- Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shi’ite jihadist group based in Lebanon, is on the U.S. State Department list of international terrorist organizations.
- Just yesterday, Canada officially added Hezbollah to its list of 14 terrorist groups banned from operating in the country.
- According to intelligence experts, Hezbollah maintains an operational alliance with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network.
- Hezbollah remains the prime suspect in the truck bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 – a terrorist attack that killed 243.
- Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Hezbollah’s Al Manar Television celebrated the events by replaying footage of the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in 1982 along with inflammatory speeches by the group’s leader, Hasan Nasrallah, warning America’s day of judgment would come.
Yet, a man with close financial and personal ties to the Bush administration continues to use his influence to push for the dropping of Hezbollah from the terrorist list and calls the group “a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation.”
That man in the middle is Issam Fares, deputy prime minister of Lebanon, a self-made billionaire and a close associate of Maj. General Ghazi Kanaan, head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon and the man known as the “kingmaker” in a small country dominated by Syria’s occupying military forces.
“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the al-Qaida network … and Hezbollah,” Fares told Agence France-Presse last year. “Hezbollah did not carry out any resistance operation against American interests in Lebanon or abroad and did not target civilians in its resistance activities as happened on Sept. 11 at the World Trade Center.”
Fares, through his son, Nijad, a permanent resident alien of the U.S., and his U.S.-based businesses, has contributed heavily to the senatorial campaigns of now Department of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. The family also contributed $100,000 to the Bush inaugural. And Fares sponsored a speech by Secretary of State Colin Powell at Tufts University for a reported $59,000.
Fares oversees a worldwide, diversified conglomerate of oil, real estate and media interests. In 2000, he became deputy prime minister of Lebanon.
The family’s main U.S. business holding is the Houston-based Wedge Group, a big player in the oil services industry headed by William White, the former No. 2 official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.
That the Fares family is attempting to buy influence in high places in the United States seems self-evident.
“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” wrote Nijad Fares in an opinion page article for the Detroit News, Dec, 16, 1996. “Even modest contributions help ensure that members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”
The connection between the Fares family and the Bush family precedes the current administration. After leaving office in 1993, President George H.W. Bush received a $100,000 speaking fee from Fares. He also made a trip around the Persian Gulf in Fares’ private jet with the Lebanese businessman by his side. Former Secretary of State James Baker also received a $100,000 speaking fee.
When the news of Fares’ support of the inauguration broke in the Jerusalem Post in 2000, Fares said he was happy with the “noble relationship” between himself and the Bush family.
“If the Zionist lobby and those revolving in its orbit are displeased with this relationship, it’s their own business,” he told the paper. “Anyway, envy is a killer.”
Beirut’s Daily Star reported last year that Fares has cultivated a network of connections with senior American officials that “would make most people blush with envy.”
It’s not unusual that a man of means like Fares would find friends in high places in America. But it is Fares’ allies in Lebanon – from Hezbollah to Kanaan – that make those connections shocking to some.
“Kanaan is the man who protects, assists and harbors most terrorists and terror-related organizations in Lebanon,” explains Nagi Najjar, the spokesman for the Government of Lebanon in Exile, a group fighting for independence from Syria. And, Hezbollah, he says, is “the father of all terrorism.”
He charges that Hezbollah has sleeper cells planted around the world with a mission to target Jewish and U.S. interests.
“Hezbollah is to the Shiaa Muslim world what al-Qaida is to the Sunni Muslim world,” he says. “They’re a bunch of murderers structured in a terrorist, military organization, financed, trained and manipulated by Syria and Iran. This terrorist organization must be neutralized, dismantled and all its leadership arrested on charges of terrorism and subversion. Southern Lebanon has been transformed into a major terror base whose sole objective is to torpedo, with the consent of other terror regimes in the area, any U.S. peace initiative in the Middle East.”
Najjar counters Fares’ claim that Hezbollah is a local resistance movement by citing the group’s actions in hijacking planes, the bombing of the Marine barracks, the bombing of the U.S. and French embassies, the kidnapping of foreign nations, including CIA operative William Buckley, and a bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
According to the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Kanaan has the power to order the arrest and indefinite detention of anyone in the country. He is deeply immersed in narcotics production and trafficking in the Bekaa Valley and oversees counterfeiting and other illegal activities that have made him a wealthy man. He reportedly holds great sway over all terrorist groups operating in Lebanon and all militia groups.
“He is the most feared man in Lebanon,” wrote Daniel Nassif.
Fares called on Washington to remove Hezbollah from its terrorist list Nov. 10, 2001. A day later, Hezbollah chief Nasrallah called on the international community to oppose the U.S. operation in Afghanistan and said its purpose was to establish “American hegemony” over the world.
Bush and Powell have both praised Fares and denounced questions raised about his influence in Washington.
Fares’ companies around the world employ about 70,000 people and boast revenues in excess of $4 billion, according to his website. In 1987, his company increased its holdings in TVX Broadcast Group of Virginia Beach, the largest owner of independent television stations in the United States reaching about 15 percent of U.S. households. Federal law prohibits foreign investors from controlling more than 20 percent of the voting stock of broadcast licensees.