The ongoing Paris trial of fifteen defendants linked to Hezbollah is a sign that Europe needs to “cease minimizing the threat” from the Iran-backed terror group, two experts in terror finance asserted in a report published Monday.
Despite the implications of the case, Toby Dershowitz and Serena Frechter, respectively, the Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Strategy and a Government Relations Analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), charge that Europe “has sought to downplay Hezbollah’s presence on the continent.” Dershowitz and Frechter speculate that European nations are minimizing the threat from Hezbollah so as not to jeopardize the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
The authors presented some examples of Europe’s reticence to confront the threat from Hezbollah.
A joint Europol-DEA announcement of the arrests in 2016 was canceled because Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was slated to visit France that same week. Reportedly, France feared that news of the arrests could derail the planned sale of Airbus planes to Iran.
In 2012, Hezbollah terrorists planted a bomb on a tour bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli tourists and the bus driver. While authorities across Europe blamed Hezbollah for the attack, in response, the European Union only designated Hezbollah’s “military wing” as a terrorist group. Noting that even Hezbollah considers all of its divisions united, Dershowitz and Frechter characterize the European designation as “drawing a false distinction” between the terror groups “military” and “political” wings.
The defendants currently on trial are accused of laundering millions of euros worth of South American drug money throughout Europe and Lebanon. The suspects are accused of using the funds from narcotics sales to purchase luxury items that they resold in Lebanon. After taking a “hefty” commission, they paid back the profits to the cartels that supplied the drugs.
According to United States agents involved in the case, Hezbollah used some of the proceeds to purchase arms for the Syrian civil war.
The main defendant in the trial, Mohamad Noureddine, was arrested in January 2016, shortly after he had been sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department as part of its efforts to disrupt Hezbollah’s money laundering network.
Dershowitz and Frechter urged Europe to designate the entire Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The authors also call upon European officials to use the trial to “ensure” that “Hezbollah’s illicit activities, which continue unabated in Europe, are exposed, punished, and constrained.”
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