Hezbollah’s Ongoing Threat to US National Security
Most analyses of Hezbollah focus on the terrorist group’s intervention in Syria, or its threat to Israel. But the Iranian-backed organization maintains a significant presence in and near the United States, threatening national US security. Current American proposals to strengthen our borders and immigration measures may be limited in addressing this important, yet poorly understood, threat.
A recent Al-Arabiya article examines Hezbollah’s ability to build advanced tunnels on the southern US border, enabling Hezbollah terrorists and Mexican cartel operatives to infiltrate the United States. Relations between Iranian-backed proxies — including Hezbollah — and Latin American drug cartels are well established. Mexican gang members learn from Hezbollah’s combat experience and their use of advanced weaponry. Hezbollah, in turn, derives a significant portion of its finances from the drug trade and other illicit activities.
In recent years, security officials in southwestern US states have noticed a rise in tattoos featuring Hezbollah’s insignia among imprisoned drug cartel operatives. This surprising trend indicates a strengthened relationship between the terrorist group and Mexican gang members. Additionally, Iranian operatives who infiltrate Latin America seek to convert individuals to its extremist Shiite ideology. Over the years, pro Iranian websites have proliferated across Latin America, in an attempt to cultivate support for the Islamic Republic.
Powerful Latin American politicians also help Iran and Hezbollah penetrate the region, and threaten the United States. In February, CNN received a 2013 secret intelligence document from several Latin American countries demonstrating ties between Venezuelan Vice President Tarreck El Aissami and 173 Venezuelan identification cards and passports issued to people from the Middle East — including Hezbollah operatives. El Aissami “took charge of issuing, granting visas and nationalizing citizens from different countries, especially Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Iranians, and Iraqis,” the report shows.
Furthermore, Iranian and Hezbollah operatives have cultivated and consolidated operating bases in South America, especially in the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The region has a large Muslim population, with significant numbers of Hezbollah sympathizers, and is ripe therefore for recruitment, arms smuggling and drug trafficking. Hezbollah continues to exploit other Lebanese Shiite diaspora communities, including in the United States, to strengthen its presence worldwide.
And in 2011, the United States disrupted a plot led by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in cooperation with a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington.
The problematic nexus between Hezbollah and Mexican drug cartels enables Hezbollah to make inroads into the United States through its porous border with Mexico.
Some American intelligence reports also show that Hezbollah maintains a significant network of sleeper cells in the United States. Though Hezbollah has not conducted a major attack on US soil, the group could decide to strike key American sites should US-Iran relations deteriorate. Preparations to combat Islamist terrorism broadly should strongly consider the nuanced and growing Hezbollah threat to US national security.