Defence Minister of Colombia Diego Molano has surprised many with a statement that will undoubtedly have diplomatic consequences: "Iran and Hezbollah are enemies of the country". Colombia, he said, is monitoring Hezbollah after accusing the militant group of carrying out criminal activities within its borders.
Molano's remarks came during an official visit by the President of Colombia, Iván Duque, to Jerusalem last week. During the visit, the president agreed with his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, to expand cooperation of military issues, cyber defence, border security and aerospace, as well as the exchange of intelligence "in the fight against international terrorism, with special emphasis on the border with Venezuela”.
The defence minister later gave details to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo: “Two months ago we had to deal with a situation in which we had to organize an operation to capture and expel two criminals commissioned by Hezbollah with the intention of committing a criminal act in Colombia.”
Colombian military intelligence later reported that the Lebanese outfit had been spying on US and Israeli businesspeople in Colombia and US diplomats in Bogotá. According to El Tiempo, a former intelligence agent recently assigned to the Israeli diplomatic team in Colombia realized that he was being spied on by Hezbollah in Bogotá. The Colombian authorities were notified that the agent, who had launched a camera and surveillance technology imports company, was the target of a murder plot. He was evacuated to Tel Aviv.
The subsequent incident report indicated that he was not the only individual being monitored by Hezbollah in the country. Several high-profile foreigners in were reported to be potential targets.
Iran's Presence in Venezuela Worries Colombia
Molano also said that Hezbollah’s known presence in Venezuela, supported there by the Nicolás Maduro regime, posed a risk to Colombia. "Here we have a common enemy, and it is that of Iran and Hezbollah, which operates against Israel but also supports the Venezuelan regime. There is therefore a significant effort to exchange information and intelligence with the military forces and Ministry of Defence in Israel.”
For years, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro maintained a close relationship with Hezbollah and Iran, which empowered Hezbollah through both money and influence. IranWire has previously reported on the close relationship between the Caribbean country’s rulers and the terrorist group. That relationship in turn stems from Venezuela's strategic partnership with Iran. Joseph Humire, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society, has said of this unlikely-seeming allegiance: "Hezbollah is already helping Maduro through a trans-regional network established between Lebanon, Syria and Venezuela. The main reason Hezbollah supports the Maduro regime is that it supports the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria: the logistics network that Iran needs to export its revolution.”
Hezbollah and IRGC Designated
In January 2020, shortly after the UK announced its plan to designate Hezbollah a terrorist entity, Colombia and Honduras did exactly the same. Colombia did so simply by adopting the complete lists of designated entities from the United States and the European Union. Among them were Hezbollah, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hamas, and the National Liberation Army.
At that time, Colombian President Iván Duque had stated in a press conference that adopting these lists would "allow the timely detection of members of cells such as Hezbollah, Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. We ask for the harmonisation of these databases between countries.”
President Duque's Official Response
Colombian President Iván Duque did not reject Molano's statement in its entirety. But he did attempt to qualify it, saying the defense minister's words had been intended to question Iran's political support for Hezbollah.
"Colombia has maintained diplomatic relations with Iran,” he said, “but Colombia is very clear about terrorist threats, and that is why, in the same diplomatic dialogue, we can ask many countries what kind of relationship they can have with them [terrorists]." He added: "Colombia does not use the word enemies to refer to any country, because it is a nation that respects international law.”
Duque went on: "Colombia has diplomatic relations with Iran, but that does not mean we do not have differences on specific issues. Among the discrepancies, he said, was Columbia’s avowed stance of "no development of nuclear weapons, no enrichment of uranium, or proliferation of nuclear arsenals."
Iran and Hezbollah have yet to comment on Molano’s remarks.