Op-Ed

With roots in Latin America, Hezbollah is the real terror threat in our hemisphere

A man visits the site of the 1994 AMIA bombing on the seventh anniversary of the attack in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed.
A man visits the site of the 1994 AMIA bombing on the seventh anniversary of the attack in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed. Getty Images

As the world focuses on the potential nuclear menace looming from Iran, a different threat goes largely unnoticed: the terrorist group Hezbollah, the Islamic Republic’s terror proxy, which not only shadows Israel’s north from its Lebanon base but established a foothold in Syria by propping up the murderous Assad regime, and is aiding other terrorist groups including Hamas in Gaza.

Countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Bahrain, recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In 2013, the European Union declared the military wing of Hezbollah, the Jihad Council, as a terrorist entity, and in February members of the European parliament urged the EU Foreign Affairs Council to designate Hezbollah entirely as a terrorist organization.

These nations recognize that the Hezbollah threat has taken root around the world and poses a widespread danger we all face. But the Latin American nations, where Hezbollah took root, must also act.

Hezbollah’s growth in the West began on March 17, 1992, when a suicide bomber smashed an explosives-filled car into the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people and wounding 242 in the first major international terrorist attack in the Western Hemisphere. On July 18, 1994, another car crashed into the Jewish Center of AMIA, the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina, also in Buenos Aires, killing 85 and injuring hundreds — the deadliest terrorist attack ever in Latin America. Iran and Hezbollah were linked to both attacks.

Since then, jihadist terror has rocked the civilized world, from Africa to Europe to the Far East. First came the initial World Trade Center bombing in 1993, next September 11, 2001, and since then scores of smaller-scale but intensely destructive throughout the West. Terrorist murderers have struck again and again in Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and beyond.

No one is seemingly safe — not the editors and journalists of the Charlie Hebdo Magazine in Paris, nor the crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice. Not concert-goers in Paris and Manchester, nor holiday shoppers in Berlin. Not travelers at the Brussels airport, nor pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge.

Jews, especially, are threatened by this terror wave fueled by fundamentalist jihadists and an ideology of hatred. Jewish communities and institutions are often seen as the softest, most identifiable targets. But terrorists are aiming at western civilization as a whole, and the democratic institutions we cherish. We must, therefore, encourage government authorities to fight and defeat this 21st century scourge.

Only a few decades after establishing a foothold in Argentina, Hezbollah has built up its presence in Latin America, posing a wider danger to the Americas aimed at our very doorsteps.

The U.S. State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism for 2015 and 2016 said that Hezbollah “continued to maintain a presence in the region, with members, facilitators and supporters engaging in activity in support of the organization,” including efforts to build the organization’s “infrastructure in South America and fundraising, both through licit and illicit means.”

It noted that Hezbollah fundraising activities in areas of Latin America, which “remained an important regional nexus of arms, narcotics, pirated goods, human smuggling, counterfeiting and money laundering — all potential funding sources for terrorist organizations.”

In light of the destructive track record of this Iranian proxy, we at the World Jewish Congress urge the Organization of American States and all its members to step up and formally designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group. This would free the necessary resources for nations and international law enforcement to collaborate and better contend with this emerging threat, in part by tracking Hezbollah’s global financial, recruitment and support systems.

Simply put, Hezbollah poses a serious danger to the entire civilized world. The West must prevent this terrorist group and its patron and principal funder, the government of Iran, from building its strategic base in Central and South America. The international community, including the OAS, must do everything possible to make sure that the Western Hemisphere does not become the next terrorist battleground.

Robert Singer is the CEO and executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress, the international organization representing Jewish communities in 100 countries to governments, parliaments and international organizations. This oped is adapted from a speech delivered on May 3, 2018, at the 18th session of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism in Washington, D.C.

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