Hezbollah’s cells in Venezuela are part of the organization’s apparatus dedicated to attacks overseas. It is also known as the “Special Operations Command.”
For years, this apparatus operated overseas under Imad Mugniyah’s command and was responsible, among other things, for the bombing of Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires in March 1992 in the wake of group leader Abbas Musawi’s assassination. It was also responsible for the bombing of the Jewish community center in the city in July 1994.
Today, the apparatus is headed by the man who served as Mugniyah’s deputy, Talal Hamiyeh.
Based on in-depth research performed by Israeli and American intelligence arms, the cell that carried out the attacks in Argentina was one of dozens of sleeper cells deployed by Hizbullah and the al-Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards worldwide, including in the United States and Europe. Some of these cells, which constitute Hezbollah’s apparatus for carrying out attacks overseas, have been disguised as community centers or charity organizations.
The role of this apparatus is to serve as an immediate response force in the case of a significant Israeli operation against the organization, such as Musawi’s killing, and in recent years also in case Israel strikes Iran’s nuclear sites. The Revolutionary Guards made sure not to use the sleeper cells for other purposes, such as the assassination of dissidents.
Forged passports, large sums of money
Some of these cells were deployed in South America, where large communities of Lebanese Shiites, some of whom support Hezbollah, can be found. Many of them live in towns that serve as focal points of the drug and arms trade, making it easier to operate there.
In Venezuela, Hezbollah members enjoy a two-fold advantage: The Shiite presence, as well as the very warm ties between Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
According to Western intelligence officials, Hezbollah cells in the country are mostly found in the centers of the oil industry, which brings in workers from the Middle East. Group activists are equipped with forged passports and large sums of money, which enable them to make a living without being uncovered and without being forced to engage in criminal activity that may expose them.
Immediately after Mugniyah’s assassination, and in the wake of Nasrallah’s declarations regarding revenge that will take place “outside the area,” that is, not in Israeli or Lebanese territory, the Shin Bet ordered its security apparatus overseas to go on high alert. The areas considered most vulnerable are states in South and Central America, including Argentina and Brazil.
Ronen Bergman, a correspondent for Israel’s largest daily Yedioth Ahronoth, is the author of the “The Secret War With Iran”