Treasury Moves on Hezbollah Ties in Venezuela

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated several entities tied to Hezbollah and operating in Venezuela. This is the first time I can find of the U.S. government directly and publicly linking Hezbollah funding activities to Venezuela.

This is part of a larger pattern, including, as I wrote earlier, the penetration of Hezbollah and Iran in Venezuela, with the blessing of the Chavez government.

Not long ago Iran began banking operations in Venezuela as well, in an effort to bypass the international sanctions in place and those that may follow in coming days.

According to the OFAC statement, one of the men designated, Ghazi Nasr al Din, is a Hezbollah fund raiser who has facilitated the travel of senior Hezbollah operatives to Venezuela to raise funds and open Hezbollah-funded social centers.

This, of course, is greatly facilitated by the direct flights now operating between Caracas and Tehran, with return stops in Damacus, Syria. The added beauty of these flights is that those who board them don’t need visas, so there is no record available as to who has come or gone. And, despite being commercial flights, it if virtually impossible for a normal person to book and fly on the flights.

The second individual designated, Fawzi Kan’an, is also alleged to be a facilitator for Hezbollah who met with senior Hezbollah officials to “discuss operational issues, including possible kidnappings and terrorist attacks.”

The OFAC order also designated Biblos Travel Agency, owned by Fawzi, because he used the busines to courier money to Lebanon. A second agency, Hilal Travel, was also shut down.

Each of these events, taken in isolation, is not that alarming. But when looking at the neighborhood, as I did in this paper for the NEFA Foundation it becomes clear that this is a part of a much larger and more threatening pattern of behavior by Iran in the northern tier of South America.

I hope the OFAC action speaks to a growing awareness of the Iran-Venezuela-Hezbollah-FARC pipeline on the part of the intelligence and law enforcement communities. It is an awareness that has been sorely lacking to this point.

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