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Colombia and Honduras: The US-Israeli 'counterterrorism' connection

Designation of Lebanon's Hezbollah as a terrorist group falls in line with the US-Israeli model of fighting wars of terror, disguised as wars on terror
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with members of the military in Bogota on 21 January (AFP)

In January, Colombia and Honduras designated Lebanon’s Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.

The move came in the context of a counterterrorism meeting in the Colombian capital of Bogota, attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Jerusalem Post noted that Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “campaigned in recent months to have more countries in the region sanction Hezbollah”.

The Post quoted Netanyahu on the “important step” the two nations had made in “join[ing] Israel and the US in our fight against global terror”.

Business as usual

And yet, it wasn’t so much a “step” as a continuation of business as usual; after all, Colombia and Honduras have long been joined at the hip with the US-Israeli duo in major global “fights”.

In the 1980s, for example, Honduras served as a launchpad for the US terrorisation of Nicaragua, a key battleground in the all-important war on communism. The Central American nation also got to host its very own CIA-trained death squad, which - as the Baltimore Sun explained - “terrorised Honduras” for much of the decade.

To be sure, the US and Israel have out-terrorised Hezbollah on any objective level

As luck would have it, Israel was also involved at the time in arming and otherwise assisting the repressive Honduran regime, partially as a favour to the US.

In Colombia, too, Israel abetted rightwing terror: the late Carlos Castano - who after attending training in Israel in 1983 went on to become a founding father of modern Colombian paramilitarism - credited the Israelis as his inspiration for the whole paramilitary thing.

Flash forward to more recent years, and it’s clear that Colombia and Honduras are highly qualified candidates for the US-Israeli model of fighting wars of terror, disguised as wars on terror, which have devastated human populations from Afghanistan to Iraq to Palestine and beyond. 

In Colombia - where Israeli security firms have been highly active, and former president Juan Manuel Santos once boasted that Colombians were “the Israelites of Latin America” - the notorious “false positives” scandal saw the Colombian military kill more than 10,000 civilians and pass the corpses off as narco-terrorist guerrillas. In return, soldiers received bonus pay and holiday time, and the government got to justify its gobs of US military aid.

Reaffirming ties

US funds have also continued to flow to Honduras, despite lethal brutality by state security forces, including against protesters opposed to the current dictatorship of Juan Orlando Hernandez. Like Colombia, Honduras has endeavoured to cast itself as a key node in the war on drugs and terror, and in 2015 Hernandez - himself an alumnus of a young leadership programme in Israel - staged a transatlantic pilgrimage to reaffirm Honduran-Israeli ties.

According to the Jerusalem Post’s writeup, Hernandez’s visit with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin produced development deals on agriculture and water management, as well as a pledge “to speak out on behalf of the other’s country in all international forums, and particularly when speaking to members of the US Congress”.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meets Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in Jerusalem in 2015 (AFP)
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meets Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in Jerusalem in 2015 (AFP)

When Hernandez took it upon himself to blame all violence in Honduras on drug traffickers, the Post reported, “Rivlin’s response was that terrorism is terrorism - whether it be the outcome of fundamentalism or drug trafficking.” 

Funny then, that the New York Times reported in October how "drug money [has] penetrated the highest levels of Honduran politics to buy protection and immunity”.

Add to this the fact that former Colombian president and staunch US drug war accomplice Alvaro Uribe appears on none other than a 1991 US Defense Intelligence Agency list of “the more important Colombian narco-traffickers contracted by the Colombian narcotic cartels”, and we’re left with the question: is terrorism really terrorism, in the end?

Preemptive justification

Which brings us back to the Colombian-Honduran terror-designation of Hezbollah - a group that, it bears reiterating, formed in response to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon that killed some 20,000 people, the overwhelming majority of them civilians. Obviously, this barbaric incursion was also sold as a war “against” terror.

To be sure, the US and Israel have out-terrorised Hezbollah on any objective level. But because Hezbollah and its Iranian ally have proven rather successful over the years in thwarting US-Israeli designs in the Middle East, they’re the ones slammed with the “terrorist” label as part of an international campaign of delegitimisation.

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And the more nations that are on board with the terror designation, the more credibility it accrues.

Furthermore, because the US is forever seeking to portray Hezbollah and Iran as a direct threat to the homeland - in order to help preemptively justify whatever future US military manouevres may be in store - it’s advantageous to have as many countries as possible in the so-called US “backyard” vouch for Hezbollah’s malevolence and omnipresence in the region.

Colombia, itself home to a sizeable Arab population, has been particularly cooperative in proliferating the image of Hezbollah as a narco-jihadi menace in perpetual cahoots with Evil Neighbour Venezuela - which no doubt distracts from the prevalence of criminal ties among Colombia’s own political elite.

Political love affair

In Honduras, meanwhile, the substantial presence of Palestinian descendants in the domestic ruling class has in no way hampered the political love affair with Israel.

As part of his January Twitter announcement about Honduras’ impending designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, Hernandez retweeted Pompeo’s call for more nations to jump on the terror-designation bandwagon. 

A more important step would be to assess the terror credentials of those fighting the fight

Pompeo’s tweet also brought up the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, which in the US-Israeli version of history, constitutes the defining moment of Hezbollah/Iran’s terroristic hemispheric penetration - the only problem being that, as award-winning investigative historian Gareth Porter demonstrated in an expose for The Nation, the allegations don’t hold water. 

Now, as the transatlantic charade continues full force and Netanyahu babbles on about “important step[s]” in the “fight against global terror”, a more important step would be to assess the terror credentials of those fighting the fight.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Belen Fernandez
Belen Fernandez is the author of Exile: Rejecting America and Finding the World and The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.