Asia Times Online: The recent discovery in Nigeria of an arsenal with Hezbollah’s fingerprints all over it has reinforced the suspicion that Iran and the Party of God are extending their outreach while helping security forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Asia Times Online
By Emanuele Scimia
The recent discovery in Nigeria of an arsenal with Hezbollah’s fingerprints all over it has reinforced the suspicion that Iran and the Party of God are extending their outreach while helping security forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against Sunni rebels backed by Western countries, Turkey and the Persian Gulf petro-monarchies.
From Africa to Europe, Latin America and East Asia, the Shi’ite duo seem to be going on the offensive. In Nigeria’s northern city of Kano, a local military unit on May 30 found a cache of weapons inside a warehouse owned by a Lebanese citizen. Earlier, local authorities had arrested three Lebanese nationals who were accused of being Hezbollah operatives.
The Shi’ite militant organization, led by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, planned to establish a terrorist cell in the West African nation to hit Western and Israeli interests, according to the Nigerian Department of State Security Service.
Hezbollah’s patron, the Islamic regime in Tehran, was in February charged by Nigeria’s government with supporting intelligence-gathering activities within the country, while in May a local court convicted a Iranian businessman and his Nigerian accomplice over an illegal shipment of weapons in 2010, sentencing them to five years in prison.
The Nigerian army in May launched a massive military offensive against Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist organization operating in the north-eastern regions of Nigeria which aims to impose Sharia law throughout the country, and speculation is rife out that the radical outfit is linked to Hezbollah.
Up to now, Nigerian intelligence hadn’t suggested that Sunni Boko Haram and Shi’ite Hezbollah have forged a sort of tactical alliance. Past examples show that this scenario cannot be ruled out, even though it contradicts the tough geopolitical game that Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Qatar are playing in West Africa and the Sahel.
Tehran has a string of economic and security relations in this predominantly Muslim region. Earlier this year, a report from the Conflict Armament Research revealed that the African continent was awash with small-arms and ammunition produced by Iranian state-owned arms manufacturers.
In this context, the flow of Sunni petrodollars from Doha into the hands of Islamist and Salafist fighters in the Saharan-Sahelian basin seems part of a broader plan to hinder the Shi’ite projection in the western edge of Africa.
Iran has also spread its tentacles into the Balkans, where its action appears to be cutting across the age-old Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian divide.
In April, the Bosnian government expelled two Iranian diplomats for spying and for approaching Nusret Imamovic, a Wahhabi leader accused of masterminding terrorist attacks in the former Yugoslav republic.
Muslim Bosnians number around 1.5 million out of a population of 3.8 million. A small part of them, roughly 3,000, professes Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam.
Iran’s involvement in Bosnia dates back to the 1990s, at the time of Alija Izetbegovic’s tenure. The first president of the country was an Islamist politician that cultivated strong relation with the Iranian clerics and staunchly advocated the reunification of Sunni and Shi’ite Islam.
Furthermore, Iran and Hezbollah are suspected of trying to establish a terrorist network in Latin America. On May 29, Argentine federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman raised the issue, detailing that Tehran was intent on setting up intelligence stations across the region (notably in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Colombia) to promote and launch terrorist actions.
Similar allegations were made by Brazilian prosecutor Alexandre Camanho de Assis in 2011. Back then, Camanho warned its government that a generation of Islamist extremists was quietly growing in the country.
Nisman is looking into a bomb attack that in 1994 slaughtered 85 people in a Jewish center in Buenos Aires and has bluntly blamed Iran for its planning and realization. A terrorist operation that the Argentine prosecutor said it was to be included in a broader plan to export – also through violent means – the Iranian revolution in South America, and whose preparation started back in 1982.
There is a common thread between the investigations conducted by Nigerian, Bosnian and Argentine authorities into Iran’s and Hezbollah’s penetration into their respective countries: the repeated attacks that Iranian or pro-Iranian operatives mounted last year against Israeli targets in different places around the world.
The reference is to the alleged role of Hezbollah’s Unit 910 and Iran’s Qods Force in the terrorist aggressions that targeted Israeli nationals in Thailand, Georgia and India. As to the July 2012 bombing of a busload of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, new Bulgarian Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin underlined on June 10 that the Party of God was probably behind the attack even if evidence of its implication was not explicit.
Apart from the creation of a global terrorist network, Iran is also blamed for fueling nuclear proliferation in connection with North Korea. Tehran and Pyongyang stroke a deal on scientific cooperation in September 2012 that in reality would hide a mutual collaboration to boost their nuclear and missile programs, officials from the United States and United Nations told the Wall Street Journal at the time.
Both countries would have jointly developed missile systems, with the North Korean regime supplying rocket components to its Iranian ally. The Shahab-3, a medium-range missile deployed by Iran, is just an evolution of Pyongyang’s Nodong-1.
In the aftermath of North Korea’s third nuclear test on February 12, the Israeli intelligence outlined a scheme of partnership characterized by a sort of division of task, whereby the North Korean “Hermit Kingdom” produced nuclear armaments and Iran developed the ballistic technology to carry nuclear warheads.
Despite persistent economic sanctions on Iran over its nuke program, the prospect of Israeli air strikes against its nuclear facilities and the spillover effects of Syria’s civil war, a Shi’ite web is emerging from the cracks in the international community: A system through which the Islamic Republic infiltrates its agents and proxies around the world and exchanges nuclear and missile know-how with its friends in Pyongyang.
Emanuele Scimia is a journalist and geopolitical analyst based in Rome.