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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Hezbollah activity in Morocco shows how far Tehran's meddling has spread

It will take a concerted effort to root out Iranian troublemaking from the region

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah appears on a screen during election rallies a before the Lebanese general election. Hasan Abdallah / Reuters
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah appears on a screen during election rallies a before the Lebanese general election. Hasan Abdallah / Reuters

In March last year, alleged Hezbollah financier Kassim Tajideen, who had been wanted for eight years as a "specially designated global terrorist", appeared before a US judge charged with money laundering and violating terrorism sanctions. It followed his arrest in Morocco, en route to his native Lebanon from West Africa, where Tajideen and his brothers oversaw a multi-billion dollar property, construction, supermarket and diamond empire that spanned Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola and allegedly bankrolled Hezbollah to the tune of millions. The allegations, if proven when the case comes to trial, could be the tip of the iceberg in demonstrating just how far Hezbollah and Iran, its financial and ideological backer, have spread their insidious influence. The latest discovery in this tangled web stretching across the Middle East and Africa is that Tehran and its proxy Hezbollah have been sponsoring the Polisario Front – a separatist movement in Morocco's Western Sahara region – leading Rabat to expel the Iranian ambassador and sever diplomatic ties with Tehran. It is yet another sign of malevolence from the Iranian regime, which requires unity among the Arab world to counter its attempts at disruption. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have all thrown their support behind Morocco, with the UAE's Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeting: "We stand with Morocco...against Iranian interference in its internal affairs".

Tehran's attempts at regional destabilisation trace back to its sponsoring of Hezbollah in Lebanon in the 1980s. Today, ahead of the Lebanese elections on Sunday, the proxy group is firmly embedded in national politics in its ongoing attempts to legitimise its militancy. It is a model that Iran hopes to export – with Hezbollah’s assistance – to Iraq, Syria, Yemen and even into Africa. In May 2013, three Hezbollah operatives were arrested in Nigeria, having amassed enough weaponry to, in the words of a Nigerian public prosecutor, “sustain a civil war”. The group’s use of weapons and drugs trafficking to fund its activities adversely impact countries and societies. According to Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, Hezbollah supplied Polisario with surface-to-air missiles via the Iranian embassy in Algiers. In March, lieutenant general Dhani Khalfan Tamim, deputy chairman of Dubai Police, revealed Hezbollah-linked traffickers were importing drugs to the Gulf region in a bid to corrupt the young. The utter disregard for the sovereignty of the nations in which they meddle is plain to see.

The first phase of resolving any problem is to isolate it. The ambitions and strategies of both Tehran and Hezbollah are well-understood in this region. In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels and cutting off their supply channels to reinstate the internationally recognised government. In Syria, Iran’s collusion with Russia and the regime is bringing misery to ordinary Syrians. These pages have long held that Tehran’s nefarious dealings must be curtailed. The stability of this region – and the world – is dependent upon it.

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