Thursday, August 10, 2006

“Remember, Hezbollah is a political party within Lebanon… The problem is… that they’re a political party with a militia that is armed by foreign nations,” said President Bush earlier this week. “Political Party”? “Armed Militia”?

Hezbollah, which was established in 1982 as a terrorist organization, was finally designated in 1995 as such by the U.S. government. It was upgraded to the status of a global terrorist organization in 1997. Hezbollah’s evolvement into a “political party” began in the 1980s. With Iran’s generous assistance and guidance, Hezbollah established a network of educational and cultural institutions, as well as health and social welfare services. The latter included an Islamic health authority that operated pharmacies, clinics and even hospitals where thousands of people were treated every day. Hezbollah also established a construction company that not only built houses, mosques and schools, but also paved roads and even supplied water to Shi’ite villages. Particularly prominent in all of this was its contribution to the reconstruction of thousands of houses damaged in the battles with Israel in south Lebanon. Such activities bought the loyalty of the local population.

Hezbollah, like the PLO and Hamas, also maintained a Martyrs’ Fund, which provided assistance to thousands of families of the dead, injured and imprisoned Shi’ites.

To maintain and expand its political-social activities in the Shi’ite community in Lebanon and elsewhere, Hezbollah needs large sums of money. The $100 million to $120 million it is said to receive annually from Iran, and the weapons and supplies from Tehran and Damascus, are just a drop in Hezbollah’s bucket. Where did Hezbollah’s fund come from? By the mid-1980s, Shi’ite Hezbollah loyalists in Western Europe had quietly and effectively infiltrated local Muslim communities with the subversive aim of converting them to Ayatollah Khomeini’s version of Islam, and of eventually gaining control over those communities. Countless legal and quasi-legal institutions — including religious, cultural and economic groups — were established to conceal these dormant Hezbollah networks; to finance their activities; to serve as a source for future recruitment of European-based terrorists; and to provide financial support for their attack.

Hezbollah’s support comes from both legitimate and illegal resources. The legitimate channel includes charitable organizations operating worldwide, donations from individuals and proceeds from legitimate business.

Drug trafficking is a major money maker for Hezbollah, endorsed by a special fatwa by the mullahs. In addition to the production and trade of heroin in the Middle East and cocaine in and from South America, Hezbollah facilitates, for a fee, the trafficking of other drug smuggling networks. It cooperates, for example, with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia and the “Abadan drug ring,” a long-established Iranian drug network, allowing them to use the Hezbollah-controlled drug routes in Lebanon to transport heroin and opium from Iran and Afghanistan to Europe and North Africa.

Hezbollah’s other illegal resources include: money laundering, illegal arms trading and smuggling; counterfeiting and selling currency (U.S. dollar — super notes) and goods (designer clothing and accessories); piracy of compact discs and DVDs; trafficking in humans; conducting elaborate import-export schemes with traders from India and Hong Kong to Ivory Coast, Belgium, and South and Central America. Hezbollah also extorts “donations” from Shi’ite, especially Lebanese immigrants in South and North America under the threat of physical harm or death.

Hezbollah operatives also generate huge profits from the theft and resale of stolen vehicles and baby formula; credit card, welfare, Social Security, and marriage, health care and insurance fraud; forgery of passports, drivers’ licenses, and other forms of identification; arson; robbery; food coupon fraud; counterfeiting resident alien cards and drivers’ licenses; telecommunications fraud, such as selling long-distance telephone access through fraudulently obtained services, and through cloning the identification of cellular phone subscribers.

The magnitude of Hezbollah’s criminal operations serves not only to reap huge profits — estimated at $6 billion in 2001 — thus enabling it to buy its way to the Lebanese parliament and government, but also facilitates Hezbollah’s infiltration into their targeted countries, weakening the countries’ economies while furthering their terrorist agenda.

Hezbollah should also be identified and designated as a global criminal organization.

And while it continued to fund the vast social welfare system it put in place, enlisting more martyrs to their cause, Hezbollah spent no money to protect the “civilian” population in Lebanon because it does not consider them as such. Instead of building bunkers to protect their own Shi’ite brothers and sisters, members of Hezbollah spent fortunes to build fortified bunkers to launch war, and calculated death and destruction.

That, according to Hezbollah and their paymasters in Iran, is a good thing because only death and destruction will pave the way for the return of the mahdi, the 12th imam and Shi’ite supremacy in the world. This is the Hezbollah the president calls a “political party.”

Rachel Ehrenfeld is director of American Center for Democracy and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger.

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