Western anti-terrorism officials are increasingly concerned that Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite Muslim militia that Washington has labeled a terrorist group, is using Venezuela as a base for operations.
Linked to deadly attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina in the early 1990s, Hezbollah may be taking advantage of Venezuela’s ties with Iran, the militia’s longtime sponsor, to move “people and things” into the Americas, as one Western government terrorism expert put it.
As part of his anti-American foreign policy, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has established warm diplomatic relations with Iran and has traveled there several times. The Bush administration, Israel and other governments worry that Venezuela is emerging as a base for anti-U.S. militant groups and spy services, including Hezbollah and its Iranian allies.
“It’s becoming a strategic partnership between Iran and Venezuela,” said a Western anti-terrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the issue’s sensitivity.
Several joint Venezuelan-Iranian business operations have been set up in Venezuela, including tractor, cement and auto factories. In addition, the two countries have formed a $2-billion program to fund social projects in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America.
Those deepening ties worry U.S. officials because Iranian spies around the world have been known to work with Hezbollah operatives, sometimes using Iranian embassies as cover, Western intelligence experts say.