Hezbollah’s Billion-Dollar Criminal Enterprise , Obama Ignored

The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook

Politico: An ambitious U.S. task force targeting Hezbollah’s billion-dollar criminal enterprise ran headlong into the White House’s desire for a nuclear deal with Iran.

Part I

A global threat emerges

How Hezbollah turned to trafficking cocaine and laundering money through used cars to finance its expansion.

In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States, according to a POLITICO investigation.

The campaign, dubbed Project Cassandra, was launched in 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political organization into an international crime syndicate that some investigators believed was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities.

Over the next eight years, agents working out of a top-secret DEA facility in Chantilly, Virginia, used wiretaps, undercover operations and informants to map Hezbollah’s illicit networks, with the help of 30 U.S. and foreign security agencies.

They followed cocaine shipments, some from Latin America to West Africa and on to Europe and the Middle East, and others through Venezuela and Mexico to the United States. They tracked the river of dirty cash as it was laundered by, among other tactics, buying American used cars and shipping them to Africa. And with the help of some key cooperating witnesses, the agents traced the conspiracy, they believed, to the innermost circle of Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran.

They followed cocaine shipments, tracked a river of dirty cash, and traced what they believed to be the innermost circle of Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran.

But as Project Cassandra reached higher into the hierarchy of the conspiracy, Obama administration officials threw an increasingly insurmountable series of roadblocks in its way, according to interviews with dozens of participants who in many cases spoke for the first time about events shrouded in secrecy, and a review of government documents and court records. When Project Cassandra leaders sought approval for some significant investigations, prosecutions, arrests and financial sanctions, officials at the Justice and Treasury departments delayed, hindered or rejected their requests.

The Justice Department declined requests by Project Cassandra and other authorities to file criminal charges against major players such as Hezbollah’s high-profile envoy to Iran, a Lebanese bank that allegedly laundered billions in alleged drug profits, and a central player in a U.S.-based cell of the Iranian paramilitary Quds force. And the State Department rejected requests to lure high-value targets to countries where they could be arrested.

December 15, 2011

Hezbollah is linked to a $483,142,568 laundering scheme

The money, allegedly laundered through the Lebanese Canadian Bank and two exchange houses, involved approximately 30 U.S. car buyers.

Read the document

“This was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision,” said David AsherDavid AsherVeteran U.S. illicit finance expert sent from Pentagon to Project Cassandra to attack the alleged Hezbollah criminal enterprise., who helped establish and oversee Project Cassandra as a Defense Department illicit finance analyst. “They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.”

The untold story of Project Cassandra illustrates the immense difficulty in mapping and countering illicit networks in an age where global terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime have merged, but also the extent to which competing agendas among government agencies — and shifting priorities at the highest levels — can set back years of progress.

And while the pursuit may be shadowed in secrecy, from Latin American luxury hotels to car parks in Africa to the banks and battlefields of the Middle East, the impact is not: In this case, multi-ton loads of cocaine entering the United States, and hundreds of millions of dollars going to a U.S.-designated terrorist organization with vast reach.

Obama had entered office in 2009 promising to improve relations with Iran as part of a broader rapprochement with the Muslim world. On the campaign trail, he had asserted repeatedly that the Bush administration’s policy of pressuring Iran to stop its illicit nuclear program wasn’t working, and that he would reach out to Tehran to reduce tensions.

The man who would become Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser and then CIA director, John BrennanJohn BrennanObama’s White House counterterrorism adviser, who became CIA director in 2013., went further. He recommended in a policy paper that “the next president has the opportunity to set a new course for relations between the two countries” through not only a direct dialogue, but “greater assimilation of Hezbollah into Lebanon’s political system.”

By May 2010, Brennan, then assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, confirmed in a speech that the administration was looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” within Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah is a very interesting organization,” Brennan told a Washington conference, saying it had evolved from “purely a terrorist organization” to a militia and, ultimately, a political party with representatives in the Lebanese Parliament and Cabinet, according to a Reuters report.

“There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing,” Brennan said. “And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements.”

In practice, the administration’s willingness to envision a new role for Hezbollah in the Middle East, combined with its desire for a negotiated settlement to Iran’s nuclear program, translated into a reluctance to move aggressively against the top Hezbollah operatives, according to Project Cassandra members and others.

Lebanese arms dealer Ali FayadAli Fayad(aka Fayyad). Ukraine-based arms merchant suspected of being a Hezbollah operative moving large amounts of weapons to Syria. , a suspected top Hezbollah operative whom agents believed reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a key supplier of weapons to Syria and Iraq, was arrested in Prague in the spring of 2014. But for the nearly two years Fayad was in custody, top Obama administration officials declined to apply serious pressure on the Czech government to extradite him to the United States, even as Putin was lobbying aggressively against it.

Fayad, who had been indicted in U.S. courts on charges of planning the murders of U.S. government employees, attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization and attempting to acquire, transfer and use anti-aircraft missiles, was ultimately sent to Beirut. He is now believed by U.S. officials to be back in business, and helping to arm militants in Syria and elsewhere with Russian heavy weapons.

March 26, 2014

Indictment of Ali Fayad

The indictment alleges Fayad, along with his co-conspirators, agreed to provide the FARC with weapons to kill U.S. and Colombian officials.

Project Cassandra members say administration officials also blocked or undermined their efforts to go after other top Hezbollah operatives including one nicknamed the ‘GhostThe GhostOne of the most mysterious alleged associates of Safieddine, secretly indicted by the U.S., linked to multi-ton U.S.-bound cocaine loads and weapons shipments to Middle East.,” allowing them to remain active despite being under sealed U.S. indictment for years. People familiar with his case say the Ghost has been one of the world’s biggest cocaine traffickers, including to the U.S., as well as a major supplier of conventional and chemical weapons for use by Syrian President Bashar Assad against his people.

And when Project Cassandra agents and other investigators sought repeatedly to investigate and prosecute Abdallah SafieddineAbdallah SafieddineHezbollah’s longtime envoy to Iran who allegedly oversaw the group’s “Business Affairs Component” involved in international drug trafficking., Hezbollah’s longtime envoy to Iran, whom they considered the linchpin of Hezbollah’s criminal network, the Justice Department refused, according to four former officials with direct knowledge of the cases.

The administration also rejected repeated efforts by Project Cassandra members to charge Hezbollah’s military wing as an ongoing criminal enterprise under a federal Mafia-style racketeering statute, task force members say. And they allege that administration officials declined to designate Hezbollah a “significant transnational criminal organization” and blocked other strategic initiatives that would have given the task force additional legal tools, money and manpower to fight it.

Former Obama administration officials declined to comment on individual cases, but noted that the State Department condemned the Czech decision not to hand over Fayad. Several of them, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were guided by broader policy objectives, including de-escalating the conflict with Iran, curbing its nuclear weapons program and freeing at least four American prisoners held by Tehran, and that some law enforcement efforts were undoubtedly constrained by those concerns.

But the former officials denied that they derailed any actions against Hezbollah or its Iranian allies for political reasons.

“There has been a consistent pattern of actions taken against Hezbollah, both through tough sanctions and law enforcement actions before and after the Iran deal,” said Kevin Lewis, an Obama spokesman who worked at both the White House and Justice Department in the administration.

Lewis, speaking for the Obama administration, provided a list of eight arrests and prosecutions as proof. He made special note of a February 2016 operation in which European authorities arrested an undisclosed number of alleged members of a special Hezbollah business affairs unit that the DEA says oversees its drug trafficking and other criminal money-making enterprises.

Project Cassandra officials, however, noted that the European arrests occurred after the negotiations with Iran were over, and said the task force initiated the multinational partnerships on its own, after years of seeing their cases shot down by the Justice and State departments and other U.S. agencies.

The Justice Department, they pointed out, never filed corresponding U.S. criminal charges against the suspects arrested in Europe, including one prominent Lebanese businessman formally designated by the Treasury Department for using his “direct ties to Hezbollah commercial and terrorist elements” to launder bulk shipments of illicit cash for the organization throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

A former senior national security official of the Obama administration, who played a role in the Iran nuclear negotiations, suggested that Project Cassandra members were merely speculating that their cases were being blocked for political reasons. Other factors, including a lack of evidence or concerns about interfering with intelligence operations could have been in play.

“What if the CIA or the Mossad had an intelligence operation ongoing inside Hezbollah and they were trying to pursue someone . . . against whom we had impeccable [intelligence] collection and the DEA is not going to know that?” the official said. “I get the feeling people who don’t know what’s going on in the broader universe are grasping at straws.”

The official added: “The world is a lot more complicated than viewed through the narrow lens of drug trafficking. So you’re not going to let CIA rule the roost, but you’re also certainly not going to let DEA do it either. Your approach to anything as complicated as Hezbollah is going to have to involve the interagency [process], because the State Department has a piece of the pie, the intelligence community does, Treasury does, DOD does.”

Nonetheless, other sources independent of Project Cassandra confirmed many of the allegations in interviews with POLITICO, and in some cases, in public comments.

One Obama-era Treasury official, Katherine Bauer, in little-noticed written testimony presented last February to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, acknowledged that “under the Obama administration … these [Hezbollah-related] investigations were tamped down for fear of rocking the boat with Iran and jeopardizing the nuclear deal.”

February 16, 2017

Katherine Bauer testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Former Treasury official criticizes the Obama administration.

Read the document

As a result, some Hezbollah operatives were not pursued via arrests, indictments, or Treasury designations that would have blocked their access to U.S. financial markets, according to Bauer, a career Treasury official, who served briefly in its Office of Terrorist Financing as a senior policy adviser for Iran before leaving in late 2015. And other “Hezbollah facilitators” arrested in France, Colombia, Lithuania have not been extradited — or indicted — in the U.S., she wrote.

Bauer, in an interview, declined to elaborate on her testimony.

AsherDavid AsherVeteran U.S. illicit finance expert sent from Pentagon to Project Cassandra to attack the alleged Hezbollah criminal enterprise., for one, said Obama administration officials expressed concerns to him about alienating Tehran before, during and after the Iran nuclear deal negotiations. This was, he said, part of an effort to “defang, defund and undermine the investigations that were involving Iran and Hezbollah,” he said.

“The closer we got to the [Iran deal], the more these activities went away,” Asher said. “So much of the capability, whether it was special operations, whether it was law enforcement, whether it was [Treasury] designations — even the capacity, the personnel assigned to this mission — it was assiduously drained, almost to the last drop, by the end of the Obama administration.”

With much fanfare, Obama announced the final agreement on implementation of the Iran deal on Jan. 17, 2016, in which Tehran promised to shelve efforts to build a nuclear weapons program in exchange for being released from crippling international economic sanctions.

Within months, task force officials said, Project Cassandra was all but dead. Some of its most senior officials, including Jack KellyJohn “Jack” KellyDEA agent overseeing Hezbollah cases at Special Operations Division, who named task force Project Cassandra after clashes with other U.S. agencies about Hezbollah drug-terror links., the veteran DEA supervisory agent who created and led the task force, were transferred to other assignments. And Asher himself left the task force long before that, after the Defense Department said his contract would not be renewed.

As a result, the U.S. government lost insight into not only drug trafficking and other criminal activity worldwide, but also into Hezbollah’s illicit conspiracies with top officials in the Iranian, Syrian, Venezuelan and Russian governments — all the way up to presidents Nicolas Maduro, Assad and Putin, according to former task force members and other current and former U.S. officials.

The derailment of Project Cassandra also has undermined U.S. efforts to determine how much cocaine from the various Hezbollah-affiliated networks is coming into the United States, especially from Venezuela, where dozens of top civilian and military officials have been under investigation for more than a decade. Recently, the Trump administration designated the country’s vice president, a close ally of Hezbollah and of Lebanese-Syrian descent, as a global narcotics kingpin.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah — in league with Iran — continues to undermine U.S. interests in Iraq, Syria and throughout wide swaths of Latin America and Africa, including providing weapons and training to anti-American Shiite militias. And Safieddine, the Ghost and other associates continue to play central roles in the trafficking of drugs and weapons, current and former U.S. officials believe.

“They were a paramilitary organization with strategic importance in the Middle East, and we watched them become an international criminal conglomerate generating billions of dollars for the world’s most dangerous activities, including chemical and nuclear weapons programs and armies that believe America is their sworn enemy,” said Kelly, the supervisory DEA agent and lead coordinator of its Hezbollah cases.

“If they are violating U.S. statutes,” he asked, “why can’t we bring them to justice?”

May, 31, 2017

Indictment of Samer El Debek

From roughly 2008 to 2015, Debek allegedly received military training from training in surveillance, explosives and firearms.

Kelly and Asher are among the officials involved in Project Cassandra who have been quietly contacted by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans, who said a special POLITICO report April 24 on Barack Obama’s hidden Iran deal concessions raised urgent questions about the need to resurrect key law enforcement programs to counter Iran.

That won’t be easy, according to former Project Cassandra members, even with President Donald Trump’s recent vow to crack down on Iran and Hezbollah. They said they tried to keep the project on life support, in hopes that it would be revived by the next administration, but the loss of key personnel, budget cuts and dropped investigations are only a few of many challenges made worse by the passage of nearly a year since Trump took office.

“You can’t let these things disintegrate,” said Kelly. “Sources evaporate. Who knows if we can find all of the people willing to testify?”

Derek MaltzDerek MaltzSenior DEA official who as head of Special Operations Division lobbied for support for Project Cassandra and its investigations., who oversaw Project Cassandra as the head of the DEA’s Special Operations Division for nine years ending in July 2014, put it this way: “Certainly there are targets that people feel that could have been indicted and weren’t. There is certainly an argument to be made that if tomorrow all the agencies were ordered to come together and sit in a room and put all the evidence on the table against all these bad guys, that there could be a hell of a lot of indictments.”

But Maltz said the damage wrought by years of political interference will be hard to repair.

“There’s no doubt in my mind now that the focus was this Iran deal and our initiative was kind of like a fly in the soup,” Maltz said. “We were the train that went off the tracks.”

Project Cassandra had its origins in a series of investigations launched in the years after the 9/11 attacks which all led, via their own twisted paths, to Hezbollah as a suspected global criminal enterprise.

Operation TitanOperation TitanA joint investigation with Colombian authorities into a global money-laundering and drug-trafficking alliance between Latin American traffickers and Lebanese operatives., in which the DEA worked with Colombian authorities to explore a global alliance between Lebanese money launderers and Colombian drug trafficking conglomerates, was one. Operation Perseus, targeting Venezuelan syndicates, was another. At the same time, DEA agents in West Africa were investigating the suspicious flow of thousands of used cars from U.S. dealerships to car parks in Benin.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the U.S. military was probing the role of Iran in outfitting Shiite militias with high-tech improvised explosive devices known as Explosively Formed Penetrators, or EFPs, that had already killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers.

All of these paths eventually converged on Hezbollah.

This wasn’t entirely a surprise, agents say. For decades, Hezbollah — in close cooperation with Iranian intelligence and Revolutionary Guard — had worked with supporters in Lebanese communities around the world to create a web of businesses that were long suspected of being fronts for black-market trading. Along the same routes that carried frozen chicken and consumer electronics, these businesses moved weapons, laundered money and even procured parts for Iran’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

As they pursued their investigations, the DEA agents found that Hezbollah was redoubling all of these efforts, working urgently to raise cash, and lots of it, to rebuild its south Lebanon stronghold after a 2006 war with Israel had reduced it to rubble.

Dating back to its inception in the early 1980s, Hezbollah, which translates to “Party of God,” had also engaged in “narcoterrorism,” collecting a tariff from drug dealers and other black-market suppliers who operated in territory it controlled in Lebanon and elsewhere. Now, based on the DEA’s extensive network of informants, undercover operatives and wiretaps, it looked like Hezbollah had shifted tactics, and gotten directly involved in the global cocaine trade, according to interviews and documents, including a confidential DEA assessment.

“It was like they flipped a switch,” Kelly told POLITICO. “All of a sudden, they reversed the flow of all of the black-market activity they had been taxing for years, and took control of the operation.”

Operating like an organized crime family, Hezbollah operatives would identify businesses that might be profitable and useful as covers for cocaine trafficking and buy financial stakes in them, Kelly and others said. “And if the business was successful and suited their current needs,” Kelly said, “they went from partial owners to majority owners to full partnership or takeover.”

Hezbollah even created a special financial unit that, translated into English, means “Business Affairs Component,” to oversee the sprawling criminal operation, and it was run by the world’s most wanted terrorist after Osama bin Laden, a notoriously vicious Hezbollah military commander named Imad MughniyehImad MughniyehA Hezbollah mastermind who oversaw its international operations and, the DEA says, its drug trafficking, as head of its military wing, the Islamic Jihad Organization., according to DEA interviews and documents.

Mughniyeh had for decades been the public face of terrorism for Americans, orchestrating the infamous attack that killed 241 U.S. Marines in 1983 in their barracks in Lebanon, and dozens more Americans in attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that year and an annex the year after. When President Ronald Reagan responded to the attacks by withdrawing peacekeeping troops from Lebanon, Hezbollah claimed a major victory and vaulted to the forefront of the Islamist resistance movement against the West.

Over the next 25 years, Iran’s financial and military support for Hezbollah enabled it to amass an army with tens of thousands of foot soldiers, more heavy armaments than most nation-states and approximately 120,000 rockets and ballistic missiles that could strike Israel and U.S. interests in the region with devastating precision.

Hezbollah became an expert in soft power, as well. It provided food, medical care and other social services for starving refugees in war-torn Lebanon, winning credibility on the ground. It then evolved further into a powerful political party, casting itself as the defender of poor, mostly Shiite Lebanese against Christian and Sunni Muslim elites. But even as Hezbollah was moving into the mainstream of Lebanese politics, Mughniyeh was overseeing a secret expansion of its terrorist wing, the Islamic Jihad Organization. Working with Iranian intelligence agents, Islamic Jihad continued to attack Western, Israeli and Jewish targets around the world, and to conduct surveillance on others — including in the United States — in preparation for future attacks.

Hezbollah mostly left the United States alone, in what was clearly a strategic decision to avoid U.S. retaliation. But by 2008, the Bush administration came to believe that Islamic Jihad was the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world, capable of launching instantaneous attacks, possibly with chemical, biological or low-grade nuclear weapons, that would dwarf those on 9/11.

By funding terrorism and military operations through global drug trafficking and organized crime, Mughniyeh’s business affairs unit within Islamic Jihad had become the embodiment of the kind of threat the United States was struggling to address in the post-9/11 world.

The DEA believed that it was the logical U.S. national security agency to lead the interagency effort to go after Mughniyeh’s drug trafficking networks. But within the multipronged U.S. national security apparatus, this was both a questionable and problematic assertion.

Established by President Richard Nixon in 1973 to bring together the various anti-drug programs under the Department of Justice, the DEA was among the youngest of the U.S. national security agencies.

And while the DEA had quickly proven itself adept at working on the global stage — especially in partnerships with drug-infested countries desperate for U.S. help like Colombia — few people within the U.S. government thought of it as a legitimate counterterrorism force.

In the final years of the Bush administration, though, the DEA had won the support of top officials for taking down two major international arms dealers, a Syrian named Monzer al-Kassar and the Russian “Lord of War,” Viktor BoutViktor Anatolyevich BoutVladimir Putin’s arms dealer, known as the “Lord of War.” Convicted of conspiracy to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to Colombian narcoterrorists.. And thanks to supportive Republicans in Congress, it had become the beneficiary of a new federal law that empowered its globe-trotting cadre of assault-weapon-toting Special Operations agents.

The statute allowed DEA agents to operate virtually anywhere, without permission required from other U.S. agencies. All they needed to do was connect drug suspects to terrorism, and they could arrest them, haul them back to the United States and flip them in an effort to penetrate “the highest levels of the world’s most significant and notorious criminal organizations,” as then-Special Operations chief MaltzDerek MaltzSenior DEA official who as head of Special Operations Division lobbied for support for Project Cassandra and its investigations. told Congress in November 2011.

As they crunched the massive amounts of intel streaming into the DEA’s Counter Narco-Terrorism Operations Center in Chantilly, Virginia, the agents on Operation TitanOperation TitanA joint investigation with Colombian authorities into a global money-laundering and drug-trafficking alliance between Latin American traffickers and Lebanese operatives., Perseus and the other cases began to connect the dots and map the contours of one overarching criminal enterprise.

Part II

Everywhere and Nowhere

From its headquarters in the Middle East, Hezbollah extends its criminal reach to Latin America, Africa and the United States.

On Feb. 12, 2008, CIA and Israeli intelligence detonated a bomb in MughniyehImad MughniyehA Hezbollah mastermind who oversaw its international operations and, the DEA says, its drug trafficking, as head of its military wing, the Islamic Jihad Organization.’s car as he was leaving a celebration of the 29th anniversary of the Iranian revolution in Damascus, Syria. He was killed instantly. It was a major blow to Hezbollah, but soon after, wiretapped phone lines and other U.S. evidence showed that his criminal operation was busier than ever, and overseen by two trusted associates, according to interviews with former Project Cassandra officials and DEA documents.

One was financier Adham TabajaAdham TabajaLebanese businessman, alleged co-leader of Hezbollah Business Affairs Component and key figure directly tying Hezbollah’s commercial and terrorist activities.. The other, the interviews and documents reveal, was Safieddine, the key link between Hezbollah — which was run by his cousin, Hassan Nasrallah and his own brother Hashem — and Iran, Hezbollah’s state sponsor, which saw the group as its strategic ally in defending Shiite Muslims in the largely Sunni Muslim states that surrounded it.

Investigators were also homing in on several dozen key players underneath them who acted as “superfacilitators” for the various criminal operations benefitting Hezbollah, Iran and, at times, their allies in Iraq, Syria, Venezuela and Russia.

But it was Safieddine, a low-key, bespectacled man with a diplomatic bearing, who was their key point of connection from his base in Tehran, investigators believed.

The Colombia and Venezuela investigations linked him to numerous international drug smuggling and money laundering networks, and especially to one of the biggest the DEA had ever seen, led by Medellin-based Lebanese businessman Ayman JoumaaAyman Saied JoumaaAccused drug kingpin and financier whose vast network allegedly smuggled tons of cocaine into the U.S. with Mexico’s Zetas cartel and laundered money..

JoumaaAyman Saied JoumaaAccused drug kingpin and financier whose vast network allegedly smuggled tons of cocaine into the U.S. with Mexico’s Zetas cartel and laundered money.’s network rang alarm bells in Washington when agents discovered he was working with Mexico’s brutal Los Zetas cartel to move multi-ton loads of cocaine directly into the United States, and washing $200 million a month in criminal proceeds with the help of 300 or so used car dealerships. The network would funnel huge amounts of money to the dealerships to purchase used cars, which would then be shipped to Benin, on Africa’s west coast.

Arctic Ocean

U.S.

Mexico

Drugs from Colombia and Venezuela shipped to U.S. via Mexico

Freshly laundered money is returned to U.S. to buy used cars

Pro-Hezbollah money, houses and banks, Beirut Drugs flow to Europe, Benin

Used cars bought in U.S., shipped to West Africa for resale

Used car proceeds couriered to Lebanon Indian Ocean

Drugs are sent from Colombia and Venezuela to Europe via West Africa Antarctica

As the task force investigators intensified their focus on Safieddine, they were contacted out of the blue by AsherDavid AsherVeteran U.S. illicit finance expert sent from Pentagon to Project Cassandra to attack the alleged Hezbollah criminal enterprise., the Defense Department official, who was at Special Operations Command tracking the money used to provide ragtag Iraqi Shiite militias with sophisticated weapons for use against U.S. troops, including the new and lethal IED known as the “Explosively Formed Penetrator.” The armor-piercing charges were so powerful that they were ripping M1 Abrams tanks in half.

“Nobody had seen weapons like these,” Asher told POLITICO. “They could blow the side off a building.”

Asher’s curiosity had been piqued by evidence linking the IED network to phone numbers intercepted in the Colombia investigation. Before long, he traced the unusual alliance to a number allegedly used by Safieddine in Iran.

“I had no clue who he was,” Asher recalled. “But this guy was sending money into Iraq, to kill American soldiers.”

“I had no clue who he was. But this guy was sending money into Iraq, to kill American soldiers.”

— David Asher on Abdallah Safieddine.

Thanks to that chance connection, the Pentagon’s then-head of counternarcotics, William Wechsler, lent Asher and a few other Defense Department experts in tracking illicit money to the DEA to see what they might find.

It was a fruitful partnership. Asher was accustomed to toiling in the financial shadows. During his 20-plus years of U.S. government work, his core expertise was in exposing money laundering and schemes to avoid financial sanctions by rogue nation states, terrorist groups, organized-crime cartels and weapons proliferation networks.

Usually, his work was strictly classified. For Project Cassandra, however, he got special dispensation from the Pentagon to build networks of unclassified information so it could be used in criminal prosecutions.

Asher and his team quickly integrated cutting-edge financial intelligence tools into the various DEA investigations. With the U.S. military’s help, agents translated thousands of hours of intercepted phone conversations from Colombia in Arabic that no one had considered relevant until the Hezbollah links appeared.

When the translations were complete, investigators said, they painted a picture of SafieddineAbdallah SafieddineHezbollah’s longtime envoy to Iran who allegedly oversaw the group’s “Business Affairs Component” involved in international drug trafficking. as a human hub of a criminal enterprise with spokes emanating from Tehran outward into Latin America, Africa, Europe and the United States via hundreds of legitimate businesses and front companies.

Safieddine did not respond to requests for comment through various intermediaries including Hezbollah’s media arm. A Hezbollah official, however, denied that the organization was involved in drug dealing.

“Sheik Nasrallah has confirmed lots of times that it is not permitted religiously for Hezbollah members to be trafficking drugs,” the official said. “It is something that is preventable, in that we in Islam have things like halal [permitted] and haram [prohibited]. For us, this is haram. So in no way is it possible to be done.”

The accusation that Hezbollah is involved in drug trafficking, the representative said, “is part of the campaign to distort the image of Hezbollah as a resistance movement against the Israelis. Of course, it is possible to have Lebanese people involved in drugs, but it is not possible for them to be members of Hezbollah. This is absolutely not possible.”

Asked about Safieddine’s role in the organization, the official said, “We don’t usually expose the roles everyone plays because it is a jihadi organization. So it is a little bit secret.”

Safieddine’s cousin Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, has publicly rejected the idea that Hezbollah needs to raise money at all, through drugs or any other criminal activity, because Iran provides whatever funds it needs.

Safieddine himself, however, suggested otherwise in 2005, when he defiantly refuted the Bush administration’s accusations that Iran and Syria supplied Hezbollah with weapons. Those countries provided “political and moral” support only, he told Agence France-Presse. “We don’t need to arm ourselves from Tehran. Why bring weapons from Iran via Syria when we can procure them anywhere in the world?”

“We don’t need to arm ourselves from Tehran. Why bring weapons from Iran via Syria when we can procure them anywhere in the world?”

— Abdallah Safieddine to Agence France-Presse in 2005.

Safieddine may have been right. Agents found evidence that weapons were flowing to Hezbollah from many channels, including networks that trafficked in both drugs and weapons. And using the same trafficking networks that hummed with drugs, cash and commercial products, agents concluded, Safieddine was overseeing Hezbollah efforts to help Iran procure parts and technology for its clandestine nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

“Hezbollah operates like the Gambino crime family on steroids, and he is its John Gotti,” said Kelly, referring to the infamous “Teflon Don” crime boss who for decades eluded justice. “Whatever Iran needs, Safieddine is in charge of getting it for them.”

“Hezbollah operates like the Gambino crime family on steroids, and he is its John Gotti.”

— Jack Kelly on Abdallah Safieddine.

The Bush administration had made disrupting the networks through which Iran obtained parts for its weapons of mass destruction programs a top priority, with then-Deputy National Security Adviser Juan Zarate personally overseeing an interagency effort to map out the procurement channels. A former Justice Department prosecutor, Zarate understood the value of international law enforcement operations, and put DEA’s Special Operations Division at the center of it.

But even then, other agencies were chafing at the DEA’s role.

A Series of Roadblocks

Much of the early turbulence stemmed from an escalating turf battle between federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies over which ones had primacy in the global war on terrorism, especially over a so-called hybrid target like Hezbollah, which was both a criminal enterprise and a national security threat.

The “cops” from the FBI and DEA wanted to build criminal cases, throw Hezbollah operatives in prison and get them to turn on each other. That stoked resentment among the “spooks” at the CIA and National Security Agency, who for 25 years had gathered intelligence, sometimes through the painstaking process of having agents infiltrate Hezbollah, and then occasionally launching assassinations and cyberattacks to block imminent threats.

Further complicating the picture was the role of the State Department, which often wanted to quash both law-enforcement actions and covert operations due to the political backlash they created. Hezbollah, after all, was a leading political force in Lebanon and a provider of human services, with a sincere grass-roots following that wasn’t necessarily aware of its unsavory actions. Nowhere was the tension between law enforcement and diplomacy more acute than in dealings with Hezbollah, which was fast becoming a key part of the Lebanese government.

Distrust among U.S. agencies exploded after two incidents brought the cops-spooks divide into clear relief.

In the waning days of the Bush administration, a DEA agent’s cover was blown just as he was about to become a Colombian cartel’s main cocaine supplier to the Middle East — and to Hezbollah operatives.

A year later, under Obama, the State Department blocked an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force from luring a key eyewitness from Beirut to Philadelphia so he could be arrested and turned against SafieddineAbdallah SafieddineHezbollah’s longtime envoy to Iran who allegedly oversaw the group’s “Business Affairs Component” involved in international drug trafficking. and other Hezbollah operatives in a scheme to procure 1,200 Colt M4 military-grade assault rifles.

In both cases, law enforcement agents suspected that Middle East-based spies in the CIA had torpedoed their investigations to protect their politically sensitive and complicated relationship with Hezbollah.

The CIA declined to comment on the allegation that it intentionally blew the cover of a DEA agent or any other aspect of its relationship with Project Cassandra. The Obama State Department and Justice Department also declined to comment in response to detailed requests about their dealings with Hezbollah.

But the tensions between those agencies and the DEA were no secret. Some current and former diplomats and CIA officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, portrayed DEA Special Operations agents as undisciplined and overly aggressive cowboys with little regard for the larger geopolitical picture. “They’d come in hot to places like Beirut, want to slap handcuffs on people and disrupt operations we’d been cultivating for years,” one former CIA case officer said.

“They’d come in hot to places like Beirut, want to slap handcuffs on people and disrupt operations we’d been cultivating for years.”

— Former CIA case officer on how the DEA operated.

KellyJohn “Jack” KellyDEA agent overseeing Hezbollah cases at Special Operations Division, who named task force Project Cassandra after clashes with other U.S. agencies about Hezbollah drug-terror links. and other agents embraced their swashbuckling reputation, claiming that more aggressive tactics were needed because the CIA had long turned a blind eye to Hezbollah’s criminal networks, and even cultivated informants within them, in a misguided and myopic focus on preventing terrorist attacks.

The unyielding posture of Kelly, AsherDavid AsherVeteran U.S. illicit finance expert sent from Pentagon to Project Cassandra to attack the alleged Hezbollah criminal enterprise. and their team also rankled some of their fellow law-enforcement agents within the FBI, the Justice Department and even the DEA itself. The more Kelly and Asher insisted that everyone else was missing the drug-crime-terror nexus, the more others accused them — and their team out at Chantilly — of inflating those connections to expand the task force’s portfolio, get more funding and establish its importance.

After a few years of working together on the Hezbollah cases, Kelly and Asher had become a familiar sight in the never-ending circuit of meetings and briefings in what is known as the “interagency process,” a euphemism for the U.S. national security community’s efforts to bring all elements of power to bear on a particular problem.

From outward appearances, the two made an unusual pair.

Kelly, now 51, was a streetwise agent from small-town New Jersey who cut his teeth investigating the Mafia and drug kingpins. He spent his infrequent downtime lifting weights, watching college football and chilling in cargo shorts.

Asher, 49, speaks fluent Japanese, earned his Ph.D. in international relations from Oxford University and has the pallor of a senior government official who has spent the past three decades in policy meetings, classified military war rooms and diplomatic summits.

Both were described by supporters and detractors alike as having a similarly formidable combination of investigative and analytical skills, and the self-confidence to match it. At times, and especially on Project Cassandra, their intensity worked to the detriment of their careers.

“It got to the point where a lot of people didn’t want to have meetings with them,” said one FBI terrorism task force supervisor who worked often with the two. “They refused to accept no for an answer. And they were often given no for an answer. Even though they were usually right.”

Trump at War with Islam due to his Position on Jerusalem?

So, after the declaration by President Trump announcing that Jerusalem is the historical capitol of Israel, protests continue against the West. Truth be told, at least three previous presidents all made the same declarations. A peace deal with the Palestinians is a fool’s errand.

We are to believe that President Trump is not sensitive to the disputes, history and territory? C’mon really?

*** Check out this judge’s decision as a primer:

Gothenburg, December 12 – A magistrate in this Scandinavian city has ruled that the perpetrators of two Molotov cocktail attacks against Jewish houses of worship in the last three days may not be prosecuted under criminal law, as they were exercising their legal right to freedom of expression.

Judge Lars Ferwerds ordered fourteen men detained Saturday and Monday for the firebomb attack be released immediately and the charges against them dropped this morning, and criticized the police for infringing on the men’s rights. The group had participated in assaults on synagogues to protest US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The attack forced dozens of Jews inside one of the the buildings to seek shelter in the basement as they awaited rescue.

“Shame on the police for limiting freedom of expression,” pronounced the judge. “European civilization has advanced to the point where vehement disagreement is now treated as a legitimate position, not to be repressed.”

Lawyers for the defendants praised the judge’s decision. “It has long been recognized that Muslim anger may not be restrained by law enforcement,” stated a pleased Dimi Svensen, who represents four of those arrested. “This is especially the case when the anger is directed merely at Jews. The Court was correct in admonishing the police that the antisemitism is even more venerable and sacrosanct than all other notions in European legal tradition.”

***

On Saturday, December 9, masked men threw firebombs at a synagogue in Gothenburg, Sweden. The attack took place shortly after 10:00 pm, at a time when about thirty children and teenagers were attending a party at the Jewish Center adjoining the main building. When the assault began, the guards rushed them into the cellar, and finally allowed them to go home at about 11:30 pm. (Guards, of course, are a fixture at European synagogues these days.) A mother of one of the girls at the party received a text message from her daughter saying that she was scared and that there was a smell of gasoline. More here.

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So, a previous policyholder with the term of GW Bush and Barack Obama, Farah Pandith, takes the position that under Trump, America is at war with Islam.

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Pandith was the first person to hold the position of Special Representative to Muslim Communities for the US State Department under Secretary Clinton. Perhaps she is cool with that judge’s decision huh?

But hold on….check out what Saudi Arabia just did…

TEHRAN (FNA)– Saudi Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman has laid increasing pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to give up his quest for the Palestinian refugees’ right of return and for making Quds the capital of a Palestinian state, an Arab media outlet disclosed.

“Bin Salman has told Mahmoud Abbas to forget about the Quds case and the refugees’ right to return to their country and start a bid to establish a state in Gaza,” the Arabic-language al-Arabi al-Jadid news website reported on Tuesday, adding that the de facto ruler has promised “Abbas huge financial aid in return”.

To get rid of the difficult conditions prevailing over the meeting with the Saudi crown prince, Abbas has asked bin Salman to present his offer in written so that he could put it under discussion at a meeting of the central committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), added the report.

Earlier, Reuters had also reported that bin Salman had proposed $100bln to Abbas if he agreed with the recent US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s capital.

The US president last Wednesday defied global warnings, and said Washington formally recognizes Jerusalem al-Quds as the “capital” of Israel, and will begin the process of moving its embassy to the occupied city, breaking with decades of American policy despite widespread international opposition.

In anticipation of Trump’s move, 151 members of the UN General Assembly voted last week to adopt a rare resolution that denounced Israel as the “occupying power” of Jerusalem al-Quds, a city that is holy to Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike.

The city has seen heightened tensions since 2015, when the Israeli military introduced restrictions on the entry of Palestinian worshipers into the al-Aqsa Mosque — Islam’s third holiest site.

Over 300 Palestinians have lost their lives at the hands of Israeli soldiers ever since.

Israel lays claim to the entirety of al-Quds (Jerusalem) as its capital while Palestinians want its Eastern part as the capital of a future state for themselves.

Palestinian leaders have warned that the potential relocation would fuel strong reaction in the region and deliver a death blow to any prospect of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump’s move which overturns decades of US foreign policy has triggered a fresh wave of unrest in the Middle East.

*** Then going over to the Palestinian capitol of Ramallah, there was a poll taken. Can you guess the results?

The American step increases Abbas’ weakness, raises further suspicion concerning the role of regional powers, and increases calls for armed action:

More than 90% view the US recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel as a threat to Palestinian interests and the largest percentage demands a strong response that includes a return to an armed intifada. Moreover, the overwhelming majority does not trust Trump’s peace intentions, nor trust the major Arab allies of the US, and 70% demand Abbas’ resignation, and a majority demands the resignation of the reconciliation government if it does not immediately lift the PA sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip.

7-10 December 2017

This poll has been conducted in cooperation with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Ramallah

These are the results of the latest poll conducted by the Palestinian Center

for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip

between 7-10 December 2017. The poll was conducted one day after the

announcement by President Trump that he is recognizing Jerusalem as the

capital of Israel and during a period in which limited clashes occurred

between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers throughout the West Bank

and the Gaza Strip. By then, the Palestinian Authority has already publicly

condemned the US measure and announced cessation of peace-related contacts

with Washington. On the domestic front, reconciliation efforts continued to

produce slow progress and a meeting held in Cairo declared that elections

will take place before the end of 2018. This press release addresses these

issues and covers other matters such as general conditions in the

Palestinian territories and certain aspects of the peace process. Total size

of the sample is 1270 adults interviewed face to face in 127 randomly

selected locations. Margin of error is 3%.

Testimony: Hezbollah, the Illicit Networks Global Reach

Place of Origin: Lebanon

Year of Origin: 1982

Founder(s): Ali Akbar Mohtashemi—Iran’s then-ambassador to Syria; Imad Fayez Mughniyeh; Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah; Abbas al-Musawi

Places of Operation: Lebanon, Syria, Germany, Mexico, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, United Arab Emirates

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*** Related reading: Egypt’s Sisi against idea of strikes on Iran, Hezbollah

Emanuele Ottolenghi
House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee
8 November 2017

Chairman Cook, allow me first to congratulate you on your recent appointment as the new chairman of this subcommittee. Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Sires, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and its Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance.

In 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicted Ayman Saied Joumaa, a Lebanese-Colombian dual national whose global network of companies operating out of Latin America, West Africa, and Lebanon laundered money for Mexican and Colombian cartels to the tune of $200 million a month of drug proceeds.[1] Joumaa worked with Hezbollah as the kingpin in one of many networks Hezbollah runs globally to sustain its financial needs. When his case came to light, the New York Times quoted a DEA official as saying that Hezbollah operated like “the Gambinos on steroids.”[2]

The United States cannot continue to combat a threat of such magnitude unless it leverages all its tools of statecraft in a combined, sustained, and coordinated fashion. Over the past decade, Hezbollah’s terror finance outside Lebanon has evolved from a relatively small fundraising operation involving trade-based money laundering and charitable donations into a multi-billion dollar global criminal enterprise.

Increasing quantities of Schedule 2 drugs like cocaine invade the U.S. from Latin America, adding fuel to the opioid pandemic that has already cost so many lives.[3] Cocaine consumption is as much a national epidemic as opioids, Mr. Chairman, and Hezbollah helps make it available to U.S. consumers.

This makes Hezbollah, its senior leadership, and its numerous operatives involved in running illicit drug-trafficking and money-laundering operations on a global scale the perfect candidates for Kingpin and Transnational Crime Organization designations, in addition to the terrorism and terror finance designations already in place.

The U.S. government has, over the years, developed remarkably sharp and effective tools to counteract Hezbollah’s terror finance threat, but is not using them as vigorously as it should. The Kingpin Act is one such instrument. But like all other instruments of statecraft, its impact would be much greater if used consistently and in conjunction with other tools. The challenge for Congress, the executive branch, the intelligence community, and law enforcement agencies is to leverage these tools in a manner that will outsmart Hezbollah and disrupt its cash flows enough to inflict irreparable damage to the terror group’s finances.

In pursuit of this goal, America needs to better coordinate the application and enforcement of all instruments available from the formidable toolbox created over the past two decades by legislation and executive orders, including leveraging Executive Orders 13581 and 13773 on combating transnational organized crime, Executive Order 13224 on combating sources of terror finance, the 1999 Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, the 2015 Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA), the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016, and soon the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act Amendment of 2017, which is now awaiting reconciliation between its House and Senate versions and which will, once approved, expand on HIFPA.

In doing so, it should focus significantly on the Western Hemisphere, where Hezbollah’s global footprint, especially in Latin America, is most menacing.

Hezbollah’s regional operations are part of a global network of illicit financial and commercial enterprises whose goal is to fund Hezbollah’s activities in the Middle East. Where and when needed, these networks can also be activated to provide logistical support to operatives engaged in planning terror attacks. The United States therefore needs to think and act globally to disrupt Hezbollah’s illicit finance networks. Latin America is a very good place to start doing that.

In the remainder of my testimony, I will discuss evidence demonstrating the magnitude of the threat posed by Hezbollah’s terror finance to the national security of the United States. I will also provide evidence of the high-ranking nature of Hezbollah’s operatives in Latin America – a sure sign of the importance of Hezbollah’s Latin American networks to the organization’s budget. And I will discuss the impact of U.S. policy and actions on disrupting Hezbollah’s terror finance activities. The evidence I am presenting today, hopefully, will highlight both strengths and weaknesses of present U.S. policy and offer ways to improve results.

Download the full testimony here.

[1] U.S. Department of the Treasury, Press Release, “Treasury Targets Major Lebanese-Based Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering Network,” January 26, 2011. (https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pagés/tg1035.aspx); see also: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Press Release, “U.S. Charges Alleged Lebanese Drug Kingpin with Laundering Drug Proceeds for Mexican and Colombian Drug Cartels,” December 13, 2011. (https://www.justice.gov/archive/usao/vae/news/2011/12/20111213joumaanr.html)

[2] Jo Becker, “Beirut Bank Seen as a Hub of Hezbollah’s Financing,” The New York Times, December 13, 2011. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/world/middleeast/beirut-bank-seen-as-a-hub-of-hezbollahs-financing.html)

[3] Nick Miroff, “American cocaine use is way up. Colombia’s coca boom may be why,” The Washington Post, March 4, 2017. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/03/04/colombias-coca-boom-is-showing-up-on-u-s-streets/?utm_term=.d370be3ebe9c)

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*** A short briefing from the State Department on October 10, 2017 by National Counter-terrorism Center Director, Nick Rasmussen:

Hizballah’s use of terrorism across the globe, which has persisted for several decades; second, the group’s continued effort to advance terrorism acts worldwide; and third, the fact that the organization is, in fact, focused on U.S. interests, including here in the homeland. And that is part of the reason why we are here today.

Lebanese Hizballah has repeatedly demonstrated for the world its true character. It is an organization that relies on terrorism as well as other forms of violence and coercion to achieve its goals. And this takes place in spite of the group’s attempts to portray itself as a legitimate political party. Prior to September 11th, I think everybody knows Hizballah was responsible for the terrorism-related deaths of more U.S. citizens than any other foreign terrorist organization.

Now, for many Americans, their introduction to the threat posed by this group came after Hizballah’s attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut in April of 1983. That horrific attack killed 63 and wounded an additional 120 individuals, and it was followed by an even more deadly attack on our Marine barracks in October of 1983 which killed 241 Americans and wounded an additional 128 Americans.

So Hizballah’s penchant for violence has not changed over the last three decades. We’ve seen time and time again with its international terrorism unit, the External Security Organization, also known as the IJO, the Islamic Jihad Organization, and Unit 910, 9-1-0. But its deployment of operatives to nearly every corner of the globe continues to engage in terrorism-related activity.

In 2012 the group carried out a bomb attack in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian national, and a number of Hizballah operatives have been caught laying the groundwork for attacks in places like Azerbaijan, in Egypt, in Thailand, in Cyprus, and in Peru. And there are other instances of Hizballah-related arrests and disruptions around the world that are at this point unpublicized and remain classified.

But all of this together shows us that the group seeks to develop and maintain a global capability to carry out acts of terror. I can assure you that the conversation today would be much different had some of these disrupted plots actually succeeded. Casualty counts would be higher and many innocent lives would have been forever altered. The group is also known to focus on areas populated by tourists, almost guaranteeing that with their attacks innocent victims – innocent civilians will be victims.

Now, with respect to the homeland here in the United States, let me say this. While much of our work in the government since 9/11 has focused on al-Qaida and more recently on ISIS, in the 20 years since Hizballah’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization, we have never taken our focus off of Hizballah and on the threat it represents to the homeland.

***

Syria, ISIS, and the Broader Middle East
As an Iranian proxy, Hezbollah has taken up arms alongside Syrian and Iranian forces in defense of the Syrian regime in that country’s civil war. In 2012, the U.S. Treasury levied additional sanctions on Hezbollah for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. According to Treasury, since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in early 2011,
Hezbollah provided “training, advice and extensive logistical support to the Government of Syria’s increasingly ruthless efforts to fight against the opposition.” 45
As of October 2016, Hezbollah and Syrian forces were reportedly besieging some 40,000 Syrians in three towns, preventing them access to medical treatment. 46
During an October 2016 rally in Beirut, Nasrallah promised that Hezbollah
would “continue to bear our great responsibilities of jihad” in Syria. 47
In January 2015, in response to Israeli airstrikes on alleged weapons shipments to Hezbollah in Syria, Nasrallah called the strikes an aggression against Syria’s regional allies.
As such, Syria’s allies have the right to retaliate, according to Nasrallah. 48
Hezbollah’s activity in Syria has its domestic detractors as well. Subhi al-Tufayli, Hezbollah’s first secretary-general from 1989 to 1991, has accused Hezbollah of being
a “partner in the killing of the Syrian people.” He denounced Hezbollah members who fight alongside Russians, and called on the Hezbollah leadership to heed Lebanese opposition to the group’s involvement in Syria. 49
Hezbollah’s role in Syria is not limited to fighting anti-government rebels. Under Iranian direction, Hezbollah has also fought against ISIS, which Nasrallah described as a growing threat to the region and an existential threat to Lebanon in an August 2014 interview with the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar. 50
Hezbollah has also fought against the Nusra Front (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham).51
On October 19, 2016, Qassem told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV that Hezbollah “will not leave Syria as long as there is a need to confront takfiri groups.” 52
In November 2016, Hezbollah held a public parade in the Syrian city of Qusair to highlight its role in the conflict. The terror group showcased U.S. and Russian armored personnel carriers and tanks. The U.S. State Department issued a statement that it was “gravely concerned” and investigating how Hezbollah acquired U.S. equipment. 53
The United States provides aid to the Lebanese military, which denied that U.S.-provided weaponry had been transferred to Hezbollah 54. Read the full report here.

Saudi Arabia says Lebanon Declares War

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It is all about Iran….

Arabia reveals list of wanted members of the terrorist militias in the region including

What did President Trump know or what was he told?

Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Hariri of Lebanon in Joint Press Conference

Saudi Arabia says Lebanon declares war, deepening crisis

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon on Monday of declaring war against it because of aggression by the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi‘ite group Hezbollah, a dramatic escalation of a crisis threatening to destabilize the tiny Arab country.

Lebanon has been thrust to the center of regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran since the Saudi-allied Lebanese politician Saad al-Hariri quit as prime minister on Saturday, blaming Iran and Hezbollah in his resignation speech.

Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan said the Lebanese government would “be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia” because of what he described as aggression by Hezbollah.

Faulting the Hariri-led administration for failing to take action against Hezbollah during a year in office, Sabhan said “there are those who will stop (Hezbollah) and make it return to the caves of South Lebanon”, the heartland of the Shi‘ite community.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya TV, he added: “Lebanese must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return.”

He did not spell out what action Saudi Arabia might take against Lebanon, a country with a weak and heavily indebted state that is still rebuilding from its 1975-90 civil war and where one-in-four people is a Syrian refugee.

There was no immediate comment from the Lebanese government.

Hezbollah is both a military and a political organization that is represented in the Lebanese parliament and in the Hariri-led coalition government formed last year.

Its powerful guerrilla army is widely seen as stronger than the Lebanese army, and has played a major role in the war in neighboring Syria, another theater of Saudi-Iranian rivalry where Hezbollah has fought in support of the government.

Lebanese authorities said on Monday the country’s financial institutions could cope with Hariri’s resignation and the stability of the Lebanese pound was not at risk.

But the cash price of Lebanon’s U.S. dollar-denominated bonds fell, with longer-dated maturities suffering hefty losses as investors took a dim view of the medium- to longer-term outlook for Lebanon.

HARIRI FREE TO TRAVEL, SAUDI FM SAYS

Hariri cited a plot to assassinate him during his unexpected resignation speech broadcast from Saudi Arabia which caught even his aides off guard. He also slammed Hezbollah and Iran, accusing them of sowing strife in the Arab world.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said he will not comment on Hariri’s speech, calling it a “Saudi statement” and saying Riyadh had forced Hariri to resign.

The sudden nature of Hariri’s resignation generated speculation in Lebanon that his family’s Saudi construction business had been caught up in an anti-corruption purge and he had been coerced into resigning. More here.

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Western intelligence services warned Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri of an assassination plot against him, thus prompting him to resign on Sunday, according to Saudi news media. Hariri is a Saudi-born Lebanese politician, reputed to be one of the world’s wealthiest people. He is the second son of the late Rafiq Hariri, who ruled Lebanon for much of the 1990s but was assassinated in 2005. Saad al-Hariri spent most of his life in Saudi Arabia, the United States and France, but returned to Lebanon in 2014 to lead the Future Movement, a center-right political party supported by Sunni Muslims and some Christians. He became prime minister in 2016.

On Friday, Hariri flew from Beirut to Riyadh for a scheduled high-level visit. But on Sunday he shocked the Arab world by announcing his resignation from the post of prime minister. He did so in a surprise television address from the Saudi capital, which was broadcast live in Lebanon. Hariri told stunned Lebanese audiences that he was resigning in order to protect himself from a plot that was underway to assassinate him. He added that the political climate in Lebanon was intolerably tense and reminded him of the conditions that led to the assassination of his father 12 years ago. He also accused Iran and Hezbollah of acting as the primary destabilizing factors in Lebanon and much of the Middle East. Hariri and his supporters believe that Hezbollah was behind his father’s assassination in 2005. There was intense speculation in Lebanon on Monday that Hariri would remain in Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future, fearing for his life if he returned to Lebanon.

On Sunday, the Saudi-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsatclaimed that Hariri decided to resign after he “received warnings from Western governments” that there would be an assassination plot against him. The newspaper did not name the Western governments, nor did it identify those who are allegedly trying to kill Hariri. Later on Sunday, Saudi television station al-Arabiya al-Hadath alleged that an assassination attempt against Hariri had been stopped at the last minute in the Lebanese capital Beirut earlier in the week. Both news media cited “sources close” to the Lebanese leader, but did not provide specific information, nor did they give details of the alleged plot or plots. It is worth noting, however, that Lebanese security officials denied these reports from Riyadh. Lebanese media quoted senior security official Major General Abbas Ibrahim as saying that no information about assassination plots had been uncovered. Major Ibrahim, who heads Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security, said that his agency had no information about attempts to kill Hariri or other Lebanese political figures.

This could mean that the information about a possible assassination plot against Hariri was given directly to him by Western intelligence agencies, probably because the latter fear that Lebanese security agencies are infiltrated by Hezbollah sympathizers. Or it could mean that the Saudi media reports are inaccurate. Lebanon is now awaiting further details by Hariri regarding the alleged assassination plot against him. In the meantime, the already fragile political life of Lebanon appears to be entering a period of prolonged uncertainty.

Trump not Taking Sides, Took a Side Against Kurds

Hey President Trump, fire Brett McGurk. Qassem Suleimani has been declared a terrorist and has countless sanctions, why is he allowed to travel including 3 trips to Moscow?

Why is the United States neutral?

Kirkuk, home to some 1 million Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians, has been at the heart of a long-running dispute between the autonomous Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad. Both are close allies of the U.S. There are 35 million Kurds in 4 countries, they are essentially stateless….McMaster, you out there? What say you?

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On Sunday, Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s chief spymaster, travelled to the Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya to meet with the leaders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or P.U.K., one of the two main Kurdish political parties. For years, the P.U.K. and its sister party, the Kurdish Democratic Party, or K.D.P., have been struggling to break away from the rest of Iraq and form an independent state. A Kurdish republic is opposed by all the region’s countries—the governments in Baghdad, Turkey, and Iran—which fear that sizable Kurdish minorities in all three nations will begin to act autonomously.

It is not known what Suleimani—the Middle East’s most cunning operative—told the P.U.K.’s leaders. But, within hours, their fighters began abandoning their posts, making way for Iraqi military units just across the front lines. Not long after, Iraqi forces took over the former Kurdish positions and a stretch of oil fields near the city of Kirkuk. With the Iraqi Kurds now split in two—the P.U.K. on one side and the K.D.P. on the other—hopes for an independent Kurdish state appear to be fading fast. “It was a horrible, horrible betrayal,” a senior official in the Kurdish Regional Government told me.

“Everyone is calling it the P.U.K. drug deal,” a former senior American official who works in the region told me. Notably, many P.U.K. units refused the order to stand down and fought the oncoming Iraqi units.

Last week, Iraqi military units began massing near the Kurdish-Iraqi border. The Iraqi units are dominated by “popular mobilization forces,” which is another way of saying Iranian-trained militias that operate inside Iraq. Those militias—controlled by Suleimani—are staunch backers of the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, in Baghdad. Most of these groups have dark pasts; the main militia that moved into Kurdish territory this morning was Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which battled American soldiers in Iraq during the war there. Its leader, Qais Khazali, is believed to be the principal planner of the kidnapping and execution of four American soldiers in Karbala in 2007. The military operation in the Kurdish region is very much a joint Iraq-Iran project; the flag of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq was planted at one of the Kurdish bases that was taken over. Also accompanying Iraqi forces in Kirkuk was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi militia commander convicted of bombing the American Embassy in Kuwait in 1983; he has been designated a terrorist by the United States government. More here from NYT’s.

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***  Iraq Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi enters Yezidi town of Sinjar following Peshmerga withdrawal. Hashd al-Shaabi group cuts electricity in Kirkuk city as it seeks to take control of Kurdish Peshmerga positions. Iraqi military says it has seized large oil fields near Kirkuk from Kurdish forces.

***

How bad was it and where does this go for the Kurds?

The game of brinkmanship blew up in the faces of Baghdad and Irbil on October 16 as talks gave way to fighting in south Kirkuk and Tuz Kharmato in Salahaddin.

At the start of October 15, the central and Kurdish regional governments were in the middle of heavy talks to resolve the crisis in Kirkuk. The problem started when Prime Minister Haidar Abadi mobilized the joint forces and demanded that the Kurds withdraw from areas they occupied in 2014 including several military bases, an airport and the Bai Hassan and Avana oil fields in southern Kirkuk. Baghdad demanded that the Kurds abide by the constitution and cancel the results of the September independence referendum. It also accused the Kurds of moving in fighters from the Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) into Kirkuk in a bald attempt to get Ankara more involved in the dispute. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) rejected those calls as the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) met in Dokan. Talks were held there because the KDP and PUK were so far apart on this crisis. The KDP has been steadfast in rejecting any terms set by Baghdad. It has also been beating the war drum accusing the Abadi government of acting like the Baath and constantly warning that the federal government was going to attack Kirkuk. The PUK on the other hand is divided. Many in the party’s leadership are open to making compromises, but others such as Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim and Vice President Kosrat Rasul are siding with the KDP and calling for a defense of Kirkuk. Iranian General Qasim Suleimani of the Quds Force was also in Kurdistan, while America’s Brett McGurk arrived in Baghdad, both trying to mediate. There were reports on social media that the PUK had made a local deal to allow the federal forces into certain areas of the province, but that broke down and fighting ensued.

There were clashes in both southern Kirkuk and Tuz Kharmato in Salahaddin. First, the government had given the Peshmerga until October 15 to withdraw from several positions in Kirkuk. That expired, and talks were still going on between both sides. On October 16, the Golden Division, the army’s 9th Division, and Federal Police began advancing along two axes from Dibis in the west and Hawija in the south towards the K1 military base and the Bai Hassan and Avana oil fields. When the Golden Division entered an industrial district fighting broke out that included mortars and artillery. There were also clashes in Tuz Kharmato, and the Hashd were said to be moving to cut the road from there to Kirkuk.

There are various factors leading to this huge breakdown in Iraq, but there’s also a good chance that the conflagration won’t last. First, Kurdish President Massoud Barzani pushed through the independence referendum on his own without consulting with other Kurdish parties, but rather assuming they would all come on board, which they didn’t. There was also no preparation for Baghdad’s response, and the KDP constantly attacked the federal government for not following the constitution and being a reincarnation of the Saddam regime. Second, Prime Minister Haidar Abadi was put under intense pressure by parliamentarians demanding the Kurds be punished for the election. Abadi had to respond to the KRG as a result imposing a flight ban, talked about shutting down border points, etc. Third, he took it from those measures that were largely symbolic to demanding that the Kurds withdraw from southern Kirkuk to their pre-2014 positions, which was a huge escalation and threatened a military confrontation. That blew up in his face. All the while, Baghdad and Irbil offered talks, but on terms that neither would agree upon. The Americans started off telling the Kurds not to hold the referendum, to offering to defuse the situation, but came in too late. With fighting underway Washington is likely to pressure the two sides to halt. However, getting the two sides to come together and achieve anything substantial will be hard at best as the political repercussions of this clash will run deep.