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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Editorial: Congress Must Support Bipartisan Hezbollah Sanctions Legislation

Photo: Bilal Hussein/AP

Last month, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley successfully prodded the U.N. Security Council to expand the mandate of the U.N. Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2372, extending the peacekeeping force until August 2018 and encouraging it to act against Hezbollah’s weapons smuggling and terrorist activity.

This is a step in the right direction, but America can and must do more to counter the threat from Hezbollah. The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017 (S.1595 and H.R. 3329), known as HIFPAA, represents another important initiative to weaken the Lebanese-based terrorist group. If passed, HIFPAA will authorize additional sanctions on Hezbollah and those that support it.

The Hezbollah threat is expanding.

Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities are expanding. Situated along Israel’s northern border, throughout southern Lebanon and in Beirut’s suburbs, Hezbollah—an Iranian-backed proxy group—maintains an advanced military arsenal larger than many national armies. With an estimated 150,000 rockets and missiles and up to 40,000 fighters, Hezbollah is positioned to inflict significant casualties and damage throughout Israel in the event of a future war. In addition, Iran has also reportedly established underground weapons factories in Lebanon to produce the Fateh 110 missile, capable of pinpoint targeting most Israeli population centers and military sites.

Hezbollah relies on multiple streams of income. In addition to extortive taxes and fees levied against the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Shia under its jurisdiction, the group counts on a huge hand-out from Iran—now totaling up to $1 billion annually. For decades, Hezbollah has also developed and profited from a sophisticated network of criminal activities abroad, which now forms a worldwide financial network. Former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Operations Chief Michael Braun told the House Financial Services Committee last year that Hezbollah “has metastasized into a hydra with international connections that the likes of the Islamic State and groups like al Qaeda could only hope to have.”

Pending bipartisan legislation would increase sanctions on Hezbollah and its supporters.

HIFPAA, which was introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives in July 2017, would cut off the flow of financial and material support to Hezbollah.

Authored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), the bill targets Hezbollah’s ability to fundraise and recruit, increases pressure on banks that do business with it, and cracks down on foreign governments that knowingly provide significant financial support to the terrorist group. The bill would specifically:

  • Impose sanctions on foreign individuals and companies that aid Hezbollah’s fundraising or recruitment activities, including the provision of support to Hezbollah media outlets.

  • Require an annual report on banks that provide assistance to Hezbollah and are tied to countries deemed State Sponsors of Terrorism. The report must contain a determination on whether such banks are in violation of U.S. law banning material support to terrorist entities.

  • Impose sanctions on foreign government agencies or linked organizations that knowingly provide significant financial or material support to Hezbollah.

  • Impose sanctions on Hezbollah by reason of its significant transnational criminal activities, including narcotics trafficking.

  • Mandate an annual report on countries that support Hezbollah or in which the group maintains important portions of its global logistics networks. The report also must include a list of provinces and municipalities outside Lebanon that allow or tolerate Hezbollah activity, including training, financing and recruitment.

  • Mandate a report on estimated net worth of senior Hezbollah members, including any senior foreign political figures of the terrorist group.

The legislation enjoys bipartisan support.

In announcing the legislation, Rep. Royce said: “As Iran’s leading terrorist proxy, Hezbollah has been fomenting insecurity around the Middle East for decades…The U.S. cannot allow Hezbollah to threaten our ally Israel and undermine our interests in Syria. These sanctions will severely limit Hezbollah’s financial network and transnational criminal activities, as well as crack down on its backers—most importantly Iran.”

Rep. Engel stated: “We are introducing the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act Amendments at a critical time. Battle-hardened Hezbollah fighters are coming home after fighting for the murderous Assad regime and more and more rockets are pointed at Israel’s population centers. Congress must close any possible loophole that could allow foreign funding of Hezbollah. Acting swiftly—and in a bipartisan manner—will show Hezbollah’s foreign sponsors that the United States will not sit by while Hezbollah grows stronger.”

Sen. Rubio said, “The president and Congress should build on the successes of our 2015 law that targets Hezbollah, its proxies and its enablers, and enact this new bill to strengthen international efforts to combat the financing and expansion of Hezbollah’s terrorist and missile threats, as well as its narcotics trafficking and other transnational criminal activities.”

“In the time since the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act was signed into law in 2015,” said Sen. Shaheen, “Hizballah has continued to do Iran’s bidding in the region by threatening Israel’s security and fighting in Syria in support of the murderous dictator Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. must continue to do all it can to cut off Hizballah’s sources of financing…Lebanon is an important ally of the United States, and I am hopeful that our governments can continue to work together to combat terrorism and bring further stability to their country.”

The Way Forward

Countering the Hezbollah threat must remain a priority for U.S. decision makers, HIFPAA is one important step Congress can take to stem the flow of material and financial support to the terrorist group. To this end, AIPAC urges members of both the House and Senate to cosponsor the bill and ensure its final passage and full implementation.  

Concurrently, the United States must continue to push the UNIFIL to fulfill its extended mandate to limit Hezbollah’s presence in southern Lebanon. UNIFIL must seize the opportunity offered by U.N. Security Council backing to finally play its role in eliminating armed militias in southern Lebanon—including Hezbollah.

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