Hezbollah, Mossad, Jewish community in South America, drug cartels.
On 08/11/2023 the Brazilian police, in combination with the Israeli secret service Mossad, arrested two individuals with links to the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah on suspicion of wanting to conduct a string of terrorist attacks in South America.
On 09/11/2023 the Brazilian Minister of Justice denied any Israeli involvement in the case and said it had been an ongoing operation that had started before 07/10/2023.
Since the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas conducted an attack on Israeli territory on 07/10/2023, killing 1400 Israeli civilians, Israel has been waging a war against Hamas in the Gaza strip. Multiple South American countries have openly condemned Israel for the killing of civilians in Gaza and have recalled their ambassadors. Bolivia, Chile and Colombia have been very vocal in their disapproval of Israel’s retaliatory actions against Hamas. Argentina and Brazil have openly protested against Israel’s actions but have not been as outspoken as the former mentioned countries.
Hezbollah is known to have deep ties in South America by aligning itself with the Brazilian drug cartel The First Capital Command. Together they smuggle drugs, laundry money and ship weapons across the globe. Hezbollah is known to have more ties with drug cartels across Europe and Africa in order to finance their operations.
Iran, which gives military, financial and logistic support to Hezbollah, has in the past sent IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) advisors to South America in order to help set up a terrorist network.
In the 1990’s Hezbollah conducted several terrorist attacks in Argentina targeting Jewish and Israel-aligned institutions. On 17/03/1992 a suicide bomber detonated himself close to the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires killing 29 people and wounding 242. On 18/07/1994 a suicide bomber detonated himself inside the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires killing 80 people and injuring over 300. On 19/07/1994 a man on a Panamanian flight detonated himself and killed all 21 passengers of which 12 were Jews.
Investigators found that Hezbollah mainly operates in the Triple Frontier area, which is the three way border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay and has a large Muslim population and is also a popular area for drug cartels to operate in.
There are large Jewish communities in South America with Argentina and Brazil having the two biggest communities. The Jewish community has issued warnings to its members that since the Hamas attack on 07/10/2023 there has been an increase of nearly 700% in antisemitic behavior across South America.
Even though it is not widely known, South America is home to large groups of Jewish people. After the pogroms in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century large groups of Jews found a new home in South America. After the Second World War there was a new influx of Jewish people who decided that Europe was no longer safe for them. It is estimated that there are over 300.000 Jews residing in South America, with the majority in Argentina and Brazil. This has led to terrorist organizations that claim to fight for the Palestinian cause, focussing some of their operations into South America.
The other reason terrorist organizations have an interest in South America is the fact that they can make a lot of money smuggling drugs and weapons for and with the drug cartels. Even though Iran funds and arms Hezbollah in large amounts, the organization feels the need to have another stream of income and the drug trade is the easiest way for a terrorist organization to get large sums of money. This also means that they can use the trade routes and infrastructure of the cartels and they can share knowledge on how to avoid law enforcement detection. With the drug cartels being a multi-billion dollar industry that works transnational and transcontinental this means there is a lot of knowledge and power at disposal for groups like Hezbollah.
With the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas it is likely that pro-Palestinian terrorist organizations like Hezbollah will target Jewish communities across the globe. If local South American leaders openly show support for the Palestinian side and condemn Israel it is likely that this will lead to South America becoming a breeding ground for antisemitic sentiments, where in the past this was not the case, even under far-right dictatorships across the continent in the second half of the twentieth century.
With security agencies across Europe and North America heightening their vigilance on terrorist activities aimed at Israel or the Jewish community it is likely that groups like Hezbollah will try and find other places to conduct terrorist attacks. South America seems to be high on the ladder of importance for Hezbollah because it already has support and an infrastructure in place there.
It is imperative for the Jewish community in South America to keep a close eye on security issues regarding the Israel-Hamas war. Terrorist organizations like Hezbollah can easily find their way to weapons, explosives and manpower in the so-called Triple Frontier in cooperation with the First Capital Command drug cartel. It is not unlikely that a terrorist attack against the Jewish community or Israeli interests will take place in Argentina or Brazil. The attacks in the 1990’s show that Hezbollah has the capabilities and willingness to conduct large scale attacks in South America. The recent arrests in Brazil only show that the Hezbollah network is still in place. The Israeli secret services are capable, but with the vast network and connections Hezbollah has it is unlikely that Israel will be able to entirely neutralize the terrorist threat to the Jewish community in South America.