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Westlake Legal Group > Hezbollah

Garvan Walshe: Iran’s theocrats hunker down as protests mount

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He Runs TRD Policy

In 2015, I visited a refugee camp near Sulaymaniah in northern Iraq where we were given an audience with Sunni clan leaders who had fled there. Our Kurdish hosts translated that they were fleeing from Daesh — the original Arabic initials for ISIS — but I remembered just enough Arabic to pick out that they were also, or even primarily, fleeing from “al-Hashd al-Sha’bi”, the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a Shia militia working for the Iraqi government, but backed by Iran.

The brutal PMF are one of a series of proxies or militias under the sway of Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards that fight in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and which have been used to project Iranian power across the middle east. The spearhead of an expeditionary Iranian policy, they support Tehran’s influence in Lebanon and keep Israel on wary guard; helped Assad hold on until the Russians could supply him the firepower to retake rebel cities he had lost; supply and train the Houthi rebels running rings around Saudi forces in Yemen; and turned Iran into the arbiter of Iraqi politics.

These missions have been crucial to Iranian politics. They bring prestige and opportunities for graft to the Guards’ personnel, in particular their commander, General Qasem Soleimani. The networks they establish open holes in American sanctions. They show how hardliners can bring tangible benefits to the state and Iran’s security position.

They have, however, begun to turn sour. In the last month, Lebanon has been rocked by huge protests against Hezbollah’s dominance of the political system there. Meanwhile, in Iraq some 150 people have been killed in anti-government disturbances by Shia Iraqis against their Iranian coreligionists.

On Friday protests erupted in Iran itself, apparently in up to 40 cities. Their seriousness can be judged by the severity of the crackdown. Amnesty International reports more than 100 dead in 21 cities. To stop the protesters organising and to limit foreign coverage, the government has shut down the internet. Only four per cent of connections are still, apparently, active. Eyewitnesses say the repression is more severe than that which followed the 2009 “Green Revolution” uprising. Next Friday, when the authorities will have to cope with mass gatherings occurring under the guise of weekly prayers, will be a crucial test of the system’s strength.

The proximate cause of the uprising is a cut in petrol subsidies, instigated in response to the effects of American sanctions. In what is actually good practice, the across-the-board subsidies are to be replaced by help targeted at the poorest. But in reality the regime (which is composed of a mix of autocratic and more or less democratic institutions) faces a crisis of legitimacy and these protests have built up following months of dissent.

During the revolution itself, and the Iran-Iraq war that followed it, the regime was able to rally people around revolutionary nationalism and the now familiar trio of enemies – the United States, Great Britain and Israel – and their programme of “westoxification”. This trick was repeated with Ahmadinejad, who won his first term as president by campaigning against the North Tehran liberal elite (despite the actual elite being the decidedly illiberal Ayatollah Khamenei), and his second with some creative result-counting. This rigging sparked the mass protests of the 2009 revolution. Though it was to be the most serious internal challenge the regime has faced, it never took root outside the middle classes.

These protests are different. They take place, not against a hardline president whose agenda aligns with the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards, but against a moderate, Hassan Rouhani, who has been unable to deliver the economic improvements he promised.

If this failure might once have been directed at the United States (and Trump deserves his share of the blame), it’s now a majority of Iran’s population have grown up knowing nothing but the Islamic Republic. A weak president, constrained by an ageing clerical establishment, is no longer enough for them. They chafe at theocratic repression (videos of Iranians berating clerics who try and force women to cover up are often smuggled out), and have become increasingly angry at the economic hardship produced directly through sanctions, and indirectly, through its sheer cost by the foreign policy of an Iran in the grip of a military-religious complex run amok. You can’t eat the hashd al-sha’bi or fill your car up with Hezbollah.

Supreme Leader Khamene’i is now 80. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who maintained a balance between hardline and reforming factions, is dead. The regime is due a generational change, and the Assembly of Experts, which will elect his successor, will have a reformist majority at least until 2024. All the more reason, the regime leadership evidently thinks, to snuff this rebellion out as quickly as possible.

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Hezbollah agent scouted targets including the White House and Statue of Liberty for terror group

Westlake Legal Group Statue-of-Liberty Hezbollah agent scouted targets including the White House and Statue of Liberty for terror group The Blog Terrorism Iran Hezbollah

A man named Alexei Saab was arrested in July and today the Department of Justice revealed the reason. Saab has been charged with nine counts of supporting the terror group Hezbollah. This isn’t a case where a disgruntled American became radicalized by viewing online videos and reached out to a terror group. On the contrary, Saab allegedly joined Hezbollah, received training, and rose in its ranks years before he entered the United States in 2000.

Saab joined Hizballah in 1996.  Saab’s first Hizballah operation occurred in Lebanon, where he was tasked with observing and reporting on the movements of Israeli and Southern Lebanese Army soldiers in Yaroun, Lebanon.  Among other things, Saab reported on patrol schedules and formations, procedures at security checkpoints, and the vehicles used by soldiers.

In approximately 1999, Saab attended his first Hizballah training.  The training focused on the use of firearms, and Saab handled and fired an AK-47, an M16 rifle, and a pistol, and threw grenades.  In 2000, Saab transitioned to membership in Hizballah’s unit responsible for external operations, the IJO, and he then received extensive training in IJO tradecraft, weapons, and military tactics, including how to construct bombs and other explosive devices.  In 2004 and 2005, Saab attended explosives training in Lebanon during which he received detailed instruction in, among other things, triggering mechanisms, explosive substances, detonators, and the assembly of circuits.

The feds claim that Saab applied for naturalized citizenship in the U.S. in 2005 in order to facilitate his real mission, which was scouting American landmarks for security and structural weaknesses he could transmit back to Hezbollah:

In 2005, Saab applied for naturalized citizenship and falsely affirmed, under penalty of perjury, that he had never been “a member of or in any way associated with . . . a terrorist organization.” In August 2008, Saab became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

While living in the United States, Saab remained an IJO operative, continued to receive military training in Lebanon, and conducted numerous operations for the IJO. For example, Saab surveilled dozens of locations in New York City—including the United Nations headquarters, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the Empire State Building, and local airports, tunnels, and bridges—and provided detailed information on these locations, including photographs, to the IJO. In particular, Saab focused on the structural weaknesses of locations he surveilled in order to determine how a future attack could cause the most destruction. Saab’s reporting to the IJO included the materials used to construct a particular target, how close in proximity one could get to a target, and site weaknesses or “soft spots” that the IJO could exploit if it attacked a target in the future. Saab conducted similar intelligence gathering in a variety of American cities. The FBI recovered photographs from Saab’s electronic devices reflecting his surveillance activities, including photographs of New York City landmarks.

In addition to the Statue of Liberty, NBC reports Saab also scouted sites around the country including the White House and Fenway Park in Boston.

During interviews, Saab told agents he took photographs of buildings and locations including Quincy Market and the Prudential Center in Boston and the Capitol Building, Congress and the White House in Washington, D.C., according to a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. A video of Fenway Park that authorities say was recovered from one of Saab’s electronic devices was included in the complaint.

Saab also reportedly attempted to murder a man he believed was an Israeli agent:

In addition to his attack-planning activities in the United States, Saab conducted operations abroad. For example, Saab attempted to murder a man he later understood to be a suspected Israeli spy. Saab pointed a firearm at the individual at close range and pulled the trigger twice, but the firearm did not fire. Saab also conducted intelligence-gathering for Hizballah in Istanbul, Turkey.

Hezbollah was founded by Iran in Lebanon to act as a proxy for attacks against Israel. The group has not carried out any attacks in the United States but was responsible for the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing which killed 241 U.S. Marines.

The post Hezbollah agent scouted targets including the White House and Statue of Liberty for terror group appeared first on Hot Air.

Westlake Legal Group Statue-of-Liberty-300x153 Hezbollah agent scouted targets including the White House and Statue of Liberty for terror group The Blog Terrorism Iran Hezbollah   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The Israel-Iran Shadow War Escalates and Breaks Into the Open

JERUSALEM — Israel has carried out a series of attacks across the Middle East in recent weeks to prevent Iran from equipping its Arab allies with precision-guided missiles, drones and other sophisticated weapons that could challenge Israel’s defenses.

The attacks represent a new escalation in the shadow war between Iran and Israel, which has broken into the open and threatens to set off a wider confrontation.

In one 18-hour period over the weekend, an Israeli airstrike killed two Iranian-trained militants in Syria, a drone set off a blast near a Hezbollah office in Beirut’s southern suburbs and an airstrike in Qaim, Iraq, killed a commander of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia.

Israel accuses Iran of trying to establish an overland arms-supply line through Iraq and northern Syria to Lebanon. The attacks, only one of which Israel has publicly acknowledged, were aimed at stopping Iran and signaling to its proxies that Israel will not tolerate a fleet of smart missiles on its borders, officials and analysts said.

“Iran is building something here in the region,” said Sima Shine, a former head of research for Israeli intelligence, now a scholar at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “What’s changed is that the process reached a level in which Israel has to act differently.”

Iranian officials said the Israeli attacks would not go unanswered. Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, who oversees covert military operations outside Iran, said on Twitter that “the Zionist actions are insane and will be their last.”

While Iran has not publicly acknowledged the transfer of missile technology, an Iranian with knowledge of Iran’s regional efforts said that in the past year Iran had shifted its focus from training its proxy forces for ground battle in Syria and Iraq to equipping them with high-tech weapons and training.

Leaders on all sides say they do not want an all-out war, but the accelerating pace of violent strikes, often with cheap drones and other covert technologies, has raised the possibility that even a minor attack could spiral into a larger conflict. And public taunting, saber-rattling and domestic politics are all contributing to an atmosphere of volatility and brinkmanship.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_159705531_87ebef77-1bed-4569-8b10-99035d3f5a73-articleLarge The Israel-Iran Shadow War Escalates and Breaks Into the Open Syria Quds Force Israel Iraq Iran Houthis Hezbollah Espionage and Intelligence Services Drones (Pilotless Planes) Assad, Bashar al-

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, told his followers, “We will not allow for this type of path, no matter the cost!”CreditBilal Hussein/Associated Press

The drone blast near Beirut early Sunday destroyed what Israeli officials described as machinery vital to Hezbollah’s precision-missile production effort. Israel’s responsibility for that strike, the aim of which was first reported by The Times of London, was confirmed by two officials briefed on the operation.

In Iraq, bases belonging to Iranian-backed paramilitary groups have been attacked repeatedly in recent weeks, and their leaders have accused Israel, saying Israeli drones had hit their vehicles in Qaim, killing one commander. Israel carried out at least one of the attacks, on a base north of Baghdad on July 19, and American officials have said that Israel carried out others.

On Wednesday, the Lebanese Army said it had fired on two of three Israeli drones that breached Lebanese airspace before returning to Israel.

The flare-ups highlight how Iran’s opportunistic expansion in much of the Middle East is coming up against fierce Israeli pushback.

“The military theater has been broadened by Israel in terms of the targeting of its attacks,” said Randa Slim, an analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “It is no longer about Iranian presence in Syria. It is about Iran’s network in the region.”

For years, as unrest and conflict have weakened Arab states, Iran has moved in, building strong ties with local forces that benefit from its patronage while expanding its influence and amplifying the threat to Israel.

Lebanese intelligence agents at the site of a drone attack in a southern suburb of Beirut.CreditNabil Mounzer/EPA, via Shutterstock

More recently, Iran has strengthened its regional network by providing arms and expertise to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, militias in Iraq and pro-government forces in Syria. Iran has also strengthened cooperation between its allies: Hezbollah operatives from Lebanon have trained fighters in Iraq and Yemen and sent aid to Palestinian jihadist movements, and Iran has airlifted thousands of militiamen from Iraq and elsewhere into Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad defeat a rebellion there.

The lives of the two militants killed by the Israeli strike in Syria over the weekend illustrate the borderless nature of the Iranian network. The fighters, Hassan Zabeeb and Yasser Daher, grew up in Lebanon, studied aviation engineering in Iran and returned to Lebanon to work with Hezbollah, according to the Lebanese news media.

Iran calls its regional network the “axis of resistance.” While its members operate with significant autonomy in their own countries, they share the broader goal of combating American, Israeli and Saudi influence in the Middle East. Having militarized allies across the region also serves as a deterrent against Israeli and American strikes on Iran, since any such attacks could elicit violent responses elsewhere.

Israel’s efforts to hinder Iranian expansion in recent years have focused largely on Syria, where Israel has carried out more than 200 airstrikes since early 2017 on suspected weapons convoys, bases and other sites associated with the Iranian war effort.

Israel mostly avoided killing Hezbollah fighters in Syria and attacking inside Lebanon, which could have provoked counterstrikes. This led to an unwritten understanding — often called the rules of the game — about where and how their conflict would and would not play out.

The attacks last weekend appeared to break the rules by killing two Hezbollah fighters in Syria and reaching into the heart of a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut.

Raising temperatures further are brash public statements on both sides, which seem intended as much for domestic audiences as for each other.

Israel’s military has taken to taunting its adversaries on social media: After the airstrike in Syria, it ridiculed General Suleimani.

“Israel knows how to defend itself and to pay back its enemies,” Mr. Netanyahu said on Tuesday.CreditAbir Sultan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On Tuesday, it launched a Twitter account in Persian to try to undermine him with the Iranian public.

Addressing his followers over the weekend, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, vowed to retaliate, shouting his determination to prevent attacks in Lebanon from becoming frequent.

“We in the Islamic resistance, we will not allow for this type of path, no matter the cost!” he said. He did not say how or when his forces would respond.

“I suggest to Nasrallah to calm down,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel responded mockingly on Tuesday. “Israel knows how to defend itself and to pay back its enemies. I say the same to Qassim Suleimani: be careful with your words and even more so with your actions.”

Some analysts suggested that the approaching Israeli election encouraged Mr. Netanyahu’s tough stance, while Mr. Nasrallah also could not appear to be weak at a time when American sanctions have hurt his group’s finances.

Talal Atrissi, a sociologist who studies Hezbollah at Lebanese University, said he expected the group to retaliate against Israel to prevent attacks in Lebanon from becoming commonplace.

Alluding to Israel’s national elections on Sept. 17, he added: “There are elections, and Netanyahu needs to show that he is protecting Israel, but if there is no response, he’ll keep doing it. It won’t just be the election. It will become a new strategy.”

Officials and analysts said the recent uptick in strikes, and their spread into Iraq and Lebanon, came in response to adjustments to Iran’s strategy.

An airstrike in Qaim, Iraq, killed a commander of an Iran-trained Iraqi militia.CreditAssociated Press

One involved General Suleimani’s efforts to maintain supply lines for shipments of arms and equipment from Iran. Until about a year ago, according to a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official, Iran used unmarked or Iranian commercial planes flying into the Damascus airport to reach Hezbollah or Quds Force units in Syria.

But repeated Israeli airstrikes drove Iran to reroute supplies through airfields in northern Syria instead.

When Israel struck those fields, too, General Suleimani moved to set up a land route. That route goes from Iran through Iraq, where drivers and vehicles are often changed to elude surveillance, before crossing into northern Syria.

The Israeli attack on July 19 at Amerli base, north of Baghdad, struck a shipment of guided missiles bound for Syria. It was the first time Israel had carried out an airstrike in Iraq since it destroyed a nuclear reactor near Baghdad in 1981, when Saddam Hussein was in power.

Israel has been working to prevent Hezbollah from manufacturing its own precision-guided missiles since early 2017, using a combination of disclosures, warnings and threats, Israeli analysts say.

Prevented from military action by its understanding with Hezbollah and a desire to avoid war, Israel at first tried to weaponize its intelligence gathering, hoping that exposing Hezbollah’s missile project as a threat to regional security would create international pressure to quash it.

That approach culminated in a speech by Mr. Netanyahu to the United Nations last September, in which he showed aerial photos of what he said were three factories for precision-guided missiles in downtown Beirut.

Ofek Riemer, a former Israeli military intelligence officer who writes frequently on national security, called the public-relations tactic “coercive disclosure.”

But he said that phase appeared to have ended with Sunday’s blast in Beirut.

He cautioned that the explosion in Beirut still appeared well short of an all-out Israeli attempt to stop Hezbollah’s precision-guided missile project by military means.

“We’re still in the signaling business, as I see it,” Mr. Riemer said. “We’re not really going head-on against this project. But it’s also signaling to the international community: Either we take action, and you don’t know where that leads, or you come in and try to pull strings and influence the Lebanese government, Hezbollah by proxy, or even Iran.”

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Bob Seely: In the Gulf, we are paying the price for starving defence of funding for so long

Bob Seely is Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight.

As if the Brexit crisis wasn’t enough for Boris Johnson’s first week as Prime Minister, he now has an international crisis in the Gulf too; one that, if handled badly, may lead to conflict. As Harold MacMillan said, when asked what throws a Government off course: events, dear boy, events.

On Friday, a UK-registered tanker, the Stena Impero, was seized by Iran, one of a series on incidents in the past three months between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK. Iran, under pressure from US sanctions, is readying to cause chaos in the Gulf.

Here are some immediate thoughts:

The UK is caught between rock and a hard place. The Iran crisis is stretching the already strained alliance between the US and Europe – and we are feeling it more than most.  On the Iranian Nuclear Deal – which is at the heart of this crisis – we are diplomatically aligned with the EU in supporting the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), whilst we remain deeply embedded in the US military alliance which, regardless of who is president, retains remarkable importance for us.

Second, we are paying the price for not paying for defence. Our emaciated presence in the Gulf is due to two decades of under-funding of the Navy and the Armed Forces more generally. We reaped the peace dividend at the end of the Cold War but refused to reinvest in the mid-2000s when the world became a more dangerous place. The Conservative-Liberal Coalition was a particularly shameful low-point in absolute cuts made to defence.

In the 1980s, the Royal Navy’s Armilla patrol in the Gulf had up to four destroyers or frigates (small destroyers). Then, the Navy had over 40 frigates or destroyers. We have 19 now. Whilst technology has made these vessels more powerful, we no longer have mass. At the same time potential adversaries, be in Iran or Russia, have invested in many varieties of power, including hard power, whilst some military technology, such as drones, have become much cheaper and more widespread. Despite this changing balance, our strategic responsibilities have stayed the same. We are trying to do the same with less as our rivals have more. Our only legally binding expenditure is on aid, which has gone up to £13 billion. Politically, in the last decade we have prioritised virtue signalling over protecting our national interests. This needs to change.

Third, warfare and conflict has changed and will continue to evolve. Two decades ago we entered the era of full spectrum warfare, sometimes known as hybrid or asymmetric warfare. This is where nations and non-state actors (think ISIS, Hezbollah, etc.) chose to use non-traditional methods to achieve their aims, either because they cannot match US technology, or because non-conventional methods of conflict are more effective in the era we live in. Iran, alone with China and Russia, are the major proponents of full-spectrum warfare. The seizure of the Stena Impero was an example of this.

Iran’s full spectrum tools also include influence or control over religious, political or paramilitary groups across the Middle East: the Houthi in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Alawite regime in Syria, proxies in Iraq and religious groups in the Gulf states. In case of further conflict, Iran will very likely initially seek to damage UK, US, Saudi Arabian or UAE targets in the Middle East, through its proxies, overtly or covertly. Lobbing a UK missile at a no-doubt empty target in Iran will achieve nothing except threaten British lives and interests across the Middle East.

Fourth, Iran wants to internationalise this crisis. It is suffering under new US sanctions since they were imposed when President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018. US sanctions have been surprisingly successful. However, as a result moderates in Iran have been weakened, and anti-Western and illiberal elements strengthened. The thinking from those who know Iran is that, if Iran is going to suffer, it will make the rest of the Middle East suffer too. That could mean a mix of destabilising attacks on shipping, paramilitary attacks or assassinations in the Middle East.

So what’s the answer?

In the short term in the Gulf, the UK needs to renew international and regional alliances and find convoy partners. We should additionally put in place what deterrence forces we can in local bases in Bahrain and elsewhere; another destroyer or two if we can muster it, swift boats, helicopters and drones.

In the longer term, we need to work with the US, the EU and Iran to find a way out from the ongoing crisis. In practice, that means finding a realistic set of proposals acceptable to the US and Iran that gets the JCPOA back on track. Mike Pompeo has outlined 12 demands. These are seen to be unrealistic, but there is some chance for a more modest set of US proposals being put forward that Iran could sign up to, or at least use as the basis for negotiation.

Finally, and more broadly, we need to plan for the decades ahead. We are not doing so.

In February I launched a Global Britain study with the Henry Jackson Society. In that report, I outlined some key aims: reinvest in hard power whilst ensuring that we are capable of understanding and countering full spectrum warfare; integrate overseas policy and possibly even departments; redefine aid to allow DfID funds to fund peacekeeping options; and provide for a significant uplift to the BBC World Service Radio and TV. Most importantly, the UK should develop a global strategy for the next decade and two, driven by a UK Strategy Council.

The UK has benefitted from the international order constructed after the Second World War. We need to invest to defend it. That doesn’t mean, as the predictable line of questioning on the BBC in the last couple of days put it, wanting to be the world’s policeman or boss others about, but it does mean delivering an overseas policy which allows the UK to remain a leading player in the global order, and by so doing, defend our just interests.

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John Jenkins: Too many excuses are made for Iran – especially by the EU. We must get real, stand with America – and take decisive action

Sir John Jenkins is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and co-author of the Government’s Muslim Brotherhood Review of 2015.  He is a Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange.

How do we – the UK – solve a problem called Iran? The answer is more complicated than it should be, given the fragmented state of British politics, the way in which the Brexit debate has sucked all the policy oxygen from the room and now the absurd diplomatic spat with the Trump Administration.

But it is also urgent, given the way regional tensions are rising, bellicose noises from Washington DC and Tehran and our own self-understanding as a major international actor with a massive stake in global order and the reduction of conflict in the Middle East. What we decide to do about Iran now will also shape the views of Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, the US, France and Germany about what sort of power we shall continue to be after Brexit. It’s a test of our national will.

The general view of the commentariat seems to be that recent tensions are the fault of Donald Trump and his National Security Adviser, the belligerent John Bolton. They shouldn’t have abandoned the JCPOA, the nuclear deal negotiated over many painful years by the EU3+3, it is said. They shouldn’t have reapplied sanctions. They certainly shouldn’t overreact to Iran’s deliberate breach of the 300kg/3.67 per cent limits for uranium enrichment. And they should lay off Twitter. Is this fair?

Well, let’s remember that Iran has been an aggressive and often hostile presence in the Middle East since 1979. Under the Shah, it may have thrown its weight around from time to time. But it did so largely through OPEC and by trying to bully much smaller countries like Bahrain, backing down when confronted.

By contrast, the Islamic Republic tried from the start to export revolution. When this failed, it sought to subvert its neighbours by providing support to a wide variety of largely Shia Islamist groups. It helped to establish Hezbollah in Lebanon in the early 1980s. After 1983 it built similar groups in Iraq – and after 2011 in Syria – on the same model. It now backs the Houthis in Yemen.

Throughout this period, Iran has engaged either through others or on its own account in terrorist attacks on the US (Beirut and Kuwait 1983), France (Beirut and Kuwait 1983), Kuwait (1983, 1985, 1988), Saudi Arabia and the US (Al Khobar 1996) and Israel (Buenos Aires 1994, and Thailand and Bulgaria 2012). It sponsored kidnappings in Lebanon throughout the 1980s and the 2007 abduction of a British IT adviser, Peter Moore, and his close protection team in Iraq. Through its allies in Iraq it killed and maimed US and UK military personnel from 2003 to 2010. It has conducted regular assassinations at home and abroad.

During the latter part of the Iran-Iraq war, it indiscriminately sowed mines in international shipping lanes. It is almost certainly behind the recent attacks on shipping off the UAE, in the Gulf of Oman and elsewhere. For years it has offered tactical if intermittent support to Al Qaeda – and at one time to the Taliban – including training the operatives who carried out the 1998 East Africa bombings. It has given substantial and sustained military support to the Assad regime in Syria. It has illegally supplied missiles and advanced guidance systems to Hezbollah, some Iraqi Shia militias and the Houthis. And it continues to seek to establish permanent military bases in Syria in order to threaten Israel directly.

You’d think that all this would give commentators pause, especially when they wonder whether war is coming. They don’t seem to have noticed that it never really went away as far as Iran is concerned.

Now you could argue that this picture is exaggerated. Everyone’s doing it in the Middle East. And that in any case Iran is simply defending itself against sectarian Sunni revanchism and bone-headed US hostility.

But everyone’s not doing it. The brutal murder of Jamal al Khashoggi was shocking for many reasons. But one of them is precisely that the Saudis don’t normally do that kind of thing. They may, of course, do lots of other things people don’t like, including locking up human rights activists, executing people without what we would consider due process and exporting extremism.  There’s truth in all that – but Iran does the first two things on an even greater and the third on at least a comparable scale. And the point here is not whether a particular country has an unpleasant way of managing itself, but what the impact is on regional and therefore global security.

On this point, there is no comparison. The Saudis, together with the UAE, certainly helped fund popular opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. But such opposition already existed, was widespread, peaceful and growing from 2012 onwards. There has been regional competition for influence in Syria since the outbreak of the civil war there in 2011. But no other Middle Eastern power has sought so consistently as Iran to foment violent revolution in neighbouring states or exported vast quantities of weapons to those who seek to subvert them. No-one else since the collapse of Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi has sponsored terrorist attacks across the region and abroad, obstructed maritime free passage, harrassed foreign naval vessels or laid mines. Virtually everyone else has made some sort of accommodation with Israel.

And no other state has talent-spotted, backed or created and sustained such an array of powerful and purposeful sub-state actors – from Lebanese Hezbollah to the Badr Brigade, the Leagues of the Righteous and Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq, the Afghan and Pakistani Shia militias in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen. No doubt these groups have their own interests and their own purposes. Hezbollah in particular is also a global criminal enterprise with its tentacles extending through West Africa to Europe, Australia and South America, engaging in human trafficking, money laundering, the drugs trade – including a nice recent line helping smuggle Captagon out of Syria to pay for Iranian oil – and cheque fraud on a vast scale

But with the exception (mostly) of the Houthis, they all recognise the supreme religious and political authority of the Supreme Leader in Iran and in practice share the same overriding goals, of an expanded Shia hegemony over the greater Levant and, if possible, further afield under an Iranian umbrella and the eventual triumph in these areas of Khomeini’s heterodox doctrine of Wilayat al Faqih – the trusteeship of the righteous jurisprudent, in practice the Supreme Leader in Tehran.

The Houthis now fire missiles with gay abandon at airports, power stations and desalination plants in Saudi Arabia, and have threatened to do the same to the UAE. It turns out that the most recent drone attack on oil pipelines in the Kingdom – something that only makes sense in the context of Yemen – originated in Iraq. You might say that KSA is at war with the Houthis. But you can’t condemn Saudi attacks on civilian infrastructure in Yemen without doing the same for the Houthis. And what’s Iraq got to do with any of this?

The answer, of course, is that they’re all in it together. Iran has mobilised its allies and assets from the Bab al Mandab through the Gulf of Oman up to Iraq, Syria and indeed Lebanon in order to send a clear signal about its geographical reach, the variety and deadliness of its partners and the way in which it can use asymmetric and often deniable attacks to compensate for its conventional weaknesses as it seeks to preserve its gains in the wider region, face down the US and intimidate Europe.

The US under Trump seems incapable of transmitting such clear and consistent signals – there’s the constant hiss of tantrum-driven static instead. But you’d think in the circumstances that the EU would be inclined to stand with Washington – its single most important ally – and state clearly and collectively that we will not be intimidated, we condemn all targeting of civilian infrastructure and interference with shipping; that we will join forces to guarantee the freedom of navigation in the Gulf and adjoining seas, work to prevent further missile proliferation and respond robustly to attacks on the Arab Gulf States – at the same time as seeking to end the calamitous war in Yemen.

You’d be disappointed. The EU’s incoming High Representative for Foreign and Security Affairs, the Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell instead simply shrugs his shoulders and says that the EU will continue to work with Iran – and if Iran wants to destroy Israel, well, we’ll just have to learn to live with it. His predecessor, Federica Mogherini, quixotically used her last months in office to promote a special financial mechanism to enable European companies to avoid the impact of US bilateral sanctions on Iran. They won’t use it, of course. Who in their right minds would? But it was important to show willing. Willing to help Iran, that is.

And this points to a bigger problem in the mindset of European and indeed US elites over Iran, quite separate from the question of whether the US was right to withdraw from the JCPOA. If there’s any benefit of any doubt going around, Iran gets it. This isn’t just because Iran keeps teasing Europe with the idea that they might be the ones to save the JCPOA (though it does). And it isn’t quite universal. There’s an excellent and acerbic account of the intense final stages of the nuclear negotiations by the then French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, which makes clear his view of how Iran played the Kerry team. And even Europe may eventually run out of patience with Iranian posturing.

But there has long been a strong thread of Iranophilia in European policy circles, particularly but not exclusively on the Left. This is not out of love for Iran: but because far too many people in these circles dislike the US and did so even before Trump. A year or so ago at an Iran-related event, I heard a senior European External Action Service adviser tell a friend that it was important to support Iran (rather than Saudi Arabia) because only Iran in the region stood up to US imperialism.

That’s not an uncommon view and is now combined with a visceral loathing for Trump. It’s reflected in the way that many liberal commentators can’t bring themselves to admit that Iran, the Houthis, Hezbollah and many of the Iraqi Shia militias are in cahoots. The argument tends to be twofold: (a) Iran has a right to defend itself and (b) proxies equals puppets – any suggestion that these groups are just proxies misses their functional independence within particular socio-political contexts.

It’s a classic straw man argument. No one serious claims that these groups are puppets or simply proxies. They’re actually lots of different things, most of them unpleasant. But none of that alters the fact that they will serve Iran when Iran calls. We have seen them do so repeatedly from the 1980s – when Badr fought with Iran against their fellow Iraqis and Hezbollah bombed and kidnapped with impunity – to the present – when the Houthis keep the Saudis pinned down and distracted with Iranian technology while pumping out their propaganda from the Hezbollah stronghold of South Beirut. And little of this is about Iran’s right to self-defence.

It’s still not clear to me that there will be open war between the US and Iran. The latest French outreach to Iran may encourage both sides to step back. Neither wants a real fight. Trump has made clear his aversion to one as the US enters an election year. Iran knows and seeks to exploit this just short of conflict, though it also believes that if something does kick off, Trump is likely to want to end it quickly.

But you never know. And there are some clear if unsurprising policy conclusions for the new Foreign Secretary – when one is appointed and has decided who will replace the admirable Kim Darroch in Washington. First, si pacem vis, bellum para. What stokes the flames at times of tension is weakness and a lack of clarity. During the 1980s, Iran backed off because the US was crystal clear about both sending and acting upon its signals. Barack Obama set a bad precedent by abandoning his red lines in Syria in 2013. Trump didn’t do much better by striking Syrian targets once in 2017, blustering, and then last month advertising the fact that he had aborted a military response to the Iranian downing of a US surveillance drone.

This can only be remedied in Washington. That’s going to do take a lot of work. We should certainly advise against war – there are other things we can do instead. But we must stand by the US when it acts – whatever we may think about the President, the US is more than one person and remains indispensable to our security. The instinctive wringing of hands in Brussels and other European capitals simply encourages Iran.

The French at least will probably also want to be robust. We should work with them in shaping a realistic response with the US. If that means joint military action, we need to be part of it. We also need collectively to be clear about the triggers for any escalation ladder – from the new Gulf maritime protection force proposed by the US to the use of proportionate force in self-defence against Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) naval forces, the possible targeting of IRGC command and control nodes if they persist in hostile action and so forth.

We should be hard over against the Iran-aligned Shia militias in Iraq – just as we’ve decided belatedly to get real with Hezbollah by ending the feeble pretence (which they publicly ridiculed) that they have separate military and political wings. The Iraqi Prime Minister has said he wants to bring them under proper central governmental control. Some people suspect that’s an excuse to let them take over the state instead. We need to work with partners – again the US and the French, the Kurds, elements of the Iraqi government and key Iraqi Shia clerics – to stop them doing so.

We need to push for a settlement in Yemen. The war damaging, draining and entirely counterproductive. The UAE have wanted a settlement for the last couple of years and are now drawing down their forces. We have our differences with them. This is an area where we can potentially work together.

In the longer term, British and indeed western policy towards Iran needs to be what it always should have been, clear, robust, sustained and collective containment and deterrence. I’ve recently seen some very prominent former Obama officials argue that that’s precisely what the JCPOA was.

I didn’t think that withdrawing from the deal was particularly sensible. But that wasn’t because I thought it was a great deal. It was because I thought it bought us time – around 15 years to be precise. The task was to agree how to use that time well. But that’s not what actually happened. When the deal was formally ratified in 2015, the Obama Administration did nothing about Iran’s horizontal escalation in the region. Instead, they urged western businesses to start flooding back.

But business was reluctant – they suspected rightly that they’d find themselves in bed with some alarming partners which would spell serious trouble for them back home if these partners didn’t stop doing what they were doing in Iran, in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, not to mention further afield. And that was the problem. There was no effort to stop them nor any plan for containment and deterrence, just relief that we’d escaped from the trap we’d set for ourselves when we’d threatened consequences we weren’t prepared to deliver.

I’m glad to see we’ve now had the guts to stop a tanker we believe is smuggling Iranian oil in defiance of sanctions on Syria. The fact that the Iranians have threatened to retaliate – and may already have tried – suggests the charge is true. This won’t have been an easy decision to make. Over the last decade, there has been a startling lack of action over Iranian smuggling – of weapons, missile components and oil, even in areas where international maritime task forces – with British participation – operate such as the Gulf, the Indian Ocean, the Horn of Africa and the approaches to the Red Sea. So to stop a tanker now – even if it is Syria-related – sends a message of intent. It may also suggest that we are becoming more inclined to back the US – which has probably have supplied the intelligence on which the stop order was based.

And this is one way ahead. It’s not a question of toppling the Iranian regime. That’s a matter for Iranians. Nor is it a question of war: if the Iranians insist on continuing to threaten their neighbours, imperil shipping and subvert our friends, then we need to find and use ways to stop them doing so. But we need to do so proportionately, coolly and in partnership with others who are similarly willing, the US and the French in particular: the Germans will remain ambivalent. We also need to go after the criminal money flows around the world that sustain Iran and its allies in the region. The US Department of the Treasury and the FBI have been doing so for years. We should be part of all this.

In doing so we need to make sure that our military, our intelligence and security services and our diplomatic effort are properly funded, with the right equipment, staff and skills. And that they feel they have the full backing of ministers. That’s not been the case for some years now. Putting things right will be a generational task.

Needless to say, none of this will be remotely possible if a Corbyn government gets elected. So best get cracking now…

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Pompeo Says Intelligence Points to Iran in Tanker Attack in Gulf of Oman

Westlake Legal Group 13dc-diplo-sub-facebookJumbo Pompeo Says Intelligence Points to Iran in Tanker Attack in Gulf of Oman Rouhani, Hassan Pompeo, Mike Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline Iran Houthis Hezbollah Gulf of Oman Bolton, John R

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that intelligence reviewed by American officials showed that Iran was responsible for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a critical waterway for the transit of much of the world’s petroleum.

Mr. Pompeo did not present any evidence of Iran’s involvement when announcing the findings at a news conference in Washington. The assertion is certain to fuel tensions between the Trump administration and Iranian leaders that have increased since early May, when the White House announced military movements in response to what American officials have said is a heightened threat from Iran.

Mr. Pompeo said the sabotage against the two tankers was only the latest in a series of recent violent acts by Iran.

“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security,” he said.

The rapid escalation of tensions in early May between the United States and Iran took place around the time that four tankers were damaged by explosions at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, near the Strait of Hormuz. The violence that occurred in the same area early Thursday morning, which forced crews to abandon ship and left one vessel ablaze, was similar to the incidents from May.

Mr. Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, both said in late May that Iran was responsible for those attacks, though neither have presented evidence. On May 30, Mr. Pompeo told reporters that he had seen evidence of Iranian involvement and asserted “these were efforts by the Iranians to raise the price of crude oil throughout the world.”

Details of the incidents on Thursday have remained murky, as they have for the explosions in May.

Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton have led the Trump administration in taking a hard stand on Iran. In May 2018, President Trump withdrew from a nuclear containment deal that the Obama administration and world powers reached with Iran in 2015. The United States reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran last November.

European allies have stayed in the nuclear deal and have urged Iran to do so, but President Hassan Rouhani said last month that Iran would start leaving parts of it, even though international agencies said Tehran had been abiding by all the terms until now.

Mr. Trump has said in recent weeks that he was open to negotiations with Iran, though he has made no real effort to start talks. He has also said he could take military action. In late May, he announced he was sending an additional 1,500 troops to the Middle East, though that was far less than what some top administration officials had requested.

Mr. Pompeo has made 12 demands of Iran that go far beyond the nuclear issues. In his talks, he has stressed the need to roll back Iran’s “expansionist foreign policy” and tamp down the influence of the political and military groups in Arab nations that are supported by Iran. From his perspective, that includes Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and a constellation of armed groups in Iraq.

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Israeli researchers: Hezbollah launders money through the European drug trade

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A new study by Israeli researchers claims Hezbollah finances its terror operations and sidesteps US sanctions by overseeing the illicit drug trade from South America to Europe. From the Times of Israel:

“These Hezbollah operatives are actually overseeing all the illicit finance and the drug trafficking activities, not just in Europe, but in South America, the Tri-Border region, moving about $200 million a month,” said former US Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Derek Maltz.

The study said Hezbollah personnel act as middlemen in the global drug route from South America to West Africa and from there to Europe, helping get hundreds of tons of cocaine and other drugs through ports in Belgium and Germany — with only 5-10 percent of it being intercepted.

“Our study links Hezbollah’s political wing with its military wing, and we went down to the field level and are showing how all the drug trafficking system supports money laundering,” Cohen said. “At least 20%-25% of the [profit] goes back to Hezbollah and is used for arming, weapon purchases, salaries and more.”

As it happens, we know one of the things Hezbollah militants were apparently spending some of that drug money on: Ice packs. Sunday the Telegraph reported that Hezbollah was caught stockpiling bomb-making materials, in the form of ice packs, in north London. This was apparently part of a larger plot to carry out terror attacks around the globe:

Radicals linked to Hizbollah, the Lebanese militant group, stashed hoards of disposable ice packs containing ammonium nitrate, an ingredient commonly used to make home made bombs.

The plot was uncovered by MI5 and the Metropolitan Police in 2015 but the public and MPs were kept in the dark, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Three tonnes of the dangerous substance was found in its raw form and police eventually arrested one man on suspicion of plotting terrorism – but released him without charge…

Sources told the paper that the pattern of behavior from those linked to the group suggested a wider operation, after a similar find was made in Thailand and a New York-based member appeared to seek out a foreign ice pack manufacturer.

CNSNews reports a British MP has sent a letter asking why the discovery of such a large amount of bomb-making materials was kept from the public in 2015 and whether that had something to do with keeping the Iran Deal on track:

Joan Ryan, an independent member of the House of Commons, asked Home Secretary Sajid Javid in a letter Monday why details of the September 2015 raid had not been made public.

“Can you confirm that nobody in Government ordered this information to be withheld from the public because of its sensitivity due to Iran’s funding and support for Hezbollah and the recent conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal?” she asked.

Ryan, who for years campaigned for Britain to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group – in its entirety, rather than just its purported “military wing” – also wanted to know why the government resisted that move until early this year, even though it was aware in 2015 of its apparent terrorist plotting in the U.K.

It definitely seems odd that such a major terror-connected discovery would be kept quiet just months after the Iran Deal was wrapped up and months before the prisoner (and cash) swap in January 2016.

The post Israeli researchers: Hezbollah launders money through the European drug trade appeared first on Hot Air.

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Secret Venezuela Files Warn About Maduro Confidant

He is one of the most powerful leaders of the Venezuelan government, a hard-liner who has put down protests, confronted rebels and been a constant presence at the side of Nicolás Maduro, the country’s authoritarian president.

But for years, Tareck El Aissami, one of Mr. Maduro’s closest confidants, has also been the target of wide-ranging investigations by his own country’s intelligence agency into his ties to the criminal underworld.

According to a secret dossier compiled by Venezuelan agents, Mr. El Aissami and his family have helped sneak Hezbollah militants into the country, gone into business with a drug lord and shielded 140 tons of chemicals believed to be used for cocaine production — helping make him a rich man as his country has spiraled into disarray.

With its economy in tatters and its people hungry, Venezuela is in the throes of a desperate fight for control of the country. Opposition leaders are calling for an uprising, while the country’s military and civilian authorities are refusing to surrender power, presenting a largely united show of force against the protests in the streets.

But the intelligence documents offer an unusual window into how fractured and nervous the nation’s security services have become, particularly over corruption at the highest levels of government.

Mr. El Aissami, a former vice president who is now Mr. Maduro’s industry minister, has long been in the cross hairs of American investigators. He was indicted in March in a Manhattan federal court and sanctioned two years ago by the Treasury Department, accused of working with drug lords.

He and Mr. Maduro have brushed away the charges as part of a propaganda war engineered by the Trump administration to topple Venezuela’s leftist government.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_135872460_39d449f3-000c-48cf-900c-e4f009ac5209-articleLarge Secret Venezuela Files Warn About Maduro Confidant Venezuela Money Laundering Maduro, Nicolas Hezbollah Espionage and Intelligence Services El Aissami, Tareck Drug Abuse and Traffic Cocaine and Crack Cocaine

President Nicolás Maduro with Mr. El Aissami last year at an economic meeting in Caracas.CreditMarco Bello/Reuters

But Venezuela’s own intelligence agency — which Mr. El Aissami once controlled — raised even more alarms about him and his family for more than a decade, putting its concerns in a dossier of documents, investigative findings and transcripts of interviews with drug traffickers.

The dossier, provided to The New York Times by a former top Venezuelan intelligence official and confirmed independently by a second one, recounts testimony from informants accusing Mr. El Aissami and his father of recruiting Hezbollah members to help expand spying and drug trafficking networks in the region.

Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, and American officials say the group has long had a presence in South America, where it has helped launder drug money. In 2008, the Treasury Department sanctioned a different Venezuelan diplomat, accusing him of raising money for Hezbollah and helping its members travel to the country.

But Mr. El Aissami and his father, Carlos Zaidan El Aissami, a Syrian immigrant who had worked with Hezbollah on return visits to his country, also pushed to bring Hezbollah into Venezuela, according to the dossier.

Informants told intelligence agents that Mr. El Aissami’s father was involved in a plan to train Hezbollah members in Venezuela, “with the aim of expanding intelligence networks throughout Latin America and at the same time working in drug trafficking,” the documents say.

Mr. El Aissami helped the plan along, the dossier adds, by using his authority over residency permits to issue official documents to Hezbollah militants, enabling them to stay in the country.

Whether Hezbollah ever set up its intelligence network or drug routes in Venezuela is not addressed in the dossier. But it does assert that Hezbollah militants established themselves in the country with Mr. El Aissami’s help.

Mr. El Aissami acted as a facilitator to the underworld in other ways as well. The documents say that his brother, Feraz, went into business with Venezuela’s most notorious drug lord, Walid Makled, and held nearly $45 million in Swiss bank accounts.

Mr. El Aissami had links to the drug lord, too, the documents say, noting that he issued large government contracts to a company tied to Mr. Makled.

And as the country headed toward economic collapse, forcing millions to flee Venezuela and its dangerous shortages of food and medicine, Mr. El Aissami became a wealthy man, the dossier says.

Opponents of Mr. Maduro were met with tear gas on Tuesday outside a military base in Caracas.CreditFernando Llano/Associated Press

Using a frontman currently under sanctions by the United States, Mr. El Aissami bought an American bank, parts of a construction company, a stake in a Panamanian mall, land for a high-end resort and numerous Venezuelan real estate projects, including a “millionaire’s mansion” for his parents, according to the documents.

Mr. El Aissami did not respond to a written request for an interview, and no charges have been filed in Venezuela against him for drug trafficking or corruption.

But on March 8, the United States unsealed its indictment against Mr. El Aissami, making him the second member of Mr. Maduro’s cabinet known to be indicted on drug trafficking charges.

Néstor Reverol, the nation’s current interior minister, has also been indicted. And in 2017, two nephews of Mr. Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, were sentenced to 18 years in an American prison after trying to traffic 800 kilograms of cocaine.

Efraín Antonio Campo Flores, second from left, and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, nephews of Venezuela’s first lady, with law enforcement officers after their arrest in Haiti.CreditU.S. Attorney’s Office Manhattan, via Reuters

The American government said Mr. El Aissami was deeply involved in the narcotics trade when it sanctioned him in 2017, freezing his assets along with those of Samark López, who was accused of being his frontman. It said Mr. El Aissami oversaw or partly owned narcotics shipments weighing more than a ton, managed an international network of businesses to help launder profits and forged an alliance with Mr. Makled, the drug trafficker.

But American prosecutors never revealed the evidence in their case.

The Venezuelan intelligence memos examined by The Times offer some of the most concrete details yet on how one of the country’s most powerful families built its empire, sketching out a family saga that stretched from Syria to Venezuela, from the narcotics trade to the president’s inner circle.

One of the trails led to a lonely road near Venezuela’s border with Brazil.

A national guard officer interviewed about a 2004 raid told prosecutors about a set of “warehouses that were in a state of decay, looking abandoned.”

But the site wasn’t empty. It was being used to store chemicals, including 140 metric tons of urea, a precursor substance used to make cocaine, according to the Venezuelan intelligence documents.

Urea was a controlled substance in Venezuela, and the owners couldn’t initially provide licenses for the suspicious chemicals, the documents said. A police investigator told prosecutors that while the urea supposedly was meant to be sold as fertilizer, the explanation was suspicious because there was no agriculture in the region.

And then there was the owner of the chemicals: Mr. Makled, the drug trafficker.

Walid Makled under arrest in Colombia in 2011. Mr. Makled was sentenced in 2015 to a 14-year sentence in Venezuela on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.CreditJose Miguel Gomez/Reuters

The bust was the beginning of the end for the Venezuelan drug lord, who is wanted for extradition by the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration began building cases against him for running drugs with the aid of top officials. Mr. Makled was captured six years later and sentenced in 2015 to a 14-year sentence in Venezuela for drug trafficking and money laundering.

But seemingly overlooked was the other man at the center of the case: Haisam Alaisami, another relative of Mr. El Aissami, who told prosecutors he was the legal representative for Makled Investments, Mr. Makled’s company. Two people familiar with the family identified him as Mr. El Aissami’s first cousin.

He could offer no information on who the potential buyers of the urea were, and investigators eventually referred the case to the narcotics division of Venezuela’s criminal and forensics agency on “suspicion of contraband,” according to police documents included in the intelligence dossier.

Neither Mr. Makled nor Mr. Alaisami responded to written requests for comment.

Mr. Alaisami had a powerful family member in Mr. El Aissami, who was raised with him in Venezuela with other members of the clan who had arrived from Syria.

As the investigation worked its way through state agencies, Mr. El Aissami’s star rose in leftist political circles. He went from being a confidant of President Hugo Chavez’s brother, to a legislator for the governing Socialist Party, to interior minister in 2008.

It was that year that a company owned by the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, intervened: It wrote a letter saying it could account for the chemicals.

No charges were filed against Mr. Makled or Mr. Alaisami in the case. Prosecutors’ documents appear to show the shipment of urea was even returned to Mr. Makled, who ramped up his drug trafficking business in Venezuela and Colombia.

Mr. El Aissami in Maiquetia, Venezuela, in March. He maintained links with drug traffickers and Hezbollah militants, according to a Venezuelan intelligence dossier.CreditYuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Other branches of the El Aissami family were also looking to do business with Mr. Makled.

Sometime before 2010, Mr. Makled was approached by Mr. El Aissami’s brother, Feraz, to provide a large sum of money to a Panama-based import company, according to an intelligence briefing in the dossier. The drug lord’s money was intended for the purchase of an oil tanker to be used in a contract with the state oil company.

Both El Aissami brothers seem to have been deeply involved in the business, according to the document. Feraz and a business partner were the public faces of the company, while Tareck, from his post as the nation’s interior minister, signed lucrative government deals with them, including a no-bid contract to provide supplies to Venezuela’s prison system, according to the intelligence report.

A third figure tied to the business cast additional suspicion on the import company: Mr. López, the man American officials said aided Mr. El Aissami’s drug trafficking network and served as his frontman.

The intelligence report also includes HSBC bank statements of accounts tied to Mr. El Aissami’s brother, Feraz, that totaled nearly $45 million — money it says was linked to Mr. Makled, the drug trafficker.

HSBC closed the Feraz accounts after Mr. Makled was arrested on drug trafficking charges, according to the intelligence documents.

The dossier concludes with informant testimony on the family’s ties to Hezbollah, outlining the effort to recruit militants who could establish a drug and information network across Latin America.

One of the sources of the information was the drug lord, Mr. Makled, who described Mr. El Aissami’s involvement in the scheme, according to the intelligence memo.

It was not the only time Mr. El Aissami had been accused of aiding Hezbollah and Mr. Makled. American — and some Venezuelan — officials have made similar allegations, though Mr. El Aissami has denied involvement with militant groups in the past, even after news media reports.

But Venezuelan intelligence officials believed they had evidence to the contrary. The dossier ends with references to photographs of people who “belong with the aforementioned terrorist group.”

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Robert Halfon: Stop calling Corbyn a Marxist

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Conservatives have got to stop calling Jeremy Corbyn a Marxist. Not because he isn’t from the most socialist part of the socialist wing of the Labour Party. Nor to appease the approach that the Opposition leader stands for.

But simply because that the term doesn’t resonate with the public – certainly not with the younger generation.

I don’t meet many people these days who have a strong predilection for or against Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky…or Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela for that matter. In the streets of Harlow, and elsewhere, voters will not be convinced of the ills of Corbyn by hearing, “Don’t vote for Labour because he is a Marxist”. Such terminology means very little to most ordinary folk.

With the same end, Tories fall into the trap of regularly describing Labour’s programme as “hard Left”. Again, as well as being unintelligible to most members of the public, what on earth does this actually mean? Outside the Westminster village, people who are not as politically engaged aren’t thinking in terms of ‘the hard Left’ or ‘Marxists’, if they even understand the origins of these labels, at all (though they may well think of Corbyn as more extreme than his predecessors).

During the 2017 election, the attack dogs at CCHQ focused on Corbyn’s “extremism” and the Labour leadership’s apparent close links with the IRA, Hamas and Hezbollah. Reams and reams of newspaper coverage (which still continues) emphasised the Labour leader’s alleged terrorist and neo-Communist tentacles.

The electorate’s indifference to all this was clear to see. Families were more worried about school funding, police on the streets, and whether their children could have free tuition at university – to all of which, of course, we had very little response.

Whilst Conservatives were branding Labour’s 2017 manifesto as one of the most left-wing since Michael Foot, the public were just hearing about an end to austerity, more money for health and education and better train services.

So our attack lines on Labour need to be reimagined.

First, we should describe what Labour in Government would mean for our country. Rather than putting Corbyn under an intellectual umbrella of Marxist/Communist philosophy, which has proven unrelatable, far better to set out how Labour would be damaging the economy, in turn damaging public services and damaging our country’s security? Our message is clear: Labour would damage Britain.

Second, Tories can make a virtue out of the fact that Corbyn’s Labour (unlike that of the Blair and Brown years) make no hard choices. In contrast, the Conservatives take difficult decisions when they need to be made; not because they want to, but for the sake of economy – a relatable stance for those millions of hardworking families worrying also making decisions about how to spend money wisely.

Third, greater emphasis must be placed on Corbyn’s threat to public services and the cost of living. Under a Labour Government, the country will run out of money or, as Margaret Thatcher more accurately described, “other people’s money”. No funds for our hospitals, schools and police and no finance to hand back the people their own money in the form of tax cuts makes for some uncomfortable reading.

People are afraid of economic upheaval and, as shown by some Conservatives in Canada, it is possible to make the case that strong public services depend upon a robust economy. Just imagine a Tory Party political broadcast of a hospital and NHS in crisis because the country has no money.

Fourth, the Conservatives need to focus on national security. Merely arguing Corbyn is a hard-Left Trotskyite who wants to get rid of our nuclear weapons does not work. People care deeply about security and seek confidence in a strong defence. A damaged economy means no money for proper funding of our armed forces, nor to protect our families against the evils of ISIS, Putin, Iran et al.

The anti-semitism crises that has infected the Labour body politic does hit home, and undermines Labour’s aim to be a values-based party. Whilst tragic, it is also poignant, leaving a nasty taste in the mouth of voters as to what the Labour Party stands for. But that is very different to proclaiming its anti-semitism as a means of shouting that Corbyn is a Marxist.

Of course, in the Conservative salons and think tanks, there should be continued reflection about Marxism, communism and the philosophical roots of Corbyn’s socialism. Perhaps even a Museum of Communism as a way of remembrance of all the horrors and many millions of deaths that the ideology has caused. This would be a good way of educating voters of the horrors that communism led to. Nevertheless, attacking Her Majesty’s Opposition Party simply won’t cut the mustard with voters.

So, please put the unreconstructed Marxist monikers to one side, focus on developing our own compassionate Conservative brand and develop a credible attack on Corbyn’s Labour – something that can really resonate with millions of our fellow countrymen and women.

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After Social Media Bans, Militant Groups Found Ways to Remain

SAN FRANCISCO — In July 2013, a broadcaster affiliated with the Islamist group Hezbollah posted a threatening video on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. It featured gun-toting militants practicing an ambush to kidnap Israeli soldiers. The message: This is how we kill you.

In December, the broadcaster posted another video that showed how Hezbollah’s social media strategy had changed. This one contained close-up footage of Israeli soldiers on patrol, with no Hezbollah members visible. The message was also dialed back: We are watching you.

Hezbollah is among dozens of groups classified by the United States as terrorist entities that have learned how to stay a step ahead of the social media giants. In the past, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have taken down the official pages of these militant groups dozens of times and banned their accounts.

But Hamas and Hezbollah, in particular, have evolved by getting their supporters to publish images and videos that deliver their message — but that do not set off the alarm bells of the social media platforms. Today, the groups mostly post images of festive parades and religious celebrations online, as well as videos of speeches by their leaders.

That has allowed Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as groups like the East African-based Shabab, to proliferate largely unchecked on social media, even as a clampdown by Facebook and others has neutered the online presences of the terror organizations that are the most threatening to the West — the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

The change thrusts Facebook, YouTube and Twitter into complicated territory. Unlike Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, Hamas and Hezbollah are political forces in their territories. Hamas has governance duties in the Gaza Strip, in addition to its militancy. Hezbollah is a recognized political party in Lebanon. And by no longer posting overtly violent material, the groups arguably merit a different treatment by the social media companies.

Facebook and others said they typically adhered to the designations set by the United States on terrorist groups, citing how any online presence — even a seemingly innocuous or benign post — helps legitimize them and increase their visibility. Even so, it has proved difficult for the companies to follow the rules they set for themselves, precisely because the groups can be deemed political organizations or terrorist entities, depending on one’s perspective.

“There has to be a differentiation in the way we understand how different groups use social media,” said Lina Khatib, the head of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, the London think tank.

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Al Manar, the pro-Hezbollah media organization, has a Twitter feed.

That complexity has dismayed Israel, which has fought several wars against Hamas and Hezbollah. Since 2015, Israeli legal groups and their partners in the United States have filed at least three lawsuits against Facebook, accusing it of turning a blind eye to how the militant organizations use the social network.

In November, the Israel legal center Shurat HaDin, which previously had filed some of these cases, threatened to sue Facebook again if the company continued to let a Hamas-linked broadcaster share content on the site.

“The mere fact that Hamas affiliates still have Facebook pages shows you that Facebook does not care,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, founder of Shurat HaDin, adding that she would not hesitate to take her cases to the Supreme Court. “We argue that anything at all Hamas posts is terrorist content.”

The social media companies could face other penalties from the thriving activity of the groups and their supporters on their networks. The European Union is considering a new law that would fine tech companies if they did not remove terrorist content from their sites within one hour of being notified of its presence.

Brian Fishman, Facebook’s global head of counterterrorism, said the social network had zero tolerance for any group that the United States listed as a terrorist entity. He added that the company had removed 99 percent of Islamic State and Al Qaeda content largely by using artificial intelligence.

But Mr. Fishman also suggested that posts by organizations like Hezbollah could fall through the cracks because the groups stopped short of issuing direct threats of violence.

“If we have to make a hard prioritization decision, we’re going to focus on stuff that directly calls for violence,” he said. “The blunt truth is that it is very difficult” to weed out.

Twitter did not respond to questions about activity by Hezbollah and other militant groups on its service. It referred to a recent transparency report that detailed how it had suspended 205,156 accounts for promoting terrorism in the first half of 2018. A YouTube spokeswoman said the company had removed channels for promoting violence or violent extremism and barred groups that the United States labeled terrorists.

Hezbollah and Hamas did not respond to requests for comment.

The issue of militant groups on social media came to the fore in 2013 when the Islamic State grabbed global attention by posting videos of beheadings and bombings online. The Islamic State also used the channels to spread propaganda and to recruit followers.

Groups like Hamas and Hezbollah do not primarily use social media to recruit, Ms. Khatib said, but to intimidate their enemies and rally their supporters.

On Instagram, the photo-sharing site owned by Facebook, Arabic-language hashtags promoting Hamas feature thousands of propaganda videos and images for the group.

Tech companies said they had always barred these groups from their platforms. But the organizations continued posting to social media anyway.

Around 2015, the tech companies started making some headway in removing Islamic State and Qaeda content, according to counterterrorism experts. The companies created dedicated teams and used A.I. tools to find and eliminate posts from the Islamist groups.

But the companies did not reckon with the organizations’ abilities to manipulate their platforms by posting material that went up to, but did not cross, the line of being flagged by users or outside observers. Many of the groups also use proxies, such as media organizations or local charities, to post content on the platforms for them.

Hezbollah and Hamas, in particular, have honed their social media strategies to foster their online presences.

Hezbollah, which now has no official accounts on the big social media platforms, largely shares through Al Manar, a broadcaster with strong pro-Hezbollah ties. Al Manar has a Twitter feed, which is followed by 481,000 people. Content from the channel is easy to find on YouTube, including many lengthy speeches by Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

A recent search on YouTube for Al Manar in Arabic yielded more than 37,000 results. Many of those videos have tens of thousands of views and have been on the site for years.

Hamas enjoys a similar widespread presence on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The group has a Twitter feed, though not a Facebook page or a YouTube account. Many of its leaders have personal social media accounts, where they post commentaries, photos and videos.

The Hamas television station, Al Aqsa, also has a Twitter feed and a Facebook page. And on Instagram, the photo-sharing site owned by Facebook, popular Arabic-language hashtags promoting Hamas feature thousands of propaganda videos and images.

When conflicts with Israel escalate, Hamas’s presence on social media also rises. In August, Israel accused Hamas members of posing as attractive women on Instagram to lure Israeli soldiers into sharing details about themselves and to download malware.

Israel called the campaign Operation Broken Heart. It showed, Israeli officials said, how dangerous it was to allow militant organizations to use social media.

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