Yesterday, I had the opportunity to testify before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation, and Trade. I was impressed by the intense interest of Subcommittee Chairman Ted Poe (R-TX) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) in the presence of Hezbollah in the Americas, which includes a network of Hezbollah operatives and sympathizers at the highest levels of the Venezuelan government.
My written testimony includes a description of the network directed by Hezbollah operative Ghazi Atef Nassereddine, who has a very close relationship with Venezuela’s acting president Nicolas Maduro. When Maduro was the foreign minister, he promoted Nassereddine – who was born in Lebanon and only became a Venezuelan citizen about a dozen years ago – to be the second-in-command at the Venezuelan embassy in Syria.
In my testimony, I reported:
Nassereddine is Venezuela’s second-ranking diplomat in Syria. Nassereddine is a key Hezbollah asset because of his close personal relationship to Chávez’s former Justice and Interior Minister Tarik El Aissami and because of his diplomatic assignment in Damascus. Along with at least two of his brothers, Nassereddine manages a network to expand Hezbollah’s influence in Venezuela and throughout Latin America.
Abdallah Nassereddine, who is Ghazi’s older brother, is a former congressman who uses his position as former vice president of the Federation of Arab and American Entities in Latin America (and the president of its local chapter in Venezuela) to maintain ties with Islamic communities throughout the region. He currently resides on Margarita Island, where he runs various money-laundering operations and manages commercial enterprises associated with Hezbollah in Latin America. A younger brother, Oday, is responsible for establishing paramilitary training centers on Margarita Island. He is actively recruiting Venezuelans through local circulos bolivarianos (neighborhood watch committees made up of the most radical Chávez followers) and sending them to Iran for follow-on training.
These sinister characters pose a risk to the security of the entire region, but they hold senior posts in — and receive support from — the Cuban-run Maduro regime. Venezuelan officials provide safe haven and material support to Hezbollah terrorists who are waging a sort of asymmetrical warfare against the United States. So, why isn’t the US Department of State spreading the word about the chavista regime’s support for terrorism or for the nuclear rogue, Iran? Why did career diplomats think the United States could have “normal relations” with a regime in which terrorists and narco-traffickers hold senior official positions? Are they just asking themselves — as their former boss Hillary Clinton infamously put it in the wake of the Benghazi debacle — “What difference does it make?”