US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CHRIS ALUKA BERRY)
WASHINGTON – US Attorney- General Jeff Sessions launched a Justice Department review on Friday of a controversial Drug Enforcement Agency operation that targeted Hezbollah during the Obama administration.
The Obama-era effort, known within the government as Operation Cassandra, targeted illegal drug activities undertaken by Hezbollah – a major source of funding for the Iranbacked and Lebanese-based terrorist organization. A Politico exposé published last Sunday detailed the extent of the operation, but alleged that the Obama administration obfuscated and delayed its progress in order to ensure Iran would sign a nuclear agreement brokered in 2015 with international powers.
Former Obama administration officials have assertively attacked the report and Politico’s team for publishing it, claiming that it is based on statements from political figures who opposed the Iran deal from its inception. Politico has stood by the report, however, published by one of its senior investigative reporters.
The Justice Department revealed that Sessions directed a review of the Drug Enforcement Agency investigations, to ensure that “there were no barriers constructed” by the Obama administration to allow the DEA agents to fully complete their investigations, Fox News first reported.
“This is a significant issue for the protection of Americans,” Sessions said in a written statement to Fox. “We will review these matters and give full support to investigations of violent drug trafficking organizations.”
On Friday, the Justice Department repeated Sessions’ support for the probe of “prior DEA investigations” and for future investigations of Hezbollah activities.Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said that
“Obama must return his Nobel Peace Prize” if the Politico story is correct.
Democrats broadly dismissed the move by Sessions as the Republican attorney-general politicizing the Justice Department, coming shortly after he consented to a review of then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s alleged involvement in and profiteering off of Russia’s purchase of the Uranium One mining company. Similar accusations of politicization were made of the Justice Department in the reverse during the Obama years.
In Congress, combating Hezbollah has earned bipartisan and near-unanimous support. Two bills targeting the group passed through the legislature this past fall, titled the Sanctioning Hezbollah’s Illicit Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act and the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act. The Trump administration has also tightened Treasury sanctions on Hezbollah at its own discretion as part of its campaign against Iran’s regional ambitions.
Hezbollah was originally founded to combat Israel’s 1985-2000 occupation of southern Lebanon, but has since grown into a mob-like organization financing itself through money laundering and the trafficking of cocaine through car sales and luxury hotel properties. It is the primary Shi’ite proxy militia of the Islamic Republic, and has fought in its first foreign war on Iran’s behalf in defense of President Bashar Assad in Syria.
Israel’s government considers Hezbollah in Lebanon its most immediate strategic threat, and war with the well-armed group to be a matter of when, not if. But the group also poses a direct national security threat to the US. US intelligence officials warn that Hezbollah has a presence in the homeland and is seeking an attack ability against Americans.