immigration measures may be limited to address this important, yet poorly understood, threat.

A recent Al-Arabiya article examines Hizballah’s North American threat.

It has the expertise to build advanced tunnels on the southern U.S. border, enabling Hizballah terrorists and Mexican cartel operatives to infiltrate the United States. Relations between Iranian-backed proxies, including Hizballah, and Latin American drug cartels are well established. Mexican gang members learn from Hizballah’s combat experience and use of advanced weaponry. Hizballah, in turn, derives a significant portion of its finances from the drug trade and other illicit activities.

In recent years, security officials in southwestern states noticed a rise in tattoos featuring Hizballah’s insignia among imprisoned drug cartel operatives. This surprising trend indicates a strengthened relationship between the terrorist group and Mexican gang members. In line with its foreign policy, Iranian operatives infiltrating Latin America seek to convert individuals to adopt its extremist Shi’ite ideology. Over the years, pro Iranian websites have proliferated across Latin America, in an attempt to cultivate support for the Islamic Republic.

Powerful Latin American politicians also help Iran and Hizballah penetrate the region and threaten the United States. In February, CNN received a 2013 secret intelligence document from several Latin American countries demonstrating ties between Venezuelan Vice President Tarreck El Aissami and 173 Venezuelan identification cards and passports issued to people from the Middle East, including Hizballah operatives. El Aissami “took charge of issuing, granting visas and nationalizing citizens from different countries, especially Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Iranians, and Iraqis,” the report shows.

Iranian and Hizballah operatives have cultivated and consolidated operating bases in South America, especially in the tri-border area (TBA) of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. With a large Muslim population featuring significant numbers of Hizballah sympathizers, the region is ripe for recruitment, arms smuggling and drug trafficking. Hizballah continues to exploit other Lebanese Shi’ite diaspora communities, including in the United States, to strengthen its presence worldwide.

In 2011, the United States disrupted a plot led by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in cooperation with a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington.

The problematic nexus between Iranian-backed operatives, including Hizballah, and Mexican drug cartels allows terrorists to earn big money to fuel their violent operations. These connections also enable Hizballah to make inroads into the United States through its porous border with Mexico.

American intelligence reports show that Hizballah maintains a significant network of sleeper cells in the United States. Though Hizballah has not conducted a major attack on U.S. soil, the group could decide to strike key American sites should U.S.-Iran relations deteriorate substantially. Preparations to combat Islamist terrorism broadly should strongly consider the nuanced and growing Hizballah threat to U.S. national security.