Monday, May 26, 2008

Millions in Criminal Proceeds + Iran's Oil Millions = Hearts, Minds, Votes for Hezbollah

Andrew Cochran

Our future national counterinsurgency or asymmetric threat strategy must take into consideration the success which Hamas, Hezbollah, and other segments of the jihadist community have had in building and operating a social services network which influences the local populace. Matthew Levitt has written extensively on that success; see his post here on November 21, 2007, "Zakat-Jihad Activism," in which he discusses an excellent "Military Review" article, "S.W.E.T. and Blood: Essential Services in the Battle Between Insurgents and Counterinsurgents." Matt noted, "(t)his tactic (sometimes also described as dawa activities) not only produces significant grassroots support, it also creates an ideal means to launder and transfer funds as well as a means of providing activists day jobs and a veneer of legitimacy. It many cases, it also serves as a logistical support network for less altruistic activities."

Hezbollah already has such a network in Lebanon, as Matt pointed out in a Washington Institute article. Nothing the U.S. has done has prevented Hezbollah from providing such services outside of Lebanese government channels. For instance, despite the Treasury Department's designation in 2007 of Jihad al-Bina, Hezbollah's construction company in Lebanon, that company is operating with little hindrance; David Schenker tells me that the company's subsidiary is rebuilding much of Dahyia. Hezbollah's diplomatic victory this week will enable further development of that network.

Hezbollah has two sources for hundreds of millions of dollars. First, it has a long history of using criminal activities around the world, including inside the U.S., to raise funds, as Matt wrote on November 8, 2007 and as Dennis Lormel wrote on July 16, 2006. I was told this week by two experts that recent estimates of the funds raised through such activity run from $100 to 300 million. Second, of course, it is the ward of the Iranian regime; Walid Phares recently put that support level at upwards of $1 billion, thanks to the extraordinary price of oil. And we should have no doubt that Hezbollah will use a considerable portion of those funds to buy popular support inside Lebanon. No other group there has that type of financial muscle, and in my opinion, it will enable Hezbollah to maintain and expand its power through the 2009 parliamentary elections and beyond.

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