Intended to fight transnational organized crime, Executive Orders 13581 and 13773 lay out a clear policy that identifies the convergence between terror finance networks and transnational organized crime as a critical threat to our national security. Regardless, neither President Trump nor President Obama designated Hezbollah as a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO).
Labeling Hezbollah as a TCO is a long overdue measure, given the growing body of evidence showing Hezbollah’s global involvement in transnational crime. Hezbollah now derives hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from criminal activities. Especially in Latin America, Hezbollah operatives have built extensive and enduring ties with drug cartels. But Latin American governments are reluctant to treat Hezbollah and its local networks as a terrorist organization. A TCO designation would lead them to take the criminal threat from Hezbollah more seriously and confront Hezbollah’s criminal apparatus, which directly impacts their societies more than Hezbollah’s military adventurism in the Middle East.
An estimated 20 to 30 percent – or between $200 and $300 million per year – of Hezbollah’s $1 billion annual operating budget comes from sources other than Iranian contributions. This is mostly from illicit activities, which Hezbollah engages in to meet its growing financial needs, especially since its involvement in the Syrian civil war.
In many cases, Hezbollah has served as a middleman for cartels – helping with the logistics of drug shipments as well as laundering the proceeds through its extensive network of businesses across the Western Hemisphere, in West Africa, and in China. That was the case with the network of Lebanese-Colombian national Ayman Joumaa, who laundered drug cartels’ money through Hezbollah front companies. Joumaa not only provided financial services to the cartels, but also coordinated cocaine shipments. Joumaa was eventually designated in 2011 by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The case ultimately led to U.S. financial sanctions against the Lebanese Canadian Bank, as well as asset seizures and the designation of companies in Lebanon, Africa, and Latin America. This case confirmed that Hezbollah’s financial sources no longer consist solely of Iranian funding and remittances from trade-based money laundering by small overseas businesses.
U.S. sanctions, as well as court cases in the United States and overseas, have also targeted Hezbollah-linked operatives acting as logistics and financial service providers, traffickers, drug barons, distributors, and, most recently, suppliers of precursor chemicals used to refine cocaine. Hezbollah operatives are active participants in all stages of the drug supply chain – including, ominously, significant sales to the U.S. market, as a case currently being tried in Miami reveals.
Hezbollah is inextricably tied with the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations, and is helping them grow more powerful. Designating Hezbollah as a TCO can thus expose organized crime and radical Islamic terrorism’s deadly convergence, and make the fight against Hezbollah’s global terror finance networks more effective.
Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @eottolenghi.
Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD.