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Hizballah’s Money Laundering Has Contaminated Lebanon’s Entire Financial System

According to a 2018 U.S. Treasury Department report, the Lebanese terrorist organization Hizballah receives an estimated $700 million annually from Iran, while raising another $300 million from a vast network of illegal businesses. Foremost among these is a money-laundering operation that provides its services to Latin American drug cartels, with nodes in West Africa, Europe, the U.S., and even East Asia. Tony Badran and Emanuele Ottolenghi explain:

Hizballah relies on a global network of couriers, financiers, businesses, and financial institutions to launder money from organized crime and drugs. These activities generate commissions for Hizballah. In addition, Hizballah directly engages in criminal activities, such as drug production and trafficking, human trafficking, gun smuggling, illicit wildlife trafficking, illegal logging, and blood diamonds.

As Badran and Ottolenghi detail, much can be learned about these activities from publicly available documents. Take, for example, one of the individuals caught up by authorities as they unraveled one particular segment of this criminal network:

In 2018, U.S. authorities arrested Ali Kassir, a U.S.-Lebanese dual national recently convicted in Miami. . . . Kassir bought discounted electronics from a Hong Kong-based company owned by a Lebanese national whose cousin, based in Ciudad del Este, would then buy them from Kassir. Court records indicate that some of Kassir’s merchandise was counterfeit—including fake Apple accessories. Acting as an unlicensed money remitter, Kassir used his company’s bank account as a pass-through for third-party transactions, ultimately laundering up to $70 million in three years. Some of the money he helped launder moved by courier (cash in suitcases), but most of the payments were wire transfers transiting Florida branches of U.S. banks.

At the Lebanese end of these operations, Hizballah facilitates the smuggling of goods into Syria. It has also injected enormous sums of illicit funds into Lebanon’s banks, resulting in the “contamination” of the country’s financial system, which is now in a state of near-collapse. But Washington now has a chance to intervene:

The government of Lebanon seeks an international bailout to save its financial system, which will require an estimated $93 billion rescue. . . . In the past, the United States has refrained from targeting Lebanese banks for fear of destabilizing Lebanon’s economy. That fear is now moot given the current financial crisis, which has left the entire sector in ruins.

The country’s corrupt political and financial elite, coupled with Hizballah’s domination of the system, sealed Lebanon’s fate. For the United States, as much as for the Lebanese people, what matters is to end the current system. Anything less would mean perpetuating the financial crimes that brought Lebanon to this moment in the first place.

Read more at FDD

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, U.S. Foreign policy

A Senior Saudi Political Figure Takes the Palestinian Leadership to Task

In an extended television interview with an Arab broadcaster, Prince Bandar bin Sultan—who served for twenty years as the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., for a decade as head of the Saudi National Security Council, and two years as intelligence chief—responded forcefully to the Palestinian claim that the Gulf states have, by normalizing relations with Israel, “stabbed the Palestinians in the back.” Defending Saudi devotion to the Palestinian cause, Prince Bandar delivered a lengthy history of his country’s role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which he bluntly upbraided Palestinian leaders, and Yasir Arafat above all, for squandering chances at statehood and for their lack of “ethics.” While Bandar’s sentiments can hardly be described as pro-Israel, he asserted that the Palestinian leaders are every bit as responsible as the Jewish state for the plight of their people:

[After the UN issued its 1947 Resolution 181 for partitioning Palestine], a Jewish state called Israel was recognized, which became a member of the United Nations. As for the Arab side, the Palestinians rejected the resolution, and as usual, we [Saudis] supported their rejection. Many years later, the main demand of our Palestinian brothers has been UN resolution 181, which is no longer on the table. No one is discussing it now. This was the beginning, and such events, as I mentioned, were repeated once, twice, and three times.

After the Oslo Accords, I asked Abu Amar, [i.e., Arafat], God rest his soul—and as they say remember the virtues of your dead—what he thought of the autonomy provisions [offered to the Palestinians under the 1978] Camp David Treaty. He said, “Bandar, Camp David’s autonomy provisions were ten times better than the Oslo Accords.” I said, “Well, Mr. President, why did you not agree to it?” He said, “I wanted to, but Hafez al-Assad threatened to kill me and to drive a wedge among the Palestinians, turning them against me.” I thought to myself, so he could have been one martyr and given his life to save millions of Palestinians, but it was as God willed it.

Bandar recounts another incident where he came to Arafat with an offer from the Reagan administration to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians, but Arafat stalled pointlessly until the offer expired. In short, Bandar’s view of things reflects the old adage “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Read more at Al Arabiya

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, Yasir Arafat