Iran’s presence from Lebanon's Beirut to Venezuela's Caracas
There are many reasons why folks in Washington might be taking their eyes off of the foreign policy ball for several months now. The horrific killing of George Floyd which brought out protests – many but not all of which have devolved into looting and mayhem – the novel coronavirus pandemic and, prior to that, the impeachment. However, we should be aware that the enemies of the United States use times such as these to advance their nefarious agendas.
While we blink, they can use this moment to make enormous strides.
In the last few weeks, we have watched as five Iranian ships entered Venezuelan harbors with near total impunity, delivering 1.53 million gallons of refined fuel to oil-rich Venezuela, whose government of President Nicolas Maduro is so besieged with corruption that there has been a complete breakdown of its refining work. Both nations are flagrantly defying US sanctions.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani boasted in a telephone conversation with Qatar’s emir on May 23, “If our tankers in the Caribbean, or anywhere else in the world, face trouble by the Americans, they [the US], will also be in trouble.”
And in a very disturbing interview published by MEMRI on May 30, the Lebanese political analyst, Anis al-Naqqash, said that Iranian missiles that have a range of 2,500 km. can reach from Venezuela to cities in the US.
The Iranian proxy, Hezbollah has long had a prominent presence just south of the US border at the intersection of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, which was most dramatically manifested in the 1992 bombing on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina – murdering 29 and injuring 242 others – and the 1994 attack on the AMIA Israeli-Argentine Association, murdering 85.
For decades now, Hezbollah has been very popular with Latin American drug cartels, because of its aptitude with money-laundering, and its long tentacles throughout the world.
Now, however, Iran sees Venezuela and its socialist dictator, Maduro, as a natural ally against the US, and Hezbollah now maintains its Western foothold there. Mahan Air of Iran has been flying regular flights to Venezuela since April 22, with arms, personnel and equipment.
Their alliance is so great that Tehran recently gave nine tons of gold, worth $500m. to cash-starved Venezuela, despite the fact that people all over Iran are starving today.
That should not come as a surprise. According to The American Foreign Policy Council, at least 26 million Iranians suffer from abject poverty, and at least six percent suffer from starvation, yet the Islamic Republic has consistently chosen guns over butter. The recent hike in the cost of fuel has led Iranians to pour out into the streets and to protest with slogans, such as “Forget about Syria. Think about us,” and “Death to Hezbollah.”
If anything, Iran expanded its export of the Shi’ite revolution to Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and most particularly Lebanon, where it now has an arsenal of approximately 150 thousand missiles, staring down at Israel from its southern border.
This is an abject case study of Hezbollah’s incremental hold of a government, and America should take careful note.
LEBANON IS a tragic country, which has within it a mosaic of cultures. In February and March of 2005, after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, there had been one brief sanguine moment called The Cedar Revolution, where secular Muslims and Christians felt free to march through the streets of Beirut.
However, today, Hezbollah has an increasing choke hold on the Lebanese government. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab – although himself Sunni – was nominated by Hezbollah and is much beholden to the terrorist group. Hezbollah now controls two Lebanese government ministries, including the Health Ministry, which is increasingly important during the days of COVID-19.
What is particularly infuriating is the intimate relationship that Hezbollah now has over the Lebanese Armed Forces.
After the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, the UN passed UN Security Council resolution 1701, demanding that all foreign forces evacuate Lebanon, south of the Litani River to the Blue Line.
Israel immediately complied, but Iran has become an occupying force of Lebanon, where its terror proxy Hezbollah dominates the South, and LAF forces will not travel into certain neighborhoods without being accompanied by Hezbollah members.
Today, it is impossible to know where the margins of the LAF end and those of Hezbollah begin. According to Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, there is “no difference between Hezbollah and the LAF.” General Michael Herzog recently said that “They are one and the same.”
The LAF now gives their uniforms to Hezbollah. During the 2006 war, Israeli saw American-made armored vehicles being driven by Hezbollah officers. And on the LAF’s own website, known members of Hezbollah are seen posing with its soldiers, with flags of both militias draped on either side.
Lt.- Col. (Ret.) Sarit Zehavi of the IDF, director of the think tank ALMA, which specializes in Israel’s northern border, recently said that “In the next war, we will see the LAF fighting alongside Hezbollah.”
For decades now, Iran has used Syrian soil to transfer weapons and equipment to Hezbollah. Now, their 150,000 missiles have been converted from dummy missiles to smart, precision-guided missiles, capable of reaching critical points of Israel’s infrastructure and with a greater velocity, and they are now threatening to swarm Israel’s defense capabilities by sending droves of missiles at once, like flocks of vultures.
It has reached the point where the IDF is reluctant to strike out against Hezbollah in Lebanon. On April 17, Hezbollah penetrated the security fence separating Israel from Lebanon in three separate places, leaving their autograph by way of posting pictures of Hassan Nasrallah and Qassem Soleimani.
The IDF responds by attacking empty vehicles owned by Hezbollah fighters or convoys on their way to Beirut from Tehran on Syrian soil, and as recently as June 4, the IAF attacked a town in Central Syria.
If we blink, Venezuela can well become the new Syria for Iran, stretching Hezbollah’s presence throughout Chile and Argentina to Mexico, just south of our border, threatening the continental US with their new and improved missile capability.
The writer is founder and president of EMET, an unabashedly pro-American and pro-Israel think tank and policy institute in Washington.