Twelve years ago, exactly this month, German Customs officials at Frankfurt Airport inspected the luggage of four Lebanese passengers. They were carrying nine suitcases and had booked a flight to Beirut with Middle East Airlines. Officers found 30 kilograms of Euro banknotes in the suitcases of the four. The money was first wrapped in aluminum foil and tastefully wrapped with gift paper like a gift. The 30 kilograms of the discovered banknotes equaled to 8,692,990 Euros.
What happened in May 2008 at Frankfurt Airport was by no means a coincidence, but the result of two years of continuous investigation by the Rhineland-Palatinate Department of Anti-Crime. Members of a Lebanese smuggling gang traveled regularly to the Netherlands and then to Beirut during the two years. The German Federal Office for Combating Criminal Offenses, in cooperation with the Customs Administration, conducted the investigation. This cooperation led to the emergence of the core of the criminal investigation group called “Cedar”. Ten years later, under the supervision of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) coordinated and executed a large-scale operation with the same name in several countries and continents to dismantle the massive drug trafficking, money laundering and fraudulent network linked to the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist group.
Let’s go back to the events of 2008. Investigations led officers to a small town in western Germany called Speyer. A small, clean house with a tidy garden, a pond with a fountain in it belonging to one of the Lebanese men arrested at Frankfurt airport. € 565,665 and some gift paper were also found in the man’s home. Test results on the discovered banknotes showed cocaine. Fingerprints of one of the biggest Europe’s drug traffickers who was well-known to the officers, a 46-year-old man named Justus G, nicknamed “Carlos”, were also found on the banknotes.
According to officers, Carlos had been in close contact with members of the Lebanese gang living in Speyer, Germany, for many years. Wissam T and his brother Hamza lived a very normal life and, as the saying goes, “intertwined” with the German way of life. Wissam played for his hometown football team. His friends and coach couldn’t even imagine that Wissam was laundering money and smuggling drugs for Lebanese Hezbollah. The two brothers lived with their uncle, a used-car salesman. Investigations revealed that the family were members of an international drug trafficking network, and on the other side of the water, in Lebanon, the money recipient was a gang whose members were Hezbollah leaders and close contacts of Hassan Nasrallah.
The fact that Lebanese Hezbollah with its international network is a haven for a wide range of criminal activities such as drug trafficking, money laundering, smuggling, military weapons trading and the production and distribution of counterfeit brands around the world, was not a surprise to officers and investigators of the organized crime task force. For example, the arrest of members of the international drug trafficking gang in Colombia in 2008, called Farc gang, which worked closely with Lebanese Hezbollah to launder money and smuggle cocaine.
These events and investigations, as well as many other such crimes, led the European Parliament to designate Lebanese Hezbollah as a terrorist group in 2013. But not the whole party. The European Parliament divided the gang into two political and military branches. The military branch was considered a terrorist organization and all its activities were banned. Europe and politicians in most countries in those days were deceived by Hezbollah’s networked and multi-layered structure. A structure derived from the political architecture of the ruling regime in Iran. Hezbollah is the result of the Islamic Revolution catastrophe in 1979. For this reason, it has many structural features in common with the ruling political system in Iran.
Lebanese Hezbollah can in fact be considered a replica of the Islamic Republic. Europe and a large part of the world’s politicians and democratic governments have for years been deceived by the dual appearance of the totalitarian Islamic regime in Iran. It is believed that only a part of the regime is involved in terrorist activities, only a part of it is engaged in destabilizing activities in the region, only a part of it wants to carry out executions, torture, stoning, compulsory hijab, flogging, retribution, repression, suffocation and censorship, only some inside the regime are anti-Semitic, anti-American, radical Islamist and anti-Western, not all of them! And those have been called extremists, hardliners, etc. for years, they have been boycotted, sentenced in absentia in Mykonos court, or have been placed on a terrorist list. The Westerners have always believed there is something called “reformism” and “moderation” in this totalitarian structure with a bedrock for activity or a chance for life. Optimistically, they have been looking for the ideal “reformist” for years, who respects the rules and customs of civilized dialogue. But every time they thought they had found the ideal person, an incident like what happened in Tehran University’s “dormitory” (“Kooy-e-Daneshgah”) would take place, “November 2019” would remove the mask from their seemingly moderate “Rouhani”’s face, or “Operation Cedar” would come to fruition, revealing a huge money laundering machine that was operating criminally in the heart of Europe. As a result of the international Cedar operation, the eyes of Europe were opened to the real structure of Lebanese Hezbollah. Exactly the same “legitimate political” branch that the European Parliament respected and had given the right to operate had created a complex network of seemingly civil institutions such as the Association for Helping Orphans or the Foundation for Survivors of Martyrs. It was through them that money earned through drug trafficking and other organized criminal activities was transferred from Europe to Lebanon, or vice versa, in order to finance terrorist operations inside Europe. Since then, the behavior of some parties in EU member states towards Lebanese Hezbollah has changed.
In December 2019, parliamentary factions from four different German parties called on the German government to repeal Lebanese Hezbollah’s “artificial and baseless” division into political and military divisions. Earlier, Canada, the Netherlands and United States listed the whole gang as a terrorist organization. The move was a prelude to the German Interior Ministry’s announcement that all Lebanese Hezbollah activities in the country are banned. At 6 a.m. on Thursday, April 30, 2020, German police in a coordinated operation in the cities of Berlin, Münster, Dortmund and Bremen, raided the offices and buildings of Lebanese Hezbollah and confiscated all property belonging to the terrorist group since due to the ban all properties belonging to the group must also be confiscated. Carrying any symbol of this group like their flag is considered a crime.
For many observers, this should have happened much sooner. From December until today, the criminal group has had more than four months to evacuate all suspects from Germany and remove all property and documents from their associations and offices. It’s not expected to find anything special and new from yesterday’s operation.
What is more important is the signal this sends to the Islamic Republic. In the first reaction, the Islamic Republic implicitly threatened the German government. “Germany must accept the negative consequences of its decision to fight the real terrorist threat in the region,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer described Lebanese Hezbollah as a “terrorist organization” that “acts violently with destroying Israel as a goal.” This sentence clearly shows the way for opponents and subversives to fight against branches affiliated with the Islamic Republic outside of Iran: the whole Europe is very sensitive to Anti-Semitism, especially Germany. Anti-Semitism is intertwined with the identity of the Islamic Republic and revealing this face of the regime should not be difficult.
Translation of this article by Sahar.