This cocaine won’t clean out your sinuses.(Wikipedia)
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For Hezbollah, Keys Open Doors

But might reliance on cocaine trade, backing of Assad also hurt the group?

Marc Tracy
December 15, 2011
This cocaine won't clean out your sinuses.(Wikipedia)

Say this for Hezbollah’s enemies, which include certain democratic forces in Lebanon as well as Israel: They don’t derive much of their income from the brutal drug trade. And say this for pot smokers: They’re not funding terrorism (or at least not as much!).

A federal indictment earlier this week blew open links between the Iran-backed Shia paramilitary organization that effectively runs Lebanon and the brutal Latin American cocaine trade, in particular the vicious Mexican cartel Los Zetas. If you haven’t read top investigative reporter Jo Becker’s exhaustive following-of-the-money—which includes five continents, untold numbers of used cars, and 85 tons of cocaine—now’s the time. The short of it is that Hezbollah benefits, at times directly, from the Latin American drug trade by laundering money via various means (including those used cars) to Beirut’s Lebanese Canadian Bank. The money quote comes from a U.S. investigator: “They operate like the Gambinos on steroids.”

It’s important for law enforcement to understand exactly how it works. It’s important for the rest of the world, however, to understand that Hezbollah feeds itself with the blood of horrific drug-related violence. This might not surprise those already predisposed to not liking Hezbollah, but in fact this is just one piece of the group’s much larger hypocrisy, which should be leveraged as effective PR in the Arab and Muslim world.

Larbi Sadiki pointed to another Hezbollah hypocrisy earlier this week: its continued support of Bashar Assad’s murderous regime in neighboring Syria—support that isn’t merely passive, but actually includes party head Hassan Nasrallah denying Assad’s atrocities. “When such a wildly popular resistance movement abandons the ideal, much less the practice, of liberation in support of tyranny, it loses credibility with the public,” he wrote. “Fighting Israel as a Syrian proxy is one thing, but opposing the Syrian people’s desire for democratic change is something else entirely.” Elias Muhanna reports that Hezbollah feels more vulnerable with its Syrian patron waning, and “recent polls also show that Hezbollah’s reputation has taken a considerable hit in the Arab world because of its alliance with the Assad regime.” (Contrast all this with Hamas, which has practiced “quiet dissidence,” according to Sadiki, and which is looking to decamp from its current headquarters, in Damascus, for greener pastures in Cairo or even Qatar. This is one advantage of being a Sunni rather than a Shiite group and thus able to forge strong alliances with countries besides Shiite-ruled Syria and Iran.)

So, Hezbollah backs a tyrant who kills his own people (and predominantly Sunnis) and makes its money from the tragedy of other poor oppressed people half a world away. Sounds like a pretty good pitch for Hezbollah’s enemies, including Israel, to make in the region.

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Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.