Daily Briefing: Hezbollah, Down But Not Out. (June 27,2019)

 

 

Hassan Nasrallah is Hezbollah’s third secretary-general (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Hezbollah Paying the Price of Iranian Obstinance:  Dr. Yaron Friedman, Ynet, May 27, 2019

Hezbollah is Now Giving Orders to Syria’s Army – and Using it to Spy on Israel:  Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel, June 24, 2019

IRGC Designation: A Lost Opportunity to Weaken Hezbollah in Lebanon:  David Daoud, Atlantic Council, Apr. 19, 2019

Secret Venezuela Files Warn About Maduro Confidant:  Nicholas Casey, New York Times, May 2, 2019

 

Hezbollah Paying the Price of Iranian Obstinance
Dr. Yaron Friedman
Ynet, May 27, 2019

Hezbollah is facing its worst economic crisis yet after U.S. sanctions on Iran imposed last year resulted in funding cut to Tehran’s Lebanese proxy organization.

The latest round of American sanctions targeted Iran’s oil revenue, with the aim of cutting them down to zero. Hezbollah’s concern is that its annual income from Iran, totaling $700 million, which comes mostly from Iranian oil revenue will stop. Monthly air shipments of cash from Tehran have already been cut in half.

Hezbollah’s troubles stem not only from Iran’s economic woes. The organization itself is now sanctioned by the U.S., their financial transactions are under strict scrutiny with all bank accounts and fundraising being monitored. The group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, last month appealed for donations – for the first time ever – in a public address to members and supporters. A foundation named “Support for the Resistance” was set up in Lebanon to raise badly needed capital.

Now, for the first time since its inception 36 years ago, Hezbollah is cutting salaries to its fighters. Some have been receiving just two-thirds of their usual pay for the past three months, and half of all reserve fighters have been let go.

According to reports, Hezbollah is also selling off property. Apartments have been sold in its southern Beirut stronghold of Dahia and in the Beqaa Valley city of Baalbek. Some services provided to fighters and their families have also been stopped. The organization’s propaganda wing is under economic pressure as well. Al Manar, Hezbollah’s cable television network and A Nur, its radio station, have both had to lay staff off and cut pay to others.

But not only sanctions are to blame for Hezbollah’s economic troubles. Years of fighting in Syria to prop up the regime of Bashar Assad, another Iranian ally, cost the organization dearly both in money and in lives.

Families of the estimated 2,000 fighters killed in Syria have been given financial aid by Hezbollah, as have the families of those killed in confrontations with Israeli forces. Now that aid has been reduced too.

Another factor contributing to Hezbollah’s troubles is the position taken by the oil-rich Gulf states – Iran’s foes in the region – with Saudi Arabia leading Sunni countries in an economic siege of the organization.

The American financial offensive, meanwhile, is against the axis of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Assad’s regime has been under sanctions since 2011. Considering him a war criminal, the European Union joined in with their own sanctions. Syrian business leaders close to the regime have been black-listed and are unable to raise cash.
The Syrian crisis is dire: The country is suffering oil shortages and runaway prices while the country’s main benefactor, Russia has not been able to provide the funds needed to rebuild after years of relentless civil war. The American administration speaks the language of money. They are promoting the “deal of the century” and their offensive is financial. The noose around Hezbollah’s neck is tightening.

The “Deal of the Century” itself may not enjoy as much regional support as efforts to break Hezbollah. So, for now, at least, any Hezbollah offensive against Israel on the Golan Heights will likely be put on hold. They simply cannot afford it.

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Hezbollah is Now Giving Orders to Syria’s Army – and Using it to Spy on Israel
Avi Issacharoff
The Times of Israel, June 24, 2019

Earlier this month, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based watchdog group, reported that Israeli fighter jets struck Hezbollah positions on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. There was no Israeli comment on the claim.

The report said one of the targets was a post on Tel al-Harra, a mountain that is considered a strategic point that overlooks the Golan Heights, while the other was in Quneitra, near the UN-monitored border crossing with Israel, where Arab media reports a Syrian air-defense position and a Hezbollah intelligence center are located.

The Iran-backed Lebanese terror group had been trying to set up a front on the Syrian Golan for years but had previously been unable to gain a sufficient foothold in the area. However, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s conquest of the border area last summer provided the regime-allied organization with an opportunity to once again attempt to establish the necessary infrastructure with which it could threaten Israel near the border.

The alleged Israeli strikes near the border were a rare occurrence. In the past, Israel has targeted villages and towns along the Golan Heights frontier after identifying Iranian and Hezbollah attempts to establish cells and infrastructure in the area.

But the incident also highlighted a reality once unthinkable in Syria: With Hezbollah one of the chief powers setting the tone in the country after years of civil war, Syrian army forces are now in some cases taking their orders from the organization — and helping it spy on Israel.

Hezbollah’s presence in Syrian territory opposite the Israeli border is a natural continuation of the group’s expanding activity in the Middle East (in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, among others), and the civil war that has been raging in Syria for approximately eight years.

Its increased clout is particularly noticeable in the region of southern Syria that the Syrians call Hauran. In the same area that gave rise to the protests against Assad in March 2011 in the city of Daraa, a situation has now formed in which Syrian soldiers receive “recommendations” — which are in effect orders — from Hezbollah commanders.

A segment of the Syrian army that controls the southern part of the country works closely with many consultants from Hezbollah, which use it for purposes such as intelligence-gathering, and is also helping the Lebanon-based group prepare for an expected future war with Israel (as well as assisting it in dealing with local opposition).

To put it in the simplest terms, these Syrian troops are now serving Hezbollah’s Shiite army in Lebanon. Bashar’s deceased father, Hafez Assad, would be rolling in his grave: During his time the elder Assad waged war against Hezbollah in Lebanon and killed hundreds of its members. How did the tables so turn? The civil war was, without a doubt, the key event, with the Syrian army now dependent on assistance from Hezbollah and Iran in order to survive. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

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IRGC Designation: A Lost Opportunity to Weaken Hezbollah in Lebanon
David Daoud
Atlantic Council, Apr. 19, 2019

Designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) stirred panic in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s allies in the Lebanese government—such as the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Amal—worried they too would soon bear the brunt of American sanctions. But US officials reassured a hastily dispatched delegation of the group’s allies last week that despite the more aggressive stance on Iran, they would suffer no consequences for empowering its primary proxy. In doing so, the United States lost an opportunity to weaken Hezbollah through deterring its allies.

Because Hezbollah has enmeshed itself in almost every level of Lebanese government and society, countering its growing strength without harming the integrity of the Lebanese state remains a challenge. Differing but insufficient solutions to this dilemma exist. Israel, for example, prefers collectively punishing Hezbollah and the Lebanese state without distinction, while France opts for virtual inertia against the group to preserve Lebanon’s fragile stability. In the end, either option would only strengthen Hezbollah.

By contrast, the United States has adopted the theoretically preferable approach of robustly sanctioning Hezbollah while simultaneously strengthening Lebanon. This too, however, has borne little practical fruit because it has focused almost exclusively on the group’s finances, without targeting its vulnerabilities.

Hezbollah’s governmental power should be easiest to erode. Unlike its social influence or military power, it’s not a reflection of its own efforts, or numbers in parliament or the cabinet. Hezbollah holds only twelve out of 128 parliamentary seats, and three of 30 cabinet ministries. Instead, its alliances with larger parties—namely FPM and Amal—allow the group to punch above its weight in Beirut.

Despite the longevity of Hezbollah’s alliances with these groups, their partnership is fragile. Amal might also be Shia, but it is a secular party loyal to Lebanon. Though Amal and Hezbollah now form the Lebanese political arena’s “Shia duo,” they fought a mini inter-sectarian war in the late 1980s, and their enmity periodically resurfaces in clashes between their respective supporters. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Amal’s leader, maintains a pragmatic alliance with Hezbollah because challenging the group head-on risks costing him the support of Shias and his political power.

Hezbollah’s alliance with FPM is even more tenuous, lacking the sectarian “glue” that uncomfortably binds it with Amal. FPM is also Lebanese nationalist, but with a Christian—predominantly Maronite—base, espousing a version of the same “Political Maronitism” ideology condemned by Hezbollah in its 1985 Open Letter.
 
FPM’s founder, Michel Aoun, once ranked among the Shia group’s staunchest political opponents. He only allied with it in 2006 because he correctly calculated that it would serve as the vehicle of his ascendancy to the presidency. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil—Aoun’s son-in-law and FPM’s current leader who also has presidential aspirations—is betting on Hezbollah for the same reason.

In short, these parties are bound to Hezbollah not by conviction or shared ideology, but by self-interest. Hezbollah possesses advantages—like a committed foreign backer, a robust military arsenal, and the social support of an ever-expanding number of Shias, by all estimates Lebanon’s fastest-growing sect—that its opponents lack. This comparative advantage allows Hezbollah to reward its allies with tangible political gains, like securing Aoun’s decades-long ambition of becoming president. With no price to pay as a counterweight, FPM and Amal have little reason to abandon this otherwise beneficial alliance. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
 

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Secret Venezuela Files Warn About Maduro Confidant
Nicholas Casey
New York Times, May 2, 2019

He is one of the most powerful leaders of the Venezuelan government, a hard-liner who has put down protests, confronted rebels and been a constant presence at the side of Nicolás Maduro, the country’s authoritarian president. But for years, Tareck El Aissami, one of Mr. Maduro’s closest confidants, has also been the target of wide-ranging investigations by his own country’s intelligence agency into his ties to the criminal underworld.

According to a secret dossier compiled by Venezuelan agents, Mr. El Aissami and his family have helped sneak Hezbollah militants into the country, gone into business with a drug lord and shielded 140 tons of chemicals believed to be used for cocaine production — helping make him a rich man as his country has spiraled into disarray.

With it’s economy in tatters and its people hungry, Venezuela is in the throes of a desperate fight for control of the country. Opposition leaders are calling for an uprising, while the country’s military and civilian authorities are refusing to surrender power, presenting a largely united show of force against the protests in the streets.

But the intelligence documents offer an unusual window into how fractured and nervous the nation’s security services have become, particularly over corruption at the highest levels of government.

Mr. El Aissami, a former vice president who is now Mr. Maduro’s industry minister, has long been in the crosshairs of American investigators. He was indicted in March in a Manhattan federal court and sanctioned two years ago by the Treasury Department, accused of working with drug lords. He and Mr. Maduro have brushed away the charges as part of a propaganda war engineered by the Trump administration to topple Venezuela’s leftist government.

But Venezuela’s own intelligence agency — which Mr. El Aissami once controlled — raised even more alarms about him and his family for more than a decade, putting its concerns in a dossier of documents, investigative findings, and transcripts of interviews with drug traffickers.

The dossier, provided to The New York Times by a former top Venezuelan intelligence official and confirmed independently by a second one, recounts testimony from informants accusing Mr. El Aissami and his father of recruiting Hezbollah members to help expand spying and drug trafficking networks in the region.

Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, and American officials say the group has long had a presence in South America, where it has helped launder drug money. In 2008, the Treasury Department sanctioned a different Venezuelan diplomat, accusing him of raising money for Hezbollah and helping its members travel to the country.

But Mr. El Aissami and his father, Carlos Zaidan El Aissami, a Syrian immigrant who had worked with Hezbollah on return visits to his country, also pushed to bring Hezbollah into Venezuela, according to the dossier. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

On Topic Links:

Hezbollah Defiant After US Action Against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard:  Sunniva Rose and Zouhir Al Shimale, The National, Apr. 11, 2019 — Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that his movement would respond to the Trump administration designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group earlier this week, a move which will weaken Iran’s position in Syria to Russia’s advantage, analysts say.

UK’s Hezbollah Ban May Signal Tougher Stance on Iran:  David Daoud, Atlantic Council, Mar. 7, 2019 — Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah once dubbed dividing his group into distinct political and military wings an “English innovation.”

Hezbollah May Be Down, But It’s Not Out Yoav Limor, Algemeiner, May 31, 2019 — With all the astonishment at the massive Hezbollah terror tunnel project revealed this week by the IDF, the tunnels themselves were just a tool that the organization intended to use to implement its larger plan to attack the Galilee.

Why The Lies Told To Sell The American Public In The World On The Iranian Nuclear Deal Still Matter:  Jonathan S. Tobin, JNS, June 12, 2019 —This past weekend, Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that in 2015, Hezbollah operatives were caught stockpiling explosives in London.