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July 1, 2020 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1517

The Organization For The Liberation Of Argentina (OLA) – Building Support For The Iranian Regime And Hizbullah

July 1, 2020
Iran, Lebanon | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1517

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Ever since the founding of the Ayatollah regime in Iran, the country has invested significantly in the export of the principles of the revolution to the world at large, in establishing local support bases in other countries, and in undermining local governments abroad. One of its most prominent measures to achieve these aims is by means of proxies which receive financial, political, propaganda and organizational assistance in the guise of armed militias which gradually infiltrate local politics, such as Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, the Shi'ite militias in Iraq, and the Shi'ite clerics in Nigeria. In addition, the Iranian regime and its protégé, Hizbullah, operate various types of media, including social media accounts which address local audiences in their own languages. Thus, in an attempt to reach a Spanish-speaking audience, Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, has both a website and a Twitter account in Spanish.[1] Furthermore, in 2001 the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting set up a Spanish-language television channel called HispanTV.

The Organization for the Liberation of Argentina (OLA), a political organization headed by Argentine-born Shi'ites, appears to support Iranian regime flagship objectives to export the Iranian Islamic revolution's principles and values and to build support for the Iranian regime and for Hizbullah in Latin America.

Known in Argentina by its Spanish name, Organización para la Liberación Argentina,OLA was established in 2012 by a member of an Islamic Center in Argentina and a well-known local political activist. He heads the organization with his wife, a fellow activist, and with the organization's National Director.

The OLA leadership comprises active members of the Shi'ite community in Argentina and maintains ties to local Shi'ite institutions and religious leaders, most notably to the Al-Tawhid mosque in Buenos Aires, where prominent cleric Mohsen Rabbani was a key suspect in the bombings of the Israeli embassy and the AMIA[2] building in Argentina in 1992 and 1994.

Since its establishment in 2012, OLA has openly supported Iran's proxy organization, Hizbullah, and continues to do so despite Argentina's official designation of Hizbullah as a terrorist organization in July 2019[3] – a decision which OLA criticizes. OLA also supports the Iranian Islamic Revolution and its leaders and fully incorporates its principles, motives and terminology into the OLA political platform, which is critical of the government's neoliberal economic measures and of American influence in the country. In this way, the organization, which aims to address the general local population and not necessarily the local Shi'ite community, introduces the ideology of the Shi'ite Islamic revolution into the largely Catholic population.

OLA appears to be gaining support, and one of its candidates have been elected to local office. The organization and its leaders have social media accounts, primarily on Facebook (with more than 3,000 followers) and on Twitter, where they post and share the speeches and images of Iranian officials and the "Axis of the Resistance" as well as videos produced by official Hizbullah sources and other media outlets based in Iran which promote jihad and martyrdom and have been translated into Spanish.

Though no formal ties have been identified between OLA and high-ranking Iranian officials or government institutions, its highly-indoctrinated leadership constitutes a potential support base which Iran and Hizbullah could utilize in the future to garner political backing, and for the recruitment of local operatives.

This report provides an overview of the ways in which OLA portrays Hizbullah and the Iranian regime to its local audience, primarily as seen through its Facebook page and the Facebook accounts of its leaders.


In the above image, OLA Secretary-General, wears a shirt depicting Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

Overview Of OLA

OLA was established by its leader in 2012, when Argentina was in the throes of a dire economic situation. The country's economy has suffered from high inflation rates and crippling external debt and in recent years these problems have worsened,[4] resulting in an unprecedented number of layoffs in the public and private sectors. The situation has directly impacted Argentina's lower and middle classes, and helped social-justice organizations like OLA to gain traction.

OLA regularly organizes conferences and demonstrations and broadcasts a bi-weekly radio program with a local news agency. The leader also presides over The Academy for Strategic Thinking, which appears to be an additional platform for spreading OLA ideology. In early 2018, the leader and several others were arrested on charges of attacking the authorities during a mass demonstration against the government, and were released one week later.

Some members of OLA have run for local office, and at least one of its leaders was elected in 2019 to the City Council of a northeastern Argentinian province capital. In 2019, the leader's wife also ran for the position of national deputy to represent the same province as part of a list presented by the largest party in the Argentinian Congress since 1987.[5] Another OLA member also ran in local elections for the City Council of Salta.


The above image shows the leader speaking at what appears to be OLA headquarters.


The above image depicts a local protest in 2012 in which OLA participated shortly after its creation.

Ideology

The OLA ideology focuses on two main issues: the loss of Argentinian economic sovereignty and the loss of its military independence, and blames the United States for both.

With respect to economic independence, OLA argues that since the U.S. is Argentina's largest creditor and beneficiary of a large portion of its total export revenue, it is primarily responsible for Argentina's economic woes. OLA claims that along with a number of international organizations, American companies have destroyed the Argentinian economy by "pillaging" much of the country's resources.

To resist the pull of what it refers to as the "new world order," OLA calls for the implementation of "Import Substitution Industrialization" to recover Argentina's economic sovereignty. The organization further argues that since Argentina's territorial sovereignty is currently also being "violated" by NATO powers, Argentina cannot recover its economic sovereignty without strengthening its armed forces.

OLA seeks to expand the independence and reach of Argentina's security apparatuses. According to OLA, the U.S. not only controls Argentina's economy, but also its security system, which OLA claims is evidenced by the fact that "NATO" is currently "occupying" Argentina's Falkland Islands (represented by the UK). As a result, and in order to "liberate" the Falklands and recover Argentina's territorial sovereignty, OLA calls for the "re-nationalization" and strengthening of Argentina's armed forces, declaring that these must be at the forefront of its national development project. It also maintains that if Argentina wants to resist the global economic hegemony led by the U.S., it must strengthen its army's technological, industrial and scientific capabilities.

Iran's Islamic Revolution And Officials As Sources Of Inspiration

As stated, OLA's leadership, which is mostly Shi'ite, sees a clear connection between what it views as Argentina's necessary struggle for economic and national independence from American hegemony, and the struggle of the Iranian Islamic Revolution and the "axis of resistance" against U.S. hegemony. This is evident from a 2015 Facebook post in which the leader refers to the connection between his being a Shia Muslim, his organization's agenda, and Iran and Hizbullah's struggle: "As a Muslim it is impossible for me to consider myself outside the logic of the struggles against oppression that are taking place everywhere in the world and in particular in the Middle East and Asia. Being a Shi'ite I find that the role of Hizbullah and Iran is fundamental. Together with Syria, the Lebanese Shi'ite organization [i.e Hizbullah] and the Islamic Republic are fundamental to the Palestinian resistance and sustain the balance of forces in the Middle East. As an international analyst and political activist, I cannot fail to see and analyze the tactics used by the axis of resistance, and cannot... forget the breaches of sovereignty perpetrated by the main world powers, nor the collusion and betrayal of a dozen of the Arab countries, nor the restraint of some leaders in the face of the brutality of their enemies; brutality which is present in all geographies with manifest cruelty. In this sense, the Western project of global apartheid promoted by the Zionist-American axis is a reality beyond our noses. The struggle against them cannot depend exclusively on the will of the states and governments, hence the importance of Hizbullah. Hizbullah's influence on the regional scene – where spirituality is inextricably linked to the political project – is not subject to idealizations of any kind, but to the objective limitations that the arrogant powers have for their plans."


The leader's 2015 Facebook post

In another post the leader wrote: "In view of the extent of the danger of the enemy [the U.S], whose civilizational proposal has generated an unprecedented crisis..., we said back in December 2012 that our struggle was inextricably linked to the destiny of all the peoples of the world. Therefore, it is our strategic duty to build ties of friendship, integration and mutual assistance with all those organizations [i.e Hizbullah], and governments [i.e Iran] that resist the imperialist arrogance in every corner of the planet [and whose] intrinsically-transcendent, cultural, and civilizational proposals counter the decadence of today's world, and whose spiritual traditions are fundamental for the harmonious coexistence of all communities because they seek to construct true solidarity and a self-aware, free and fully-spiritual humanity." The preceding argument is the basis for OLA's incorporation of the Iranian Islamic Revolution's ideals into its own agenda and political platform.

Hizbullah And Iranian Leadership As Role Models

OLA's leadership views Hizbullah and the Iranian leadership in the same way as it views national and regional revolutionary heroes such as José de San Martín, Juan Perón, Simón Bolivar, Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. The leadership portrays Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, Islamic Revolution founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Hizbullah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani as role models who – alongside famous Latin American revolutionary figures – must be emulated in their "struggle against oppression." It often praises them and regularly mentions them in statements critical of the current Argentinian government and of the United States.

For instance, shortly after Soleimani's assassination in an American air strike on January 3, 2020, OLA's leader quoted Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei saying: "We must know the enemy. The enemy is the United States, the Zionist regime and the system of arrogance. The arrogance apparatus is not just the United States and [its allied] governments, but a group of companies and looters from all over the world that oppose any center that resists [their] oppression and looting."


Following Soleimani's assassination in January 2020, OLA re-posted a response from Ali Khamenei.

The organization also frequently quotes Iranian regime officials on issues of global relevance such as the Coronavirus and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On January 30, 2020, the OLA Secretary-General shared a poster of Khamenei labelled: "Don't say that the destruction of the Zionist regime is impossible; nothing is impossible in this world." Pictured behind Khamenei were Qassem Soleimani and Hassan Nasrallah.

IRGC Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani As A Role Model

Soleimani's death only increased OLA admiration for the Qods Force Commander, as the organization began to refer to him as "the glorious commander" of Islam and to describe him as "the general of hearts," whose strategic operations were decisive for the defeat of ISIS, and whose example should be emulated by "all patriots, revolutionaries and anti-imperialists of the world."


Following his death, OLA shared posts referring to Soleimani in glowing terms, stating that he was an example to be emulated.

OLA's leader also replaced his profile picture with a photograph of Soleimani, and the organization announced the mass production of shirts with his image. The text on the tee shirt depicting Soleimani reads: "With the blessing of his pure blood."


In the photograph on the right OLA's leader is shown wearing the tee-shirt featuring Soleimani.

Soleimani was even portrayed by members of the organization as fighting for the same cause as famous Latin American revolutionary figures such as Simón Bolivar, Hugo Chavez, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

                                       

Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah As A Role Model

The organization also portrays Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah as a role model, frequently posting videos of Nasrallah with Spanish translation, while senior OLA members often upload pictures of him to their personal Facebook accounts along with excerpts from his speeches.

For example, in a post from April 27, 2020, the leader features Nasrallah and describes him as "an Inspiration for all those who fight for the independence and sovereignty of their nations against the arrogant powers." He also wrote: "Hizbullah leader Sayed Hasan Nasrallah has become a 'symbol' of the resistance against imperialist assaults ... not only for Lebanon, but for all the Arabs and peoples of the world. The resistance which sprouted in Southern Lebanon against the Zionist aggression backed by the decaying empire of the United States is a solid example of a spirituality of sacrifice that refuses to be absorbed by the modern West and its civilizational model."


OLA portrays Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah as a role model, frequently posting videos of Nasrallah with Spanish translation.

Similarly, on April 8, 2020, OLA posted a video featuring Nasrallah criticizing the West's management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The accompanying text reads: "Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah with clear details on the path, values and virtues of the peoples and nations of the world, vis-à-vis the dangers that a rickety and sickly minority of the world population promotes."


OLA posts a video featuring Nasrallah criticizing the West's management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adopting The Terminology Of Iran's Islamic Revolution: The U.S. Is The "Great Satan"

In addition to viewing the Iranian regime's leaders as role models, OLA has also adopted the terminology of the regime and absorbed it into its propaganda. In Iranian fashion, OLA labels the United States the "Great Satan," and describes international financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank as part of a "system of hegemonic arrogance" which seeks to oppress all the nations of the world through their neo-liberal policies. It also echoes the threats of the Iranian regime and Hizbullah against the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East, mainly Israel and Saudi Arabia.

OLA regularly refers to the U.S. as a terrorist state, describing it as a villain. For instance, in a post from January 22, 2020, OLA's leader depicts the U.S. as about to devour Latin America which is represented by a soup that the U.S. seasons with "coups," "fake news," "hatred" and "violence." The image is accompanied by text in which he instructs his followers about the necessity to learn from nations and leaders such as the Islamic Republic of Iran which, (quoting Soleimani) are "ready to sacrifice the lives of its people" [for the anti-imperialist cause]."


The above image depicts the U.S. about to devour Latin America.

Shortly after Iran issued threats to the U.S. in the wake of Soleimani's death, the leader posted an article about the American decision to evacuate one of its military bases in the Syrian Hasaka Province. His comment on the article read: "Satan is leaving with his tail between his legs."


OLA's leader comments: "Satan [the U.S.] is leaving with his tail between his legs."

In another post, the leader echoes the Iranian threat by quoting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard: "Any other aggression or move by the oppressive and hegemonic regime of the Great Satan will receive even a more painful and smashing response from Iran."


In another post, the leader echoes an Iranian threat to the U.S.

On the day of Soleimani's death, the leader shared a video translated into Spanish featuring a religious Iranian singer leading a large crowd of Iranians in the following chant: "We can hear the satanic voices of the Jewish imperialists coming out of the throats of the Saudis (...) all are tricks of the Great Shaytan (USA)... Our swords will respond in battles [and] our missiles target Tel Aviv." The leader's comment on the video read, "The arrogant powers generate acts of war, soon they will hear the Huseynis [the Shi'ites]. Qassem Soleimani, example of the struggle against the powerful and corrupt of the world, was martyred. " 


On the day of Soleimani's death, the leader shared a video of a large crowd of Iranians chanting anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans.

Glorifying Jihad And Martyrdom

OLA promotes the ideology of jihad and martyrdom which is vehemently advocated by the Iranian regime. For example, its leader endorses and propagates the Islamic Revolution's narrative about the heroic death of the Imam Hussein – the Shi'ite prototype of the perfect martyr. He even specifies that the Battle of Karbala – the event which in Shi'ite Islam signals the beginning of the veneration of martyrs – was the inspiration for his own political movement. Furthermore, the organization and its leaders frequently post videos which glorify jihad and martyrdom. Shortly after Qassem Soleimani's death, OLA shared a video on its Facebook page compiling some of the Qods Force commander's statements about death: "What is better for a person than choosing a great, voluntary death, a death of his own free will? If that Friend (Allah) allows my blood to be shed, I am gladly willing to give up my life for Him... Brave men are the ones who dance on their own blood, because they are free of themselves (the Nafs), they clap their hands..."


OLA shared a video on its Facebook page with a compilation of quotes glorifying death from the Qods Force commander.

Commenting on the video, the organization writes: "The friends of God guide us with their words, they beautify us with their steadfastness, and they calm us with their patience [...] they strengthen our spirit with their actions, make us lose all fear of our enemies."

Similarly, on January 24, 2020, OLA's National Director posted a video on his Facebook page entitled "We are Jihad." The video is a eulogy for Jihad Imad Mughniyeh, the son of Hizbullah's Chief of Staff Imad Mughniya – who is believed to have been the mastermind of many terrorist attacks, including those in Argentina. The last scene of the video features a picture of the White House with the lyrics, "Red-stained earth will remain as long as the white castle exists."

Commemorating Al-Qods Day

On May 22, 2020, the last Friday of Ramadan, OLA held a conference on the occasion of "Al-Qods Day," the date chosen by Islamic Revolution founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to commemorate the Palestinian resistance. During the event the organization expressed solidarity with Iran's and Hizbullah's goals in the region and screened a video in which Hizbullah flags are prominently displayed, American and Israeli flags are burned, and the Iranian leadership is shown entering the Temple Mount as Jerusalem goes up in flames in the background. In the days preceding the event the organization posted pictures of Khamenei praying at the Temple Mount, and prepared a large flag depicting Qassem Soleimani to be used as a backdrop for the OLA broadcast of the event. 


On the occasion of "Al-Qods Day to commemorate the Palestinian resistance, OLA expressed solidarity with Iran's and Hizbullah's goals in the region.

Conspiracy Theories

OLA also promotes the Iranian narratives about the 1994 AMIA attack in Buenos Aires. It accuses the CIA and Israeli intelligence of arranging the AMIA attacks as a "cover-up" for their sinister plans to take control of Argentina's security establishment, while blaming Hizbullah for the attacks. OLA also frequently posts photographs which purportedly show Netanyahu manipulating Argentinian politicians.


OLA frequently posts photographs implying that Netanyahu manipulates Argentinian politicians.

OLA blames the U.S. and Israel for the creation of ISIS, and more recently has accused the U.S. of covertly bringing the Coronavirus to China in order to blame the Asian country for its propagation across the globe.

Dissemination Of Videos Produced By Hizbullah And Iranian Media Outlets

As described above, a central means by which the principles and ideology of the Iranian Islamic Revolution are introduced to the local population in Argentina is through the dissemination of videos from official Hizbullah sources and other media outlets based in Iran. One news outlet, based in Qom, the Iranian city which is considered holy by Shia Muslims, describes itself as "an independent digital media project not affiliated with any organization, government or country" whose mission is to "strengthen and serve the Islamic Leadership (Wilayah)" and to export Iran's Islamic Revolution. The videos which are produced and distributed by the outlet are translated into Spanish and posted on Facebook by a mutual friend of OLA's leaders.

Though the man translating the videos into Spanish currently lives in Southern Lebanon, he regularly posts highly-radicalized content on Facebook in Spanish under a pseudonym. This account is exclusively dedicated to publicizing the views of Nasrallah and Hizbullah and explaining their relevance to Argentinian politics. He also uses it to communicate with members of the Shi'ite community in Argentina, which includes leaders of OLA, who regularly share his posts. The translator's personal accounts in Arabic also reveal that he has family connections in Paraguay and Brazil, where he has lived in the past. He also follows many Hizbullah accounts on Facebook, some of which appear to have links to Brazil, and his children were "Scouts of the Imam Mahdi," a youth movement established by Hizbullah in Lebanon. The translator's Arabic and Spanish-language accounts have been shut down in the past for violating Facebook's community standards, but new accounts were opened in their place which blur Nasrallah's face and use the acronym "SHN" instead of Nasrallah's full name, to avoid being closed down again.



After its accounts were shut down for violating Facebook's community standards, the translator's new accounts make sure to blur Nasrallah's face and not to refer to him by name.

Relationships With Sheikhs Connected To Iran Who Support Hizbullah

The social media accounts of the senior OLA members indicate that they are connected to, and derive inspiration from, sheiks with direct connections to Iran, who support Hizbullah. For instance, OLA maintains a close relationship with the sheikh who is Mohsen Rabbani's successor at the At-Tawhid mosque. Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman singled out the former director of the At-Tawhid Mosque as the mastermind behind the 1994 AMIA bombings in Argentina, and described the mosque as the place where Iranian officials plotted the attack, in conjunction with Hizbullah. Today Rabbani's indoctrinated[6] and appointed successor maintains a close relationship with OLA. He was one of the main speakers at the conference hosted by OLA on "Qods Day," participating in the event via video-call from Iran.


Social media accounts of senior OLA members indicate that they derive inspiration from sheiks with direct connections to Iran, who support Hizbullah.

The sheikh and OLA's leader are also friends on Facebook, and regularly interact through Facebook posts. Both the leader and the translator liked a post in which the sheikh comments on the sudden upsurge of COVID-19 infections in the United States, and refers to it as "compelling punishment." On another post where OLA's leader calls Israel "the Synagogue of Satan" for retaliating against rockets from Gaza, the sheikh comments sarcastically: "This is the 'thou shalt not kill' of the Zionist 'Jews'." The sheikh also shares the translator's posts and makes sporadic references to Hizbullah.

Another sheikh with whom the leader regularly interacts is also a disciple of Mohsen Rabbani's. He currently serves as the director of the House for the Dissemination of Islam (Casa para la Difusión del Islam) in Buenos Aires, which is situated on a property that is owned by Rabbani. He is widely known as an outspoken supporter of Hizbullah. The relationship between this sheikh and OLA's leader is also seen clearly in a post shared by the leader on May 17, 2020, which promotes the sheikh's radio program.

OLA's leader is also connected to additional sheikhs, as may be observed in a post from January 9, 2020. In this post, a Colombian sheikh tags several Argentinian sheikhs, as well as a sheikh who lives in Qom, Iran. OLA's leader, who is friends on Facebook with all of these sheikhs, shares the post.


The above post is a collection of photographs from Qassem Soleimani's funeral.

 

[1] Spanish.khamenei.ir/; Twitter.com/es_Khamenei.

[2] Argentine Israelite Mutual Aid Association (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina).

[3] The New York Times, July 18, 2019. The Argentinian government's decision to designate Hizbullah as a terrorist organization is still maintained by the newly elected president Alberto Fernandez despite initial fears that he would derogate the decree. Perfil.com, January 24, 2020, Infobae.com, November 20, 2019.

[4] Since 2015, Argentina's external debt has increased by 60%; its inflation rate has increased from 20% to 50% since 2012; and its unemployment rate increased by 3% between 2015 and 2019. Fas.org/sgp/crs/row/IF10991.pdf, January 28, 2020. Bloomberg.com/graphics/2019-new-economy-drivers-and-disrupters/argentina.html, November 19, 2019. Clarín (Argentina), June 19, 2019.

[5] Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez, as well as many former presidents, belonged to this party, which in 2019 was part of a larger coalition known as "Frente de Todos."  

[6] Books.google.com/books?id=oqDYBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA88&lpg=PA88&dq=santiago+paz+bullrich+iran&source= bl&ots =k7Z qs7-hpq&sig=
k3Lmr-dp8oNd _3_A_eqXk hXsDRk&hl=en&s a=X&ei=AN3YVKD SNs_5yQSP6o Ew&ved=0CEM Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q
=santiago%20paz%20bullrich%20iran&f=false.

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