How Hezbollah Recruits Palestinian Terrorists

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah
By Steven Emerson
Source: Algemeiner
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gestures as he addresses his supporters via a screen during the religious procession to mark the Shi’ite Ashura ceremony, in Beirut, Lebanon, Sept. 10, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Aziz Taher.

 

A lot of attention has been devoted to the Islamic State’s use of the Internet to inspire or direct international terrorist attacks. But little has been written about how Hezbollah uses similar approaches to recruit and execute attacks. A new study published this month in the CTC Sentinel explores this development by analyzing several cases of Hezbollah’s alleged social media efforts to recruit Israeli Arabs and Palestinians to kill Israelis.

From the end of 2015 through 2017, both the Islamic State and Hezbollah recruited terrorists outside their base countries using social media and encrypted communications platforms to help people form cells and conduct terrorist attacks abroad. Several high-profile Islamic State virtual plots were carried out successfully, killing people in Europe and beyond during this period. Hezbollah, on the other hand, has thus far failed to execute an attack using Palestinians recruited online. But foiled, covert plots still point to a major, yet poorly understood, terrorist threat to Israel. By hiding behind anti-Israel Facebook groups, Hezbollah can oversee plots from afar, at a limited cost to the organization.

The latest study compares and contrasts six publicly available cases of Palestinians recruited by Hezbollah handlers online. In each case, Hezbollah operatives develop ties with individual Palestinians through anti-Israel Facebook groups. After establishing a relationship, the Palestinian recruit is instructed to continue discussions over encrypted email and other communications platforms. The recruit is then asked to form cells with other trusted people in the West Bank. According to the analysis, all of the recruits and cell members were young men from across the West Bank between the ages of 18-32. The sole exception was 49-year-old Mustafa Ali Mahmoud Basharat — who did not make it very far in the planning process before Israel foiled that plot.

In most cases, Hezbollah used secure platforms to send instructions on how to build explosive devices. Palestinian recruits usually conducted surveillance of Israeli military targets, unless Israeli authorities disrupted the cell early on the planning process. Hezbollah’s instructions ranged from kidnapping Israelis, carrying out bombings, and conducting shooting attacks against Israeli military targets. In one case, a Hezbollah-led cell started to build explosives to use in a suicide bombing targeting an Israeli bus.

Beyond inspiration and direction, Hezbollah provided material support. The terrorist group promised, and often sent, large financial transfers to Palestinian recruits. Muhammad Zaghloul, for example, was promised $25,000 but only received $5,000 after Israeli authorities blocked part of the transfer. Zaghloul used the money to buy a sub-machine gun and ammunition after proposing to assassinate a senior IDF officer. Israeli authorities arrested the cell during the plot’s final stages in January 2016, as the cell was potentially en route to carry out the planned attacks. Later that year, another cell, led by Mustafa Hindi, acquired rifles and participated in target practice.

According to the analysis, some Hezbollah handlers hid their identities. But several plots were allegedly overseen by prominent Hezbollah figures including Jawad Nasrallah — son of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah — and Fa’iz Abu-Jadian, a well-known Hezbollah operative based in the Gaza Strip. Based on his involvement in recruiting Zaghloul, the US State Department designated Jawad Nasrallah in November 2018 as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT). Abu-Jadian, on the other hand, works for Hezbollah’s Unit 133 — a division specifically created in the early 2000s to facilitate Palestinian terrorism against Israel.

Since the mid-1990s, Hezbollah has been active in stoking violence against Israel from the Palestinian territories and helping Iran transfer money to Palestinian terrorist organizations. During the Second Intifada, Iran tasked arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh with strengthening Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Coordination between Hamas and Hezbollah helped Palestinian terrorists execute the deadliest attack against Israelis during the Intifada: a 2002 suicide bombing at the Park Hotel during a Passover holiday gathering which killed 30 people and wounded 140. After several setbacks, however, Unit 133 gradually oriented its attention toward virtual recruitment campaigns.

There are likely more cases of Hezbollah’s “virtual entrepreneurs” that Israel has not released. But the drop in open-source reporting on this development after 2017 points to several potential explanations outlined in the CTC Sentinel study. Israel’s ability to thwart each plot may have discouraged Hezbollah’s efforts to continue recruiting operatives online. The terrorist group appears to be prioritizing other fronts lately, including in-person recruitment among networks on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Prospective terrorists in the West Bank may also be less inclined to seek ties with Hezbollah, as the popular violent uprising plaguing Israel since September 2015 largely came to a close in mid-2016.

But the overall threat from online recruitment has not gone away. Hezbollah’s main benefactor, Iran, may be taking the lead in recruiting Palestinians online to conduct intelligence and terrorist attacks against Israeli targets. One 2018 plot involved Iranian intelligence personnel, based in South Africa, seeking to cultivate a terrorist cell in the West Bank. In July, an Iranian-directed scheme in Syria sought to recruit Palestinians using fake Facebook profiles before moving on to encrypted communications platforms.

The Palestinian Authority is similarly concerned by these developments. Hezbollah front groups in the West Bank facilitate trips for young Palestinians abroad to meet with Iranian and Hezbollah members. As Hezbollah and Iran strengthen their presence in Lebanon and war-torn Syria, the Islamic Republic and its main Shia partner continue to look for additional ways to strike Israel covertly.

Steven Emerson is considered one of the leading authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing, and operations. He serves as the Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, a non-profit organization that serves as one of the world’s largest storehouses of archival data and intelligence on Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups.

Why Soleimani Misreads Lebanon

Illustration: Tim McDonagh
By Amir Taheri
Source: Asharq AlAwsat

 

The way the state-controlled media in Tehran put it the wave of protests in Lebanon is about “showing solidarity with Palestine.” Photos of a dozen people burning Israeli and American flags in Beirut come with surrealistic captions about “Lebanese resistance fighters” calling for Jihad against “baby-killing Zionists” and the American “Great Satan.”

What is certain is that the uprising has shaken the parallel universe created by Major-General Qassem Soleimani’s Madison Avenue depiction of Lebanon as the bridgehead for the conquest of the Middle East by Khomeinist ideology. Those familiar with Tehran propaganda know that the mullahs regard Lebanon as their most successful attempt at empire building, worth every cent of the billions of dollars invested there.

Tehran media often boast that Lebanon is the only country where the Islamic Republic controls all levers of power, from the presidency to security services, passing by the Council of Ministers and parliament. More importantly, perhaps, Tehran has forged alliances with powerful figures and groups within every one of the ethnic and sectarian “families” that constitute Lebanon.

In Iraq, Iran has to contend with the presence of powerful Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties and personalities that, while prepared to accommodate Tehran, refuse to act as puppets.

In Yemen, though dependent on Tehran’s money any arms for survival, the Houthis try not to be dragged into the Khomeinist strategy of regional hegemony.

In Syria, Tehran has to contend with Bashar al-Assad and remnants of his constituency who regard the Iranian presence as no more than an evil necessity for survival.

In Gaza, Tehran owes its sporadic influence to fat checks signed for Hamas, the Palestinian branch of Muslim Brotherhood. However, ideological rivalry between Khomeinism and Ikhwanism, casts a permanent shadow on relations between the two outfits. Moreover, Tehran is forced to contend with the presence of powerful rivals in Iraq, in the shape of the United States, and in Syria in the shape of Russia, and now also Turkey.

In his first press interview, headlined by the Tehran media last month, Gen. Soleimani held up Lebanon as the shining example of his success in empire building, vocalizing the parallel universe narrative that has driven the mullahs away from reality.

The 6,000-word interview, slated as an account of the 33-day war between Israel and the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah, pursues three objectives. The first is to establish Soleimani’s image as a master strategist who could take on the powerful Israeli army and push it to the edge of destruction.

“If the 33-day war had not been stopped, the Zionist regime’s army would have disintegrated,” he asserts without pushing his tongue into his cheek.

However, why did the general decide to stop the war and thus save the Israeli army?

Soleimani claims that the architect of the ceasefire that saved the Israelis was the then Qatari Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad, aided by ex-US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Soleimani does not explain why he and his boss in Tehran, “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, agreed to a plan concocted by the Qatari sheikh and the American diplomat to save the Israeli army on the brink of disintegration.

Soleimani’s second aim is to hammer in the claim that the war forced Israel to abandon what he calls “the Ben Gurion strategy of pre-emptive war” that meant taking the Arab states to the dentist every 10 years and destroy their armies before they could attempt biting the Jewish state.

In other word, if Soleimani is to be believed, Arabs could now sleep in peace, sure that Israel will never launch pre-emptive war against them.

The irony is that in the past 18 months Israel has carried out more than 300 attacks on Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq causing hundreds of deaths while Soleimani and his mercenaries maintained as low a profile as they could get away with.

Of Soleimani’s three possible aims the most important, perhaps, is the third one.

In nonchalant manner, he depicts Lebanon as just a piece of territory without a government of its own, its only justification being a glacis for the Islamic Republic. He speaks of his frequent comings and goings to Lebanon without ever mentioning being invited, let alone given a visa, by any Lebanese authority. Nor does he bother to say who authorized the stream of arms, including thousands of missiles, brought to Lebanon via Iraq and Syria. There is no reference to any agreement by any authority to let a foreign military unit conduct a war against a neighboring country from Lebanese territory.

As far as the running of the war is concerned, Soleimani claims that a three-man committee, consisting of himself, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, and the late Imad Mughniyah. When the three-man committee could not decide a major issue Soleimani would rush to Tehran, and on one occasion, all the way to Mash’had, to obtain instructions from Khamenei. No one talked to the Lebanese president, prime minister, defense minister, or army chief, not to mention the Lebanese man-in-the-street who was never told who started the war and why.

Unwittingly, Soleimani shows that, though it risked the lives of all Lebanese citizens regardless of sectarian differences, the war that Hezbollah triggered was designed to defeat “a sinister anti-Shiite plot” by the Israelis to capture 30,000 Lebanese Shiites, keep them in a camp and giving their villages to non-Shiites to change the demographic balance along the ceasefire line.

To show the alleged cowardice of non-Shiite Lebanese, Soleimani speaks of “Sunni and Christian brothers sitting in their villages, smoking hookah and drinking tea” while Hezbollah Shiites fought to destroy the “Zionist enemy”. However, lest people see that as a sectarian war, Soleimani states “under all circumstances the main protector of the Lebanese nation is Hezbollah.”

I think Soleimani is wrong to write-off Lebanon as a nation-state and reinvent it as an Iranian bridgehead. Having known Lebanon for more than half a century, I can tell him that there is such a thing as “Lebanese-ness” that transcends sectarian and political divides. The Lebanese look to the Mediterranean and the exciting possibilities of the modern world rather than the recesses of the Iranian Plateau under the mullahs with their antediluvian ideology. As a matter of taste, Lebanese-ness is closer to the beach than to the bunker.

Facebook De-Platforms Iranian Backed Entities Influencing U.S., Latin American Public Opinion

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Georgetown University, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Source: RadioFarda

 

Facebook has announced a series of new measures that are designed to protect the 2020 U.S. elections. The measures were announced today and they included the labeling of state controlled media, protecting accounts of 2020 presidential candidates and introducing a ban on advertising of posts that suggest “voting is useless.”

Facebook claims to have dismantled three networks of Pages and Groups on Facebook and Instagram that originated in Iran. These networks were targeting U.S. Latin America and partially also North Africa.

Facebook provided some of the posts that were traced to Iranian networks.

The network of 93 Facebook accounts and 17 Pages used news items and focused on topics such as the U.S.-Israeli relations, the conflict in Yemen and the Palestinian issue.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has supported Palestinian groups since its inception in 1979 and Iranian officials have repeatedly called for annihilation of Israel. The name Israel is banned from Iranian media, instead “Zionist” entity is used.

Facebook Post traced to a network of Iranian state sponsored group

Interestingly some of the disinformation also targeted French speakers in North Africa.

Facebook post that was allegedly used by group traced to Iran trying to influence people in North Africa

The post says Donald Trump has accused John McCain and Lindsey Graham of wanting to trigger a war against Russia.

According the Facebook’s investigation, Iran also tried to influence public opinion in Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. In these countries the network used repurposed Iranian state media stories on standard topics such as Hezbollah and tensions in the Persian Gulf. The posts also attempted to portray the United States and bad actor in the region.

Facebook post provided as evidence of state sponsored public opinion influence campaign by Iran

Translation: “The FANB: More than 54 airplanes from the United States performed “Radio exploration” of Venezuelan Territory during September. The operations commander reported that radar had detected at least 54 incursions of US spy planes during this month.”

Facebook post of Hispan.tv part of Iran’s international broadcasting operation.

Translation: Line 1 “Palestinians claim that the area called south…” Line2: “Israel carries out the largest project of demolition of Palestinian houses in occupied Jerusalem. How does the world react?”

Iran has had extensive influence-building operations in Latin American countries for a long time, where Hezbollah elements living in the region as immigrants from Lebanon can give Iran a helping hand.

Having influence and strong relations in Latin America helps Iran come out of its usual diplomatic isolation and potentially pose a threat to the United States.

The smallest of the networks that was removed was dedicated to the United States. In this case Facebook alleges that those behind the operation posed as locals and created a fake news content playing on racial tensions in the United States. The individuals directed people off social media platforms to websites with a mix of news about the black community and the Black Lives Matter movement and news about prominent Iranian officials.

BLMNews Website Screen Shot

For example, one post used the denial of the State Department to grant Javad Zarif the right to visit Iran’s UN ambassador who was in a New York hospital during the UNGA meeting this year. However, when Zarif posted a tweet lamenting the U.S. restriction on his movements in New York City, many Iranians in exile reacted in disdain since they are not allowed to visit their sick or dying family members in Iran.

BLMNews Facebook post which lead to a story about Javad Zarif.

Several major U.S. technology firms have reported malicious activity tracing back to Iran which was attempting to disrupt U.S. elections or influence public opinion. On October 4th Microsoft reported “significant cyber activity by a threat group we call Phosphorus, which we believe originates from Iran and is linked to the Iranian government.”

In June of 2019 Twitter announced the removal of more than 4000 accounts linked to Iran.