Israel accuses Iran-backed Hezbollah of building airport designed for attack, amid Biden $6B swap deal

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Israel on Monday accused Iran of building an airport in southern Lebanon near the Israeli border, which Defense Minister Yoav Gallant believes will be used as a springboard for possible terror attacks.  

Gallant presented pictures of the airport during a conference at Reichman University, saying it bore the fingerprints of Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group backed by Tehran. The airport is about 12 miles from the Israeli border. 

“In the pictures, you can see the Iranian flag flying over the runways, from which the ayatollah regime plans to operate against the citizens of Israel,” Gallant said, per The Times of Israel. “In other words: the land is Lebanese, the control is Iranian, and the target is Israel.” 

Gallant did not elaborate on Iran’s possible objectives but said the site could accommodate a mid-sized aircraft. 

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Picture of alleged airport

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant saying that Iran is building an airport ‘for terrorist objectives’ in Lebanon; aerial photos issued by defense ministry said to be airport. Reuters (GO LIVE / DEFENSE MINISTRY HANDOUT/REUTERS)

Gallant’s remarks came on the same day Congress was notified of a deal struck between the Biden administration and Iran, which the U.S. classifies as a state sponsor of terrorism. 

The deal saw both sides swapping prisoners and the U.S. unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian funds. The National Security Council said Secretary of State Antony Blinken took steps to ensure that those funds “could move from one restricted account to another and remain restricted to humanitarian trade.” 

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told NBC on Tuesday that Iran will use the money however it sees fit

“This money belongs to the Iranian people, the Iranian government, so the Islamic Republic of Iran will decide what to do with this money,” Raisi said, without elaborating on what exactly the funds willd be used for. 

“Humanitarian means whatever the Iranian people need, so this money will be budgeted for those needs and the needs of the Iranian people will be decided and determined by the Iranian government,” he said. 

Pressed Wednesday on why the $6 billion was necessary on top of a prisoner swap, National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby said: “This is the deal that we were able to strike.” 

Summit Economics Sanctions

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (C) attends a meeting during the 2023 BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg on August 24, 2023.  (Marco Longari/POOL/AFP via Getty Images))

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A day after Congress was notified of the deal, the U.S. sanctioned multiple Hezbollah operatives working in South America – including a Lebanese man suspected of being involved in terrorist attacks in Argentina in the 1990s.

Hezbollah is designated a “foreign terrorist organization,” and Washington also claims that the group has been involved in drug trafficking in Latin America to generate revenue.

Hezbollah fighters hold flags

FILE: Hezbollah fighters hold flags as they attend the memorial of their slain leader Sheik Abbas al-Mousawi, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike in 1992, in Tefahta village, south Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

Amer Mohamed Akil Rada, according to the U.S. Treasury, spent over a decade in South America before relocating to Lebanon. During his time there, he allegedly ran a charcoal exporting business from Colombia to Lebanon and used “80 percent of the proceeds of his commercial enterprise to benefit Hezbollah.”

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Rada’s brother, Samer, was also sanctioned and accused of being involved in various drug trafficking and money laundering operations across Latin America. According to the Treasury, he was previously based in Belize but fled due to a drug-related case and was involved in smuggling more than 1,100 pounds of cocaine worth $15 million hidden in fruit shipments seized in El Salvador.

The U.S. also sanctioned Rada’s son, identified as Mehdi Akil Helbawi, and his Colombia-based venture Zanga S.A.S., the coal exporting company that officials say his father used to fund Hezbollah.

israel defense minister

Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant talks to reporters ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, Sep 10, 2023.  (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool via REUTERS)

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The Treasury also slapped sanctions on Lebanon-based company Black Diamond SARL and owner Ali Ismail Ajrouch. The company reportedly transferred some $40,000 to the Colombia-based coal company. 

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