Alma Research and Education Center image
The Alma Research and Education Center, which is located in northern Israel's Galilee region, and researches security challenges on Israel's northern borders, names three Lebanese-Christian brothers – Oscar, Edgar, and Antonio Yamin – as those allegedly assisting the Iranian-backed terror army.
The Yamin brothers, from the northern Lebanese town of Zhgarta, control the Liquigroup holding company, which includes the Liquigas and Coral energy companies.
"Based on the findings collected during this research, it appears that the Yamin brothers and the companies under their control are a civilian wing acting on behalf of Hizballah's interests in the Lebanese energy market," the report says.
The Yamin brothers are affiliated with former Lebanese energy minister Gebran Bassil, a Hizballah ally who leads the Free Patriotic Movement, Alma's research director, former IDF intelligence officer Maj. (res.) Tal Beeri, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Bassil advises his father-in-law, Lebanese President Michelle Aoun, himself allied with Hizballah.
As Liquigroup's chairman of the board, Oscar Yamin exercises control over Liquigas and Coral energy companies.
Alma Center graphic
The two companies import, store, and transfer oil and fuel throughout Lebanon. "From what we understand, Liquigas and Coral have a monopoly on the Lebanese energy market. Formally, they hold one-third of the fuel market, but in reality, they are a monopoly," said Beeri.
It is this monopoly, he said, that is serving Hizballah's interests.
The brothers bought Coral in 2016, and it owns "approximately 250 gas stations," said Beeri. It sells various fuels and gases, much of which is imported from a major multinational oil and gas company.
The Yamin brothers have controlled Liquigas since 2005. It is the exclusive importer of fuel products from a major energy firm located abroad.
One way the scheme operates is through the smuggling of fuel from Lebanon – itself suffering from chronic fuel shortages – to Syria's Assad regime, in violation of international sanctions.
The shortage is part of Lebanon's ongoing economic collapse, leading to the state struggling to come up with cash for fuel imports. Earlier this month, Lebanon's caretaker energy minister blamed the shortage on "profiteers" who smuggle gasoline into Syria to "achieve huge profits," due to the far higher price of fuel in Syria.
"We have a video that shows convoys of Coral fuel trucks travelling from Lebanon to Syria. Our assessment is that more than 3 million liters of fuel goes from Lebanon to Syria per day. Syria imports 90 percent of its fuel from Lebanon. Most of the fuel in Lebanon goes to Syria," said Beeri.
"Most of this process is under the control of Hizballah. It earns a lot of money from this," he added.
The European Union maintains an oil embargo on the Assad regime as part of wide ranging sanctions, while the U.S.'s Caesar Act has disrupted crucial fuel imports to Syria.
Iran has been illegally exporting its oil to Syria, as part of a terror financing channel for Hezbollah, drawing reported Israeli disruption of this trafficking.
Thus, while fuel ostensibly is purchased for the Lebanese market, Hizballah passes a large chunk of it to Syria. Lots more of the fuel goes to Hizballah's support base – the Shi'ite-Lebanese population that is largely focused in southern Lebanon, as well as in south Beirut and the Beka'a Valley.
"For example, last January there was a large operation by Hizballah in the Beka'a Valley to distribute diesel fuel as gifts to the area's Shi'ite population," said Beeri. "We're talking about quantities of 3.7 million liters of diesel that went to 21,000 Shi'ite families in the Beka'a valley – 200 liters per family. We estimate this to have been 2.5 million dollars' worth of fuel."
"Hizballah marketed this entire event under the headline of: 'Hizballah takes care of the people.' It claimed that it is caring for the population during the tough Lebanese winter, helping them heat their homes," he added.
Such activity – distributing fuel to Hizballah's support base and smuggling it to Syria – is occurring even as Lebanon's Zahrani power station – one of four power stations in the country – is not functioning due to fuel shortages, and as the whole of Lebanon experiences chronic fuel shortages. "When Hizballah wants fuel, it has a source from where to take it. It clearly interfacing with these organizations," said Beeri."
As another example, Beeri pointed to a fuel company called Al Amana, which has been under U.S. sanctions since February 2020 due to its ties to Hizballah.
The company operates dozens of gas stations, mainly in the Shi'ite areas of Lebanon. In Dahiya, Hizballah's stronghold in Beirut, there are several Al Amana gas stations, one of which also has a Coral sign on it. "In our research, we were able to locate images of one of these gas stations linked to Coral," said Beeri. While it is not clear whether Al Mana purchased the gas station from Coral, or whether it is operated by Al-Amana but belongs to Coral, either way, he said, "it is very likely that there is a business relationship between Coral and Al Amana," he said.
The Coral sign is likely there because while "Al-Amana is under American sanctions, Coral isn't," Beeri assessed. "As we understand it, the Coral company is being used as a business shield of Al Amana to protect it from sanctions, and enabling the continued operation of Hizballah in the fuel market."
In May 2020, a Lebanese judge accused the Yamin brothers of creating a cartel, and employing money laundering and manipulation in customs.
Gebran Bassil, who served as energy minister until 2014, was accused by Prime Minister Saad Hariri of being a failed minister and causing a loss of $42 billion during his tenure in the Energy Ministry. During his tenure as energy minister, Bassil was accused of acting on behalf of the Yamin family interest, engaging in a "give and take relationship," said Beeri. "Bassil is another branch of Hizballah," he said.
Hizabllah has long engaged in other smuggling enterprises, from narcotics to cars.
A Lebanese shipment of pomegranate fruit to Saudi Arabia has ended up causing embarrassment to the Lebanese state this week, after Saudi authorities uncovered more than 2.4 million Captagon amphetamine narcotic tablets hidden inside the fruit, according to Saudi reports. A source told the Saudi Al-Arabiya TV network that Hizballah was behind the operation, adding that the pills were produced in Syria and smuggled to Lebanon, where they were hidden in the fruit. Saudi Arabia has since banned Lebanese produce.
Hizballah's global drug network reportedly reaches South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and its Captagon drug business has likely earned it tens of millions of dollars a year.
The Alma Center noted in a separate report this month that drug smuggling from Lebanon into Israel "serves Hizballah as a platform that supports its terrorism. The smuggling is used to gather preliminary intelligence on the area of operation and to examine the course of action and response of IDF forces."
The report added that the results of the smuggling effort "are analyzed by Hezbollah for future potential military operations in the form of tactical attacks against Israel in the border area. In addition, Hizballah transfers weapons and drugs (as a financial alternative) to existing collaborators and potential collaborators in the territory of the State of Israel."
Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the military correspondent for JNS. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.
Copyright © 2021. Investigative Project on Terrorism. All rights reserved.