Hezbollah and Iran behind major operations against drug trafficking

The Lebanese terrorist group, with the support of Tehran, uses drug money to finance its attacks
A Hezbollah flag and a poster showing the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   A Hezbollah flag and a poster showing the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

US sanctions on Iran, the coronavirus pandemic and the economic collapse of Lebanon have led Hezbollah to seek other sources of funding. Now the terrorist organisation appears to be increasingly dependent on criminal enterprises, including drug smuggling, to finance its operations, according to reports by US and Middle Eastern analysts. At the beginning of July, the Italian police found 84 million amphetamine Captagon tablets hidden inside rolls of paper, according to the US newspaper The Washington Post.

This amount, a record according to the Italian agents themselves, is estimated to be $1.1 billion. According to the Post, following US intelligence reports, these drugs originated in Syria, in factories controlled by Bachar al-Asad's regime. The reconstruction of the journey of these substances to the Italian coast carried out by the American newspaper begins in Latakia, a Syrian coastal city with Iranian port facilities controlled by Hezbollah.

The Lebanese terrorist group has been linked to a series of major drug seizures in places ranging from Syria and Jordan to the urban centres of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and has even operated in central and southern Europe. In July the Greek authorities confiscated a large shipment of Captagon pills from Syria, worth over $500 million. But last year the Dubai police also found over five tonnes of drugs in hidden compartments. These anti-drug operations were repeated in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

PHOTO/REUTERS - A Lebanese member of Hezbollah in a suburb of Lebanon

The European law enforcement agency, Europol, warned in June that Hezbollah operatives were believed to be "trafficking in diamonds and drugs" and carrying out money laundering, using European countries as a base for their operations. The Captagon is a synthetic drug that Hezbollah began manufacturing more than ten years ago, according to intelligence analysts.

Close ties with drug trafficking since the 1990s

Hezbollah carries out all the logistic coordination of the operations, but under the umbrella of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard of Iran. The partnership established between the two Shia groups has served the Lebanese militia as financial support, but the serious economic crisis Iran is experiencing has increased activities of this kind. The Iranian president himself, Hassan Rohani, admitted that the Islamic Republic was experiencing the worst economic crisis since its establishment in 1979 and the Iranian currency continues to plummet. The crisis has led both Hezbollah and Iran to seek income by any means possible.

According to Al-Ain, recent intelligence reports indicated that the sanctions imposed by Washington on Iran have led Teheran to cut back on funds for militias in Lebanon and Syria. But drug trafficking between Hezbollah and Iran is not a recent issue. It dates back to the 1990s, but has now become an important part of its continuance.

AFP/AL-MANAR TV - Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon

Shortly after a group of Shiite armed factions united under the name of 'Party of God', some of these groups already had links with drug trafficking in the Bekaa valley of Lebanon and the money they made from these criminal activities was used to increase the number of members of the terrorist group and improve their staging. According to an FBI report published in November 2008, Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Shiite militia, declared to his followers that "drug smuggling is morally acceptable when sold to Westerners, as part of the war against the enemies of Islam".

The links between Hezbollah and the drug cartels in Latin America are well known. Their links with drug trafficking, money laundering and arms with drug 'entrepreneurs' have been sources of their funding. Countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Nicaragua and Cuba have opened their doors to Iran and Hezbollah in exchange for strategic advice and weapons.