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  • A Hezbollah rally in ... Lebanon, not Paraguay.

    A Hezbollah rally in ... Lebanon, not Paraguay. | Photo: AFP

Published 20 September 2016
Israel and Paraguay are working together to fight Hezbollah – in South America's Tri-Border Area?

While attending the 2009 General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Honduras, then-Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon sounded the alarm: “We know that there are flights from Caracas via Damascus to Tehran.”

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Although flight routes by now have presumably been altered on account of the war in Syria, the possibility of air travel between Latin America and Iran continues to serve as one of the pillars of alleged evidence that the Islamic Republic has “penetrated” the Western Hemisphere with its usual aims of bringing destabilization and terror to the United States’ “doorstep.”

Other bits of “proof” of nefarious meddling include the fact that Iran happens to maintain various embassies and cultural centers in the region. Never mind that the Iranians are not the ones penetrating Organization of American States meetings — or that Ayalon himself proclaimed in regard to Israel’s diplomatic history: “(We) have had embassies in Latin America, more embassies here than we had in many other parts of the world, even though the distance is great.”

A few years back I paid a visit to the Iranian embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, portrayed in traditional propaganda as a terror command and control center guarded by the Quds Force, an elite division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. As of 2012, it consisted of a house with a yard and a female Bolivian receptionist. The Quds Force had managed to disguise itself as a solitary Bolivian policeman.

And while the Israelis and their backers in the U.S. insist on casting as potentially apocalyptic in nature each and every diplomatic and economic maneuver in the hemisphere by Iran and other Shia entities, Israel barges ahead with its own perfectly acceptable forms of hemispheric conquest.

In early September, the Jerusalem Post announced the opening of a new-and-improved Israeli embassy in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción. “After Colombia,” the article notes, “Paraguay is considered Israel’s closest friend in South America,” having persevered by Israel’s side during tough times such as the summer 2014 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip known as Operation Protective Edge.

According to the United Nations, the 50-day affair killed 2,251 Palestinians, among them 551 children. Of course, regular bouts of slaughter haven’t propelled Israel onto the list of U.S.-designated “state sponsors of terrorism,” an honor reserved for places like — you guessed it — Iran.

The Jerusalem Post goes on to mention other instances of Paraguayan solidarity with the Jewish state, as in “a very significant vote in the (International Atomic Energy Agency) last September that would have forced Israel to open its nuclear facilities to international inspectors.”

What was that about Iranian nuclear obstinacy?

But back to Asunción. An Israeli Foreign Ministry press release about the opening of the new embassy offers some clues as to what Israel is up to in Paraguay aside from buying meat and providing “risk-prevention systems” to a massive hydroelectric power plant.

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The third paragraph of the press release specifies that “Israel cooperates with Paraguay in the battle against terrorism and maintains a supportive role in actions against Hezbollah at the tri-border region.”

This region — the Tri-Border Area where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet — has long been hyped as an epicenter of Shia Islamic terror consisting of militant training camps, rampant drug trafficking and money laundering operations, and even the Hezbollah-sponsored “pirating of compact disks,” as Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in The New Yorker in 2002 as part of what appeared to be an extended hallucinatory fit.

When in 2013 I visited Ciudad del Este in the Paraguayan section of the Tri-Border Area, superior officer José Almada of a Paraguayan special forces unit created specifically to investigate such accusations told me that no evidence of terrorist cells had thus far turned up despite regular encouragement from the U.S. intelligence community.

In Ciudad del Este I also spoke with the elderly imam of a mosque who hailed from the south Lebanese village of Houla, which has been on the receiving end of Israeli penetration ever since October 1948, when Zionist forces massacred scores of villagers just months after the establishment of the state of Israel.

The imam was visibly horrified by the idea that the border area’s sizable Arab expat population could be so easily marketed as militant hordes. It bears mentioning that Israel’s regular destruction of Lebanon itself constitutes one possible reason for Lebanese emigration, since it’s often easier to do business when you’re not being bombed.

Alas, there is room for neither logic nor empathy in the campaign to convert the Islamic Republic and its allies into a direct threat to the Western hemisphere and thereby justify future bellicosity.

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According to the Jerusalem Post, an Israeli official has acknowledged that counterterror collaboration between Israel and Paraguay in the Tri-Border Area has been going on for years: “Israel’s support for Paraguay in the area takes the form of intelligence cooperation, the official said, without elaborating.”

And while Paraguay stands little chance of ousting Colombia as Israel’s regional BFF — the current Colombian president has, after all, boasted of being “the Israelites of Latin America” — Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes has put a lot into the relationship, particularly during his recent visit to Israel.

The Times of Israel reported that Cartes not only brought up the “Holocaust” faced by his own nation in the 1800s, but also made the following pledge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I want our countries to be much closer because we share principles and values.”

To be sure, both countries appear to share a strong commitment to the tradition of indigenous dispossession.

As for other “principles,” a separate Jerusalem Post article on Cartes’ visit notes that the Paraguayan leader “was assisted in his 2013 election campaign and during his first 100 days in office by an Israeli-based consultant firm called 3H Global,” founded by former Netanyahu chief of staff Ari Harow.

Apparently, Cartes arrived to Israel “just days after (Harow) was questioned by police… and placed under house arrest for five days”—reportedly as part of a police investigation into money laundering accusations against Netanyahu & Co., as well as possible financial discrepancies in the sale of 3H Global.

Cartes himself, meanwhile, was described in a leaked cable from the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires in 2010 as the head of an “organization believed to launder large quantities of United States currency generated through illegal means, including through the sale of narcotics, from the TBA (Tri-Border Area) to the United States.”

All the more reason, presumably, to shift the blame for illicit Tri-Border Area activity to other parties.

Looks like Paraguay and Israel will make one hell of a team.

Belén Fernández is the author of “The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work,” published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.

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