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Eliminating Hezbollah Financial Activities in Africa

Although the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were less than successful in eliminating the threat posed by Hezbollah forces along the Israeli-Lebanon border , the partial destruction of Hezbollah’s arsenal provides a unique opportunity to the Israeli government?one that could be wasted unless a comprehensive international approach is taken to eliminate Hezbollah financing. Throughout the past year, TRC has discussed Hezbollah’s financing activities within the Tri-Border Region (TBR) (WAR Report and WAR Report) of Latin America, and although local governments have failed to penetrate criminal and narcotics organizations that fund Hezbollah activities in Lebanon, the public attention generated via mass media has forced a dispersion of Hezbollah fundraising in the TBR. Increasingly, Hezbollah’s leadership has championed the use of expatriate communities throughout the western coast of Africa to provide substantial funding to bolster Hezbollah military and social expenses. This financing is taking the form of the illicit diamond trade, in which Lebanese traders excel. The Lebanese Diaspora in West Africa The growth of Lebanese communities in the region began in the middle of the 19th century. By the 1950s, Shi’ite immigrants outnumbered Lebanese Christians and continued to gain political and economic clout, particularly in Senegal , the Cote d’Ivoire , and Sierra Leone . The Lebanese Shi’ite Diaspora came to control much of the diamond trade in Sierra Leone and Liberia . With the rise to power of Jamil Sahid Mohamed, the most powerful of Lebanese diamond traders, who by 1984 controlled much of Sierra Leone’s diamond industry, Shi’ite expatriate predominance grew in the area. Through Mohamed’s close childhood friend, Nabih Berri (head of the Amal party, speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, and close ally of Hezbollah), the Iranian government became an active financier of diamond operations in Sierra Leone. Hezbollah’s interest in West African diamonds grew throughout the 1990s, eventually convincing Hezbollah’s leadership to become directly involved in the trade, no longer content to rely on diamond tax revenue. Today, Hezbollah operatives buy diamonds from local miners and Lebanese traders. Hezbollah’s diamond activities occur throughout West Africa, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Central African Republic , and the Democratic Republic of the Congo . Hezbollah operatives obtain the diamonds from various markets and send the highest quality to Antwerp, Belgium , while lesser stones are sent to centers in India . Douglas Farah best describes this process in his book: Blood from Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror. According to Amy Chua, a Yale Law School Professor and author of World on Fire, the Lebanese in West Africa have become the region’s “market-dominant minority.” As Chua observes, “the extent of Lebanese market dominance in Sierra Leone?historically and at present–is astounding.” Anti-smuggling experts estimate that in 2005 Lebanese traders in Sierra Leone smuggled between US$170 million and US$370 million worth of uncut gems out of the country. A considerable portion of the profits made from these smuggled jewels finds its way in Hezbollah bank accounts. The Family/Clan Business Structure Recent investigations by Belgian authorities into illicit Hezbollah activities in Antwerp identify the Lebanese family/clan structure of the Shi’ite community as the fundamental business unit. As Farah states, “Over time the Lebanese Shi’ite community has come to dominate the trade of?basic imported commodities, often through family alliances that control all aspects of the trade.” Often the process of extracting the diamonds, right up to the final sale of the diamond, occurs within the same Lebanese family/clan, ensuring the trust and loyalty of all active participants. Threat to Israeli Personnel in West Africa Although the specific targeting of Israeli personnel in West African countries by Hezbollah operatives has not occurred, Israeli intelligence continues

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