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Hezbollah And Latin America: A Scar That Won't Heal 25 Years On

Hezbollah and its patrons have spread their tentacles to South America with help from local friends including Venezuela's socialist regime. Argentina is belatedly backing the Western stance against the international Islamist group.

Hezbollah parade in Beirut, Lebanon, on May 31
Hezbollah parade in Beirut, Lebanon, on May 31
Miguel Wiñazki

The bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 remains the worst terrorist attack on Argentine soil, and is still causing repercussions today. This month, Argentine authorities have ordered the freezing of Hezbollah assets in the country and designated the Lebanese Islamist group a "terrorist" organization. They blame Hezbollah and Iran for the 1994 AMIA bombing in which 85 people died. Hezbollah and Iran have denied their involvement. Argentina also blames Hezbollah for a 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people.

The decision coincided with a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as Argentina marked the 25th anniversary of the bombing on July 18. Under the presidency of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina distanced itself from U.S. policies. But President Mauricio Macri has been relatively close to Donald Trump — the two know each other from business ventures. This decision may lead neighboring countries to join Argentina in putting more pressure on Hezbollah and Iran, and on its allies in the region


BUENOS AIRES — A season in hell is always eternal. The 1994 bomb attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires was an instant's explosion, but its terror persists 25 years on. It has become a permanent scar. Nobody paid for the horrible act, which makes the tragedy deeper.

Argentina was chosen as a target by Hezbollah for its vulnerable borders, the precarious state of its justice system, and the bad faith and inefficiency of many who wielded power here. The terrorist organization almost crowned the ample success of its suicide attacks with the signing of the pact between Iran and Argentina wherein the injured country, us, offered our aggressors impunity.

The deadly ideology Islamic radicalism propagates is rooted in several intellectual sources. One was the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, who played a key role elaborating and disseminating the nihilistic passion for universal destruction. Born in Cairo in 1906, his philosophy was simple, but devastating. He believed all laws are written in The Koran, and one's duty is simply and literally to implement Islamic laws or the Sharia. And anyone not rigorously enacting their iron-clad teachings is not a good Muslim and thus deserves takfir — the Islamic "excommunication" and expulsion from the community of the faithful. Qutb's idea of jihad — which is primarily a "struggle against the self" so as not to cede to ungodly temptations — was of an open, physical battle to impose God's "true laws." Qutb was jailed, then executed in Egypt by the nationalist government of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, but survives as a symbolic mentor to Islamic radicalism worldwide.

The injured country, us, offered our aggressors impunity.

Another "successful" preacher in this universal war was Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, a Jordanian-Palestinian teacher and physician to Osama bin Laden. He is sometimes called the "father of international Jihad," and with bin Laden he founded al-Qaeda. Azzam was a radical theologian, an efficient fundraiser and a logistical organizer of attacks. He recommended TNT as a basic detonator for big explosions, and favored bomb attacks to export radical Islam beyond the Middle East. One of his catchphrases resumes his thinking: "One hour in the path of jihad is worth more than 70 years of prayers in our house." He was killed in a Pakistan bomb attack perpetrated by other jihadis who questioned his leadership. It's not all peace and harmony inside the radical Islamism. Quite the opposite.

Memorial at the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires — Photo: Nbelohlavek

The radical Islamist considers democracy forbidden, and must fight with body and mind, if need be, against all democrats. Martyrdom, self-immolation and armed struggle are blessings for these self-styled soldiers of God who will enter paradise if, say, they blow up the AMIA center.

Qutb and Azzam were Sunnis, while Lebanon's Hezbollah perpetrates its holy war under the aegis of the Shia regime in Iran whose senior clerics urge the destruction of Israel, Crusaders (Christians) and the godless more generally. Hezbollah extends the regime's hands into Lebanon and far beyond, to Buenos Aires, with attacks on the Israeli embassy and AMIA.

There is a Pandora's box here that remains closed while Maduro is in power.

Hezbollah acted here from the Triple Frontier of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. There and here too, the Barakat clan processes laundered money, favors contraband and drug trafficking, sends funds to militias in southern Lebanon and plans attacks. Iran has also infiltrated and created strategic links with Latin American populism.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's former vice-president, Tarek Al Aissami, is effectively Hezbollah's ambassador in Venezuela. The U.S. believe he is a big drug trafficker and key in cementing ties between Tehran and Caracas and in aiding Iran's expansion to other parts of the region, like Argentina. There is a Pandora's box here that remains closed while Maduro is in power, which would reveal the real depth of the Tehran-Caracas-Buenos Aires axis during the two Kirchner presidencies. There must be more money and exchanges than those revealed so far.

In 2010, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama termed Hezbollah a terrorist group with elevated technical capabilities. Today, the Argentine government is firmly echoing the position of the U.S. State Department in defining it as a terror group. Another 20 Latin American foreign ministers back this stance. The leaders of the Party of God have in turn taken note of this new block led by the U.S. and Argentina.

Other scenarios are possible. And a question remains: What will Hezbollah's next moves be? Its leaders are astute and worrying, and its soldiers present on this continent. And, needless to say, they are dangerous.

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Image of Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaking during a press conference in Buenos Aires on Jan 14, 2023

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, speaks during a press conference in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 24, 2023.

Manuel Cortina/ZUMA
Héctor Abad Faciolince


BOGOTÁ — Don't concentrate on his words, I was once advised, but look at what he's doing. I heard the words so long ago I cannot recall who said them. The point is, what's the use of a husband who vows never to beat his wife in January and leaves her with a bruised face in February?

Words are a strange thing, and in literal terms, we must distrust their meaning. As I never hit anyone, I have never declared that I wouldn't. It never occurred to me to say it. Strangely, there is more power and truth in a simple declaration like "I love her" than in the more emphatic "I love her so much." A verbal addition here just shrinks the "sense" of love.

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