This month’s Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) incursions and aerial bombardments of Hezbollah centers in southern Lebanon will necessitate an increased reliance on Hezbollah’s financing hubs elsewhere throughout the world and could provoke retaliatory attacks against Israeli interests in Latin America, similar to the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina . In addition to state sponsorship from Iran and Syria , historical precedence suggests Hezbollah will increase financing and training operations in areas of Latin America, particularly the Tri-Border Region (Argentina, Brazil , and Paraguay ).
Since the 1980s and Israel’s first military incursion and occupation of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah cells formed and operated financial support infrastructures among the estimated 20,000 Shi’ites living within Latin America’s Tri-Border Region . As reiterated in these pages, the general lawlessness and government corruption in this area provides for a fertile base of operations for several Islamic extremists groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas and Al-Gamaat al-Islamiya . Hezbollah receives an estimated US$100 million from state sponsor Iran and raises an estimated US$10 million of that in Paraguay alone. Hezbollah drug trafficking operations, in cooperation with global criminal organizations such as Chinese Triads and the Russian Mafia, contribute to a robust financial coffer that funds plans to inflict physical harm on western populations.
Hezbollah financial operations in the Tri-Border Region will continue to grow, as both Ciudad del Este and Foz do Iguacu serve as a sanctuary for illicit money launderers and narcotics traffickers. The proficiency with which Hezbollah operatives engage in state-sponsored terrorism and criminal enterprises is staggering and reveals the sophistication and deadliness of the transnational Hezbollah terror network.
Imad Fayez Mugniyah, the recognized leader of Hezbollah’s international branch and chief military operator, possesses a familiarity with the Tri-Border Region from past operations and is capable of conducting attacks against Jewish targets and persons in Latin America. Mugniyah?the alleged organizer of the 1983 Beirut embassy and Marine barrack bombings , the 1985 TWA hijacking , the Khobar Towers bombing of 1996 , and the Buenos Aires bombings of 1992 and 1994 ?is known to have established terrorist cells in Ciudad del Este and Encarnaci?n. Additionally, Mugniyah is linked to Assad Ahmed Barakat, whose “Barakat clan” oversees much of the Hezbollah fund-raising activities. Paraguayan police identified Barakat as “the Hezbollah military chief in the Tri-Border region” and the group’s prime financial operative in the region. Barakat’s operations include counterfeiting, money laundering, blackmail, and extortion of Lebanese immigrants in the region. Brazilian police arrested Barakat in the fall of 2001. Argentinean authorities revealed that he not only distributed $60 million in Colombian printed counterfeit US dollars to Hezbollah associates but he also participated, as previously thought, in the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Mugniyeh remains at large and was reportedly last identified in January 2006 attending a meeting between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Mugniyah’s rumored involvement in the July 12, 2006 attack and kidnapping of IDF personnel, the catalyst of the current Middle East conflict, further demonstrates his operational prowess.
Attacks directed at western and/or Israeli interests by Hezbollah operatives outside the Middle East are sparse, but increased pressure by the Israeli military in southern Lebanon or a targeted assassination of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah will draw a physical response from Hezbollah elsewhere in the world. A reprisal attack in Latin America, as was seen in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, is possible.