THERE is strong evidence that Hezbollah is active in Australia – in the local criminal underworld and from the pulpits of some mosques.
We already know that Hezbollah operatives have undertaken deadly terrorism around the globe. So why hasn’t the Australian government taken the advice of its own Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and extended sanctions against the group?
Hezbollah is an Iranian-backed, Lebanon-based network with operations ranging from representing electors in the Lebanese Parliament to holding the dubious honour of being the terrorist group that has killed more Americans than any other, aside from al-Qaeda.
Hezbollah – a proxy for the dangerous Iranian regime – also represents one of the biggest threats to Israel’s security. In recent weeks, the Israeli Defence Force has destroyed six terror tunnels dug by Hezbollah under the Lebanese border.
Hezbollah is funded by a combination of Iranian contributions and the proceeds of crime, including international drug trafficking and money laundering.
Despite all of this, it is perfectly legal for Australians to fly the Hezbollah flag, send money to support its ‘welfare’ work and associate with many Hezbollah members.
Fortunately, there are some indications that Australia could be inching towards a more comprehensive ban on Hezbollah.
Since 2003, the Australian Government has listed Hezbollah’s External Security Organisation (ESO) as a terrorist group. That listing is reviewed every three years and was again scrutinised in 2018 by the intelligence committee.
Every other time the committee has reviewed a terrorist listing during the life of this Parliament –26 times in all – it has rubber-stamped the government’s decision.
However, in its review of the Hezbollah ESO listing, the committee recommended the government extend the ban to the entirety of Hezbollah’s military wing – although, regrettably, not its political wing as well. So far, the government has not responded to the recommendation.
According to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton “”The External Security Organisation is a discrete terrorist wing within Hezbollah that is responsible for planning, coordination and execution of terrorist attacks against Hezbollah’s enemies outside of Lebanon.”
But for many years, experts – and Hezbollah themselves – have argued this view is a fallacy.
In 2012, Hezbollah leader Naim Qassem clarified, “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other … Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, is in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”
Worryingly, local investigations have shown there is activity in support of Hezbollah in Australia today.
Melbourne-based academic, Dr Ran Porat – a former Israeli intelligence analyst – has seen videos of clerics preaching support for Hezbollah in suburban Sydney.
These clerics are followers of the extreme theological ideas of the late Iranian ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei and make no secret of their fondness for Hezbollah.
One of those recordings shows Sydney-born Sheikh Nami Farhat al-Ameli saying, “Some people have been threatening us lately, to expose us for supporting the Islamic republic of Iran, or supporting the resistance [Hezbollah].”
He continues, “This is something that we don’t hide. We publicly support Iran. We publicly support all the people of the world who are standing against the arrogant powers. And yes, we publicly support, emotionally support, Hezbollah.”
Sheikh Farhat has praised Hezbollah terrorist mastermind Imad Mugniyeh, who was assassinated by the United States CIA to halt his killing and kidnapping sprees.
Earlier this month, Sheikh Farhat addressed a crowd in Sydney attacking “the evil political organisation they call Zionism” while those around him chanted “down, down Israel”. Currently, Sheikh Farhat’s activities are legal in Australia.
Further investigations by the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council have uncovered information about a joint Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Lebanese Internal Security Force drug bust. Fifteen tonnes of cannabis, possibly destined for Australia, was found in a Hezbollah-dominated neighbourhood of Beirut and the bust reported in Hezbollah-run media.
While the AFP has not confirmed links to Hezbollah, the raid shows Australian law enforcement remains focussed on Lebanon, the home of Hezbollah. The AFP has a counter-terrorism liaison officer stationed in Beirut and Defence Minister Christopher Pyne has just returned from Beirut, where counter-terrorism discussions topped his agenda.
If Hezbollah links are confirmed, it would be the latest in a string of Hezbollah’s criminal acts with Australian ties.
In 2013, a joint Australian policing and intelligence taskforce – Taskforce Eligo – helped uncover a global money laundering ring benefitting Hezbollah. And in 2016, a Hezbollah operative was arrested after illegally moving US$500,000 in and out of Australia.
There have also been serious concerns that Hezbollah may be the recipient of funds from Australian charities, as has happened elsewhere. An Australian Institute of Criminology paper by Samantha Bricknell highlights Hezbollah as having exploited charitable giving to raise revenue for its terrorism.
Bricknell suggests that while case studies do exist of Australian not-for-profits providing terrorism financing, there are not very many. She writes, “This could suggest that the prevalence of money laundering/terrorism financing misuse is itself low. Conversely, it could indicate that there are low detection rates for this kind of illegal activity; that is, prevalence is higher than the publicly available material implies.”
In recent months, the US has ramped up action against Hezbollah establishing a specific Hezbollah financing and narcoterrorism team in the Department of Justice.
For the security of Australians, the Middle East and the wider world, it is time for the Australian government to step up. It is time for the government to take its own intelligence committee’s advice and extend the ban to the entirety of Hezbollah.
NAOMI LEVIN is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council