‘Project Cas­san­dra’ can bring Hizbol­lah into line

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - DAMIEN McELROY Lon­don Bureau Chief

For those with an in­ter­est in clas­sics, Project Cas­san­dra sounds like an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity: cry­ing foul over a threat that would be wrongly dis­missed as bo­gus.

In fact the US gov­ern­ment’s axed decade-long pro­gramme to con­front global drug smug­gling and or­gan­ised crime ac­tiv­i­ties by Hizbol­lah did ad­dress and con­tain a real scourge. Un­til the former US leader Barack Obama, like the Greek gods in the myth, dropped the ball.

Part of the price Amer­ica vol­un­tar­ily paid for the 2015 Iran nu­clear deal was that Cas­san­dra was wound up. With his suc­ces­sor now look­ing at ways to nul­lify Mr Obama’s con­ces­sions to Tehran, Project Cas­san­dra must be re­launched in a new and im­proved ef­fort to tar­get the group.

Against the back­drop of re­newed protests in Iran, Don­ald Trump faces another key de­ci­sion point in mid-Jan­uary that will de­ter­mine the vi­a­bil­ity of the agree­ment. It is ex­pected that the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent will de­cou­ple sanc­tions re­lief from the bar­gain, a de­ci­sion that will leave Iran de­pen­dent on Europe for the con­ces­sions it be­lieved it se­cured in re­turn for freez­ing nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties.

There are other big blows to land on Iran. One would be to rein­vig­o­rate the cam­paign against the lu­cra­tive crim­i­nal net­works op­er­ated by Iran’s prox­ies around the world. The first phase of Cas­san­dra proved that the un­der­ground ac­tiv­ity is co­or­di­nated at the high­est lev­els in Tehran and Beirut.

As a first step Mr Trump should nom­i­nate and em­power a new head of the Drug En­force­ment Agency – the post is cur­rently va­cant – to make Hizbol­lah a top pri­or­ity. The group is not just a Le­banese phe­nom­e­non and it should not be pro­tected by the realpoli­tik of its do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion. Its out­side reach be­yond the coun­try is af­ter all a huge card for Tehran.

It has been a lead­ing ac­tor in boost­ing Ira­nian in­flu­ence in Syria and Iraq. And it has been the back­bone of the Ira­nian project through­out the world.

There are other ad­van­tages Iran has taken from the nu­clear agree­ment. It ben­e­fited mas­sively from the plane loads of cash that Mr Obama dis­patched to the coun­try af­ter 2015. It has gained sim­i­lar ad­van­tages from the eas­ing of sanc­tions in Europe and Amer­ica. In­creased oil sales also helped cover up eco­nomic mis­man­age­ment.

But, em­bold­ened by ex­tra re­sources, it turned up the ag­gres­sion abroad. And this is where Hizbol­lah is so im­por­tant. If Mr Trump ad­di­tion­ally des­ig­nates Hizbol­lah as a first rank transna­tional crim­i­nal or­gan­i­sa­tion on a par with the Ital­ian and Rus­sian mafia groups, the US Trea­sury would gain full scope to go af­ter money laun­der­ing ac­tiv­i­ties by banks deal­ing with the group.

In­cred­i­bly Hizbol­lah not only or­gan­ises and prof­its from ship­ments of drugs from South Amer­ica to the US, its mem­bers also have a free run at shift­ing money though the re­gional banks.

Since the take­down of Al Capone, the US prose­cu­tors have un­ri­valled ap­petite to use fi­nan­cial vi­o­la­tions to tackle crime and rack­e­teer­ing. In re­cent years this has meant that the US was able to tackle cor­rup­tion in Fifa.

Un­leash­ing that force against Iran and its al­lies would have a tremen­dous ef­fect on the re­sources that are used to pro­mote and ex­tend Iran’s in­flu­ence. At the very least the regime should have to fund its ac­tiv­i­ties from its own re­sources.

That could cause the Ira­nian peo­ple to ques­tion the cost of its ex­trater­ri­to­rial ad­ven­tures which have caused so much dam­age else­where.

One test for the ef­fec­tive­ness of the Trump ap­proach would be the for­tunes of Ab­dul­lah Safied­dine, al­leged by the DEA to be the linch­pin of the Hizbol­lah drug op­er­a­tions. Not co­in­ci­den­tally Safied­dine is Hizbol­lah’s Tehran-based li­ai­son with the Ira­nian regime.

Us­ing the King­pin Act to tar­get his ac­tiv­i­ties would also have a world­wide im­pact on the Hizbol­lah net­work. The tools avail­able to the US gov­ern­ment even in­clude the Fi­nan­cial Ac­tion Task Force which could black­list coun­tries that shel­ter or con­done Hizbol­lah ac­tiv­i­ties from in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial mar­kets.

That would send a sig­nif­i­cant sig­nal to the Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries about the cost of host­ing Hizbol­lah.

The run­ning theme of Mr Trump’s new Na­tional Se­cu­rity Strat­egy pub­lished in De­cem­ber is that Amer­ica faces a new era of multi-faceted com­pe­ti­tion for power. In the light of this, a new ac­tivist pol­icy against Hizbol­lah would be a sig­nif­i­cant marker of Wash­ing­ton’s in­tent.

Un­til Mr Obama de­cided to go easy on it, the US was us­ing its fi­nan­cial power as a con­straint on Iran. If Mr Trump re-em­braced the strat­egy, he would have the means to sig­nif­i­cantly chal­lenge Iran.

He would also be pur­su­ing a prin­ci­ple that could be adapted to re­strain other US com­peti­tors.

Put sim­ply it would en­sure states could not ex­pect to pur­sue anti-US goals while fully funded through the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem.

Hizbol­lah or­gan­ises and prof­its from ship­ments of drugs from South Amer­ica to the US

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