Bomb attacks: Hezbollah’s other weapon against Israel and the US?

Two alleged members of Hezbollah were arrested in Brazil on suspicion of “terrorist attacks” against the country’s Jewish community.

Bomb attacks: Hezbollah’s other weapon against Israel and the US?

Hezbollah fighters assume position in front of a poster of Imad Moghniyeh, the party's late military executive, during a display in Aaramta. May 2023. (Credit: AFP)

On Wednesday, the Brazilian Federal Police arrested two men in São Paulo on suspicion of preparing “terrorist attacks.”

Later, the Israeli Foreign Intelligence Service (Mossad) claimed that the suspects were affiliated with Hezbollah and were planning an attack against “Jewish” and “Israeli” targets.

According to Brazilian media outlet O Globo, one of the two suspects was arrested upon his return from Lebanon, at the city’s airport.

While the Brazilian authorities have not confirmed this version of events, the development comes amid high regional tension and daily exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israel since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

While Hezbollah has distanced itself from Hamas’ attack, the party’s history is filled with attacks and bombings abroad, which have mostly been against Israeli targets.

The ‘Islamic Jihad’ organization

Brazil is home to the second largest Jewish community in Latin America. Authorities have yet to confirm claims of an alleged potential attack linked to Hezbollah members.

“Israel, however, could very well be lying to incriminate Hezbollah and win international sympathy, especially as Brazil is one of the countries that distanced itself from Israel’s response to Gaza,” said Mohannad Hage Ali, director of communications and fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center.

“But in the context of the current tension, Hezbollah could just as well have decided to attack Israeli targets abroad,” Hage Ali added.

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, Hezbollah has been grappling with a challenging middle ground.

On one hand, the party faces pressure to actively participate in hostilities alongside Hamas, especially since its credibility as the primary pillar of the axis of resistance is on the line. On the other hand, Hezbollah has a vested interest in avoiding a devastating escalation in Lebanon, which is already grappling with economic and political crises.

For the moment, the party seems content with its sporadic and limited attacks from southern Lebanon, which have been met with a proportionate response from the Israeli Army for the most part.

However, the question remains whether this approach will be sufficient moving forward.

For Hezbollah, employing the tactic of attacks against Israeli targets abroad serves as an alternative battlefield. This strategy, rooted in intelligence operations, allows the group to diversify its fronts without risking an escalation within Lebanon.

This approach gains added significance as it becomes an effective means of exerting pressure on Tel Aviv, particularly by compromising the security of Israeli citizens abroad.

Hezbollah’s spokesperson did not respond to L’Orient-Le Jour’s requests for comment.

“The party has consistently refrained from claiming responsibility for any attack abroad,” said Kassem Kassir, an analyst with close ties to Hezbollah.

Indeed, Hage Ali concurred.

“Hezbollah never claims responsibility for these attacks, and investigations often struggle to definitively attribute responsibility, given its adept use of a covert network,” Hage Ali said.

“The party cells responsible for these operations often secure independent financing, notably through smuggling,” he added. “Establishing a direct link between the attackers and Hezbollah is frequently challenging.”

The key orchestrator behind these operations is Hezbollah’s formidable external security organization, recognized as the “Islamic Jihad Organization” (distinct from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad).

Imad Moghniyeh, the head of Hezbollah’s military wing, established this organization in Tehran in 1983.

Known as the “fox,” Moghniyeh departed Beirut that same year following the suicide attack on the US Marines headquarters in Beirut, an incident Washington attributed to Hezbollah.

Moghniyeh was subsequently implicated in organizing various attacks and kidnappings in Lebanon and beyond before he was killed in a 2008 attack in Syria.

Lawless zone

If Hezbollah has indeed chosen Brazil as the location for its next attack, meticulous planning is evident.

The group has a strong presence in Latin America, particularly in the triple border area where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay converge — a hotspot known for terrorism and organized crime.

Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, the capital of this lawless zone, is a significant hub for Hezbollah and hosts a sizable Lebanese Shiite community.

“Hezbollah primarily relies on this diaspora to enhance its international reach,” Hage Ali said.

Notably, in 1992, Hezbollah was accused of carrying out an attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which resulted in the death of 29 people.

“This operation occurred just one month after the assassination of Abbas Moussawi, the former Secretary-General of Hezbollah, by the Israelis,” recalled Nicholas Blanford, a researcher specialized in Hezbollah’s arsenal.

Two years later, on July 18, an even more devastating attack struck the capital of Argentina. Approximately 350 kilograms of explosives, primarily ammonium nitrate—the same chemical that triggered the 2020 Beirut port explosion— were detonated near the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (IAMA) in Buenos Aires.

The toll was severe: 85 people were killed and 300 were wounded.

Once again, Hezbollah was blamed. The investigation identified Mohsen Rabbani, an Iranian diplomat and religious leader residing in Argentina, as one of the masterminds behind the attack, in collaboration with the “Islamic Jihad Organization.”

“Hezbollah’s last significant attack was the Burgas operation,” Blanford said.

On July 18, 2012, 18 years after the IAMA operation, a bus transporting Israelis to the Bulgarian seaside resort of Burgas was targeted in an attack that claimed the lives of five tourists and their driver.

The investigation in Sofia pointed to Hezbollah, although the group vehemently denied any involvement.

The scope of Hezbollah’s targets extends beyond Israelis. In 1996, a devastating truck-bombing shook the eastern Saudi town of Khobar, targeting a multi-story building housing American military personnel. The attack killed 19 US Air Force soldiers.

A comprehensive US police investigation ensued, culminating in the indictment of 13 members of “Hezbollah al-Hijaz,” an Iranian-sponsored Saudi Shiite group, along with a member of the Lebanese Hezbollah, in a US federal court.

In 2019, the leader of the Saudi group, Ahmad al-Moughassil, was arrested in Beirut.

In his recent speech on Nov. 3, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah implicitly evoked the 1983 attack on the US Marine headquarters Beirut, in a thinly veiled threat.

The question arises: is Hezbollah poised to resume bombing activities?

“The 90s are a thing of the past,” Hage Ali said. “Today, security measures are much more challenging to breach worldwide.”

Indeed, since the beginning of the third millennium, various bombing attempts have been thwarted. After Moghniyeh’s death, Hezbollah sought reprisals through attempted attacks in Egypt, Thailand, Africa, and Azerbaijan, all without success.*

“Hezbollah has no interest in becoming a pariah in the international community either,” Hage Ali added. This is especially true since the party’s political wing maintains lines of contact with the West, notably France.

This openness is particularly useful to the party on the Lebanese scene, a strategy that Hezbollah is very much poised to take advantage of in the aftermath of the Al-Aqsa “flood.”

*Reference: Hezbollah, The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God, Matthew Levitt, Georgetown University Press.

This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.

On Wednesday, the Brazilian Federal Police arrested two men in São Paulo on suspicion of preparing “terrorist attacks.”Later, the Israeli Foreign Intelligence Service (Mossad) claimed that the suspects were affiliated with Hezbollah and were planning an attack against “Jewish” and “Israeli” targets.According to Brazilian media outlet O Globo, one of the two suspects was arrested upon...