Category Archives: Hezbollah

Israel’s northern border: An Iranian threat underappreciated by the US

Previously published in the Jerusalem Report. Written with Sarit Zehavi.

A view of Mount Bental on Israel’s northern border, Source: Sarit Zehavi

Does the US fully understand Iran’s grand designs for the Middle East?

The Iranian regime presents its long-term strategic plan to export the Islamic revolution as a religious duty. Establishing civilian communities and loyal fighters in surrounding lands to further its sphere of influence and exert control is an integral part of their plan.

The goal is to make these tribal communities financially dependent on the Islamic Republic while proselytizing Shi’ism and increasing the respect for their brand of Shi’ism in these vulnerable populations. Israel watched this strategy play out in Lebanon and is now seeing it implemented in Syria and Iraq.

In 2018, after Syria’s President Bashir Assad regained control of southern Syria with Iran and Russia’s help, Iran began cultivating and investing in the local Syrian population. It used a strategy that helped civic organizations along with economic investment. Iran planned to turn southern Syria into a dependent front line against Israel, mimicking the infrastructure and populace under Hezbollah’s control in Lebanon.

The research and educational think tank Alma (co-writer Sarit Zehavi is the founder and CEO) has uncovered civic foundations under Iranian control in Syria, receiving direct funding from Hezbollah and Iran. At the same time, their combatants are embedded within the civilian Sunni population.

According to Alma’s research, after the reconquest of southern Syria, there was a concerted effort to take over mosques and establish Hussainiyas (Shi’ite religious gathering sites). The goal was to ingratiate themselves with the population who would become dependent on Iran for all aspects of their economies, education, and religion.

The Iranian-controlled axis from Tehran to Beirut includes Shi’ite brethren, and co-opted Sunnis, Druze, and Alawites. Iran’s imperialistic ambition is always on the lookout for opportunities to embed itself within local populations to exert new influence. Whether it was the instability of the Arab Winter in 2011 or the chaos that followed in the Syrian civil war, Iran has a single-minded focus on perpetuating its revolutionary plans and dominating the Middle East and beyond.

To understand what is happening in Syria, you need to understand Lebanon. Since Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government with cabinet ministries, it allows them to transfer monies to themselves. The estimated amount of financial support Hezbollah sent to the Lebanese provinces of Tyre, Bint Jbeil, and Marjayoun in 2020 was twenty-two billion, one hundred thirty million Lebanese pounds for health, education, and social services. Unfortunately, there is little counterweight from the Lebanese government to oppose Iranian influence as it provides few public services to its people, especially in Hezbollah-dominated regions.

Iranian-controlled Hezbollah fills the void, providing the daily necessities, a terrorist organization masquerading as a social movement to create dependency and willing soldiers. Hezbollah is also the dominant political organization that effectively controls an impotent Lebanese government. Shockingly, there are still European nations that treat Hezbollah as a legitimate political entity, making a disingenuous moral distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wings.

The Achilles heel of American foreign policy is that it changes every four years with a presidential election. The US is profoundly disadvantaged in creating long-term planning to oppose Iranian influence. In contrast, authoritarian regimes like Iran, Turkey, and Russia can remain in place for decades, knowing they can strategize for the long term.

Today, Israel’s north is in the hands of the Iranians. Israel knows it, but the US doesn’t fully appreciate it, minimizing the Supreme Leader’s and his Revolutionary Guards’ apocalyptical words as hyperbole and rhetoric. The US incorrectly believes that sending one hundred forty million dollars a year to the Lebanese Armed Forces provides an effective counterweight to Hezbollah. When Iranian and Hezbollah leaders deliberately lie (taddiyah), it is part of a grand strategy to defeat the greater and lesser Satans – the US and Israel. What all American administrations since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 have in common is a difficult time fully comprehending the Iranian Twelver Shi’ite mindset that prioritizes Islamist imperial desires over its people’s well-being.

US Democratic Party administrations’ single-minded focus on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear deal) in dealing with Iran serves them poorly in understanding Iran’s goals. In particular, it distracts from what is likely to be the arena for the next major Middle East War on Israel’s northern border, with Iran calling the shots.

For decades, US Congress members have visited Kofi (café) Annan, a coffee shop at an old Israeli fortification on Mount Bental that looks into Syria’s Golan. In plain sight is the abandoned old city of Quneitra that seems just a stone’s throw away. They were told that this was Israel’s quietest border, at least until the start of the Syrian civil war. Today Iran has created and controls civilian life in the Quneitra, Daraa, and Suwayda districts of southern Syria, in plain sight of Cafe Annan. The civilian establishment solidifies the long-sought-after Shi’ite Crescent across the Middle East, an Islamist conduit for the transfer of precision-guided weapons systems and military personal, as part of an extended-range plan to destroy Israel.

In March 2021, Hezbollah chief Nasrallah looked directly into the camera and told the world that if we had “accurate (precision-guided) missile factories, we would tell everyone with “pride.” But “we don’t have anything of the kind.” On the contrary, Alma has overwhelming documentation of weapons depots, launching pads, and missile factories throughout Lebanon and Syria.

It should make everyone pause because they are embedded in civilian neighborhoods. Especially in Beirut, Hezbollah hides missile launching sites and rockets within heavily populated civilian areas. Using Wikimapia, an open-content collaborative mapping project site on the internet, Alma exposed rocket launching sites next to Al Rassoul Al Azam Hospital. Another production site for Iranian Fatah-110 missiles is located in the Ghobeiry neighborhood, near the Lebanese Ministry of Labor, another civilian facility. Prime Minister Netanyahu also exposed missile factories in the Alelichi neighborhood under four seven-story residential buildings’ housing foundations, next to a medical center and church. In the Shuifat area, a missile factory is hidden under civilian housing and is next to a mosque.

Can you imagine the international uproar if Israel, in retaliation for a Hezbollah attack against Israeli civilians, struck a mosque or apartment house from where the missiles were fired?

In January, Alma Research and Education Center published a connection between two military facilities and a Lebanese charity. The Islamic Shi’ite Waqf Committee in Burj al Barajneh is complicit in hiding Hezbollah’s Fatah 110 missile launch sites within Beirut. The Hussein Maktabi High School and the Burj al Barjneh-America Football Stadium are situated next to missile sites. Launchers and missiles were found not only next to the hospital but next to the Al Aytam petroleum facility, many restaurants, and the Ansar football (soccer) field.

The local Lebanese council members demanded the Lebanon Armed Forces investigate the use of a hospital by Hezbollah, but the LAF claimed there was nothing there. They are simply intimidated by Hezbollah. The local council members resigned in protest, not wanting to be blamed if another massive Beirut port explosion occurred under their watch.

Iran and Hezbollah have taken notice of Alma’s embarrassing exposés. The research center in Galilee is now in the Islamist’s crosshairs, literally. Hezbollah made public the exact coordinates of Alma’s research and educational facility in Galilee, where Congress members often visit. Alma has been cyber-at-tacked multiple times by Iran and its proxies.

This is what Hezbollah posted on its page: “Who is Alma? The Zionist Alma Center is an educational and research center dedicated to fabricating security lies on the northern borders of occupied Palestine and educating Zionist opinion-makers, research centers, academia, and others on how to make innocent civilians a military target in war.”

Nasrallah said, “Hezbollah points the finger of blame and repeated claims, that Alma is nothing more than a branch of the Israeli government.” In reality, Alma is independent and receives no funding from the IDF. Scapegoating to deflect your deficiencies is a tried and true formula of Islamist regimes. Facts are inconvenient problems when you have brainwashed those who have trusted you to protect them, and you not only fail to deliver but put them in harm’s way by using your people as human shields.

Why is Hezbollah taking this so seriously? In part, the information Alma exposes is damaging, as it justifies Israel’s repeated attacks to thwart the Iranian missile threat. But even more critical is that Hezbollah’s strength is that it receives the support of the Shiite population. If it loses the people’s help, its legitimacy could crumble. Exposing missiles and launchers next to schools, hospitals, residential neighborhoods, and sports facilities have struck a nerve with Hezbollah. They know that this is a line in the sand that the local population may not stand for as it purposely endangers their families and neighborhoods.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi has made clear that Hezbollah’s human shield strategy doesn’t grant Iran’s Hezbollah proxy immunity against future attacks. Israel will attack legitimate military targets as long as the military advantage outweighs the civilian loss. And yes, this is according to international law. In response, Nasrallah has said there is no difference between Israeli civilians and soldiers, an old story first told by the Palestinians to justify terrorist attacks on Israeli innocents.

Hezbollah and Iran are banking on winning a propaganda war against Israel. The global community would judge Israel harshly if more Lebanese are killed than Israeli civilians, a cynical battle of moral equivalence.

In a future Israeli northern war, Iranian-controlled militias that have partially withdrawn from Syria could quickly return to Israel’s Golan border in great numbers if the border gets hot. Missiles could fly this time from not only Lebanon but Syria, Iraq, and even Yemen.

Israel knows it will have to strike fast before the diplomatic fallout constrains its efforts, as the Israeli people who will suffer terribly will demand an overwhelming response, knowing the Lebanese and Syrian human shields will be paying the price.

Israel is worried that if the US rejoins the JCPOA, sanctions relief will directly flow to Iran’s proxies. That will increase the chance for war. The Biden administration should hold fast to sanctions no matter how immovable the Iranians are on the JCPOA, especially if they want to minimize the chances for a northern Israeli war with Iran and its proxies. At the very least, the sanctions against Iran for missiles and terror will be maintained.

Hezbollah’s Largest Attack Tunnel and its Financial Supporters

{Previously published in the JNS}

The significance of the Hezbollah tunnel is clear. It is just one element of the multi-dimensional, long-term Iranian strategy to threaten and eventually destroy Israel, achieving in the process Iran’s hegemonic ambitions.

At the depth of a 25-story building underground near the quiet Israeli villages of Shtula and Zarit lies Hezbollah’s largest attack tunnel stretching 250 feet into Israeli territory, and at the other end traveling more than half a mile to emerge in a Lebanese home in the Shi’ite town of Ramyeh.

This is what I saw during a visit to Hezbollah’s most sophisticated “flagship” tunnel, arranged by the Israel Defense Forces’ Spokesperson office with my guide Lt. Col. (Res.) Sarit Zehavi, CEO of ALMA, a think tank that specializes in helping understand Israel’s challenges on its Iranian northern border with Lebanon and Syria.

There are at least six publicly acknowledged tunnels that have crossed into Israeli territory from Lebanon—all strategically poised for thousands of Hezbollah terrorists to simultaneously emerge near Israeli border towns on the Lebanese border, kidnapping, crippling, killing an untold number of Israeli civilians, while terrorizing the whole nation.

This was no amateur operation. The tunnel took years to build, and over the last decade, Iran and Hezbollah created an elite force (Radwan) whose sole purpose is to kill Jews on Israeli soil. The threat is real, especially after you see it with your own eyes.

And Iran, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp will try again and again. They have tremendous patience, married to a fanatical Twelver Shi’ism ideology where Israel as a Jewish state must be destroyed in its entirety.

Who knows how many more tunnels are nearly complete but remain deep underground, just meters from the Israeli border on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line so Israel cannot find them, and which the U.N. peace-keeping force (UNIFIL) has displayed no interest in identifying?

Remember, UNIFIL’s primary mission is supposed to be to fulfill U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 to identify missiles coming into Lebanon for Hezbollah’s use. Of the nearly 150,000 missiles Hezbollah has accumulated since the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, UNIFIL have stopped or identified precisely zero missile transfers to Hezbollah. Not a single one.

In regard to the Hezbollah tunnels, the United Nations was grudgingly forced to acknowledge that Hezbollah tunnels crossed the Blue line into Israeli territory.

After a visit like this, my thoughts would normally focus first on how Israel can more effectively detect new tunnels on the Lebanese side of the border or how to prepare Israeli border towns to thwart an attack, but my thoughts went instead to the east, to Germany.

Today, there are nearly 1,000 Hezbollah fundraisers legally operating in Germany to raise money for a terrorist organization. Germany and most of the European Union, with the exception of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, differentiate between the military and political wings of Hezbollah, designating its military wing as terrorists but not its political wing. Hezbollah themselves has said that there is no difference or separation between their military and political wings.

Over the last few years, I have been trying to get this on the radar screen of Congress, its members I believe would be as outraged as when they found out that American taxpayer dollars supported Palestinian terrorists.

After the experiences of the 20th century, Germany should understand the hypocrisy involved in giving money to the non-military part of a regime intent on murder, Lebensraum and ethnic-cleansing.

The German parliament to its great credit recently differentiated itself from other European governments in another very important way to help fight against the delegitimization of Israel by passing legislation condemning the BDS movement as anti-Semitic. Yet they so far accept the idea that it’s decent to back the “political” organizers of Hezbollah because they also provide medical care, schools and social services for the local Shi’ite population from which they groom their militias to destroy the Jewish state.

With Hezbollah receiving fewer funds from Iran due to the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions despite European resistance to them, Hezbollah fundraising in Germany is a lifeline that must end if you care about subsidizing terror.

Germany and the rest of the European Union are trying to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal at any cost and are loath to antagonize Iran by designating Hezbollah altogether as a terrorist entity. Hezbollah is not independent of Iran; it is Iranian-controlled in its entirety. Germany needs to follow Britain’s lead; earlier this year, the United Kingdom broke from the European appeasement strategy to Iran and designated Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.

It is time for Germany and the European Union to stop aiding Hezbollah or pretending that parts of Hezbollah are not terrorists. Hezbollah has veto power in Lebanon and now controls vital agencies in the Lebanese government with large budgets to make sure the money continues to flow. American taxpayer dollars go to the Lebanese Armed Forces, who are forced to look away and sometimes work with Hezbollah.

The significance of the Hezbollah tunnel is clear. It is just one element, albeit a significant one, of the multi-dimensional, long-term Iranian strategy to threaten and eventually destroy Israel, achieving in the process Iran’s hegemonic ambitions.

However important the tunnels are, they cannot distract Israel from its most serious focus for survival, keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of the likes of the ayatollah, who would be happy to go down in history as the great warrior of God who laid waste to the Jewish nation in a fiery cataclysm.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

What to do about EU’s Pathological Relationship with Hezbollah

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Europeans have criticized US President Donald Trump for distancing America from her traditional allies in NATO, while favoring his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After relying on America for protection for over 70 years since the end of World War II, Europe is “now more worried about an America withdrawing from the transatlantic relationship than an overbearing superpower”, according to Richard Wike writing in the Atlantic.

Yet when European financial interests were threatened last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized bipartisan congressional legislation that proposed increasing sanctions against Russia because it targeted the European- Russia Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in which German companies are invested.

The legislation toughened sanctions on Russia over its Ukrainian invasion. Mrs. Merkel’s doesn’t seem to realize that she lives in a glass house.

American critics of Europe have focused on European underfunding of their NATO obligation, spending under 2% of their GDP, below their promised commitment.
However equally as troubling to both Congress and the administration is Europe’s associations and protection of the American-designated terrorist organization Hezbollah that operates freely in Europe, raising funds while threatening American and allied interests. The Europeans stick their collective heads in the sand as multiple Hezbollah planned attacks on European soil have been foiled within the last few years.

European appeasement of Hezbollah begins and ends with their failure to designate its political wing as a terrorist organization, despite Hezbollah itself having no distinction between its terrorist and political entities.

For the past four decades Europe has had an unspoken arrangement with Arab terrorist organizations, that they won’t commit terror on their soil if they are allowed to raise funds and operate freely there.

Germany’s history of capitulating to terror is long and unflattering. Just one month after the Palestinian Black September massacre at the Munich Olympics, they released the remaining perpetrators of the attacks.

A Der Spiegel investigation of German government documents released forty years after the attacks said, “Despite the still-vivid images of masked terrorists on the balconies of the Olympic Village…there was already active but secret diplomatic communication between…
German representatives…talking to men like Abu Youssef, Ali Salameh and Amin al-Hindi, all of them masterminds of the Munich murders.”

In fact, Germany chose never to prosecute or even pursue the terrorists who murdered the unarmed Olympic athletes.

Today’s Hezbollah is yesterday’s Black September, except they are exponentially more powerful, literally control a country Lebanon, and are themselves directed controlled by the Iranian “supreme leader” and his Revolutionary Guards. According to the State Department, Iran is still designated as the number-one state sponsor of terrorism.

After the EU listed Hezbollah’s military but not its political wing as a terrorist entity in 2012, after they attacked a tourist bus in Bulgaria targeting Israeli civilians, the French foreign minister pledged, “there’s no question of accepting terrorist organizations in Europe.”

According to Mathew Levitt, a Washington Institute Counterterrorism and Intelligence expert, just three years after the attack “there is abundant evidence that Hezbollah is…engaging in terrorist activities in Europe.” Yet the EU continues to do business as usual with Hezbollah’s Iranian sponsors.

Far too many in Europe, especially Germany, fail to live up to their western values, favoring Iran over American interests, refusing to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.

Just a few weeks ago, an Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi was charged by German police with giving a high explosive bomb to an Iranian couple to detonate at an Iranian opposition rally outside of Paris.

How did the EU respond? According to Struan Stevenson writing in UPI, “ EU lawmakers on July 5 (one week later) approved plans for the European Investment Bank to do business with Iran… The EU appeasers seem to think that if you keep throwing steaks to the tiger it will become a vegetarian.”

So what needs to be done? America must fundamentally change its policy towards Lebanon and acknowledge the reality that differentiating Lebanon from Hezbollah at this point is as incoherent as differentiating the military and political wings of Hezbollah.

They are all one in the same, and America would be much more persuasive to Europe if it had a unified policy on Lebanon and Hezbollah.

Just as America viewed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega as a narco-terrorist in the 1980’s and acted decisively, Hezbollah’s leadership needs to be viewed through the same prism. Hezbollah funds their terrorism through drugs and money laundering in Europe and South America, directly fueling the cocaine trade into the United States.

That is a primary reason why America and Europe need both to call Hezbollah what it is, an enemy terrorist organization.

According to former Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor, “The moment it is classed as such, its bank accounts, businesses and finances would be treated as illegal, and heavily sanctioned. Its members would be placed on no-flight lists, and law-enforcement agencies can then use more effective tools. Hezbollah’s “free-trade zone” would officially be closed…Less money means fewer weapons.”

As Hezbollah expert Emanuele Ottolenghi of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies writes, in foreign policy, “Latin America is an indispensable theater of operations for the criminal networks that generate much of Hezbollah’s revenue. Paraguay hosts a significant and growing money laundering operation connected to Hezbollah in the Triple Frontier, where Paraguay intersects with Argentina and Brazil.”

There is bipartisan consensus in the House of Representatives with the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Ed Royce a Republican, and ranking member Elliot Engel a Democrat, co-authoring legislation sanctioning individuals and businesses that are the lifeblood supporting Hezbollah’s illicit operations.

As for Europe’s unsavory relationship with Hezbollah, just as the address to do anything in Syria is Moscow, the address to stop Hezbollah resides in Europe with Angela Merkel.

Merkel cannot plead ignorance. The German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution figured there were nearly 1000 Hezbollah operatives and 300 Hamas members actively working within Germany.

German diplomats have claimed that Germany is resisting the US demand to outlaw Hezbollah because it will hurt Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The rationale to defend Hezbollah is becoming more flimsy all the time.

To make the point absolutely clear that Europe has no interest in reigning in Hezbollah, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Frederica Mogherini, justifies engaging with a terrorist entity like Hezbollah, because it allows for constructive engagement. This is the same person who defends Iran and actively undermines American interests by promoting Iranian trade, despite the direct complicity of Iran and Hezbollah in their ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of Sunnis in Syria and Iraq to make way for a forced population transfer of Shi’ites controlled by Iran into Sunni areas, flying in the face of international law.

America needs to lead and demand that Europe will follow. As Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said, “This Administration will expose and disrupt Hizbollah and Iranian terror networks at every turn, including those with ties to the Central Bank of Iran.”

Your turn Chancellor Merkel.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East. He is a contributor to The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, and The Forward.