April 14, 2009

Drugs and Hizballah in Lebanon

You want to know the full story on yesterday's violence in the Bekaa? And the drug trade in Lebanon? And how Hizballah ties into it? I have been holding my tongue here on the blog while Mitch developed this story. This story is, well, just awesome. Yes, Hizballah has protected some of the drug gangs. But it's more complicated than that.

Abu Ali, who left the drug trade a decade ago and has since joined Hizbollah, described this protection of the hashish farmers as political expediency for a group with major domestic concerns in rural Lebanon.

“Hizbollah is the most powerful Shiite movement in Lebanon but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to keep people happy,” he said. “Even though they hate these families, the sectarian system in Lebanon forces them to protect huge Shiite families in the heart of their main areas, like Baalbak.”

In the past few months, however, the drug dealing and carjackings became increasingly brazen. They culminated when Ali Zoitar, a young gang leader based outside Beirut, assaulted and robbed the son of Imad Mughniyeh, a famed Hizbollah commander who was assassinated in Feb 2008 in a Damascus car bombing.

“Ali Zoitar and his boys robbed Mughniyeh’s son,” Abu Ali said. “Even when he told them he was the son of a famous martyr and a fighter for Hizbollah himself, they cursed him and took the car anyway. When they saw how arrogant these boys had become, Hizbollah withdrew its protection of these families.”

As a result, the Lebanese police were then authorised for the first time by the group to begin arrests and operations in militant controlled areas, so long as police only targeted drugs and car theft.

“Drugs are fine, cars are fine but the police have been told that if they enter a house looking for drugs and find 50 machine guns or RPGs, they had better pretend like they didn’t see anything,” a Hizbollah member confirmed. “Weapons are for the resistance.”

Without Hizbollah’s political protection, a Lebanese Army officer warned Noah Zoitar, the 39-year old warlord who controls thousands of hectares of cannabis fields, to end the car thefts and turn over some of the suspects to police. Noah agreed but Ali Zoitar refused and immediately targeted the same officer’s wife, robbing her in her home a few days later.

I heard about Jihad Mughniyeh's car-jacking last week and about spit coffee all over my keyboard. If that isn't the textbook definition of cohones, I don't know what is. Honestly, you know you just don't give a %$#@ when you CAR-JACK IMAD MUGHNIYEH'S KID, proving that the only thing cooler than the phrase "Shia drug gang" might be some of the gang members themselves. That is so gangsta it might even be punk rock.

In other Hizballah related news, the word on the street is that al-Jazeera International is not spending as much money as they were. I still don't know of an international news channel that devote this much time and resources to a story about Hizballah in Egypt. (h/t Arabist)

Finally, Qifa Nabki on "the Age of Nasrallah."