Support is widening in the US Congress for a bipartisan bill to block Hezbollah’s financing and to limit the group’s access to logistical support.
Last month, US Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Marco Rubio (R-FLorida), both members of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2014 (HIFPA) in the Senate, following its earlier introduction in the House by US Congressmen Brad Schneider (D-Illinois), Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), Eliot Engel (D-New York) and Ed Royce (R-California.) The bill has quickly attained 280 co-sponsors – a number that more than doubled in a matter of weeks and far exceeds the 218 needed for a majority – in the House of Representatives and 36 in the Senate.
Much of the increase in supporters came following a large advocacy mission to Congress by the pro-Israel bipartisan political action committee NORPAC on April 30.
The financing of terrorist organizations has been attacked in recent years by an array of NGOs and private law firms, with cases directed against major banks like Bank of China and Arab Bank for serving as conduits of financing for Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and others.
But the broader attack has been through sanctions, and the new legislation broadens financial sanctions against Hezbollah by holding the foreign financial institutions that enable its activities responsible for its actions.
HIFPA pursues additional designations against Hezbollah, and provides for increased scrutiny of support to the terrorist organization and its media offshoot, television station al-Manar.
For example, the bill extends to Hezbollah many of the same broader financial sanctions that have proven effective in bringing Iran to the negotiations table.
More specifically, the bill provides the US administration with tools to target and impose sanctions on foreign banks that conduct business with Hezbollah and its enablers. At the moment, the law only prevents American financial institutions from dealing with Hezbollah, and the prohibitions simply drive Hezbollah into the arms of non-US financial institutions.
The new legislation seals this loophole with the threat that any non-US financial institution that deals with Hezbollah will lose access to the US financial system.
Regarding al-Manar, the bill would require the government to list satellite providers that carry Hezbollah’s television station even though the US has already designated it as promoting terrorism.
It would require the administration to explain why those offending providers have not been penalized for supplying material support to Hezbollah’s al-Manar station by facilitating its broadcasts.
Other provisions in the bill seek to attack Hezbollah’s financing by penalizing it as a narcotics trafficking and transnational criminal organization.
Iran has been left out of the legislation on Hezbollah, as Tehran, which is currently cooperating with the US on nuclear issues - and possibly also on Iraq – directs Hezbollah, and could take offense at the administration’s strike against it.
According to Staci McCabe, Congressman Schneider’s spokeswoman, the administration has not yet taken a position on the bill.
But she said that Reps.
Schneider and Meadows shared the legislation, and had asked for an official view from the Departments of State and Treasury, as well as the administration in general, adding that the bill was bipartisan, popular in targeting Hezbollah, and would likely pass if brought to the House floor.
She said that she hoped that the relevant congressional committees would view the legislation by the August recess.
Beyond that stage, it is unclear when the full House might vote, since the US Speaker determines such issues.
According to a press release from Shaheen and Rubio, “Hezbollah has been a dangerous and destabilizing force in the Middle East and around the world for more than three decades, committing countless acts of terrorism, violence and intimidation.”
“Hezbollah is one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations and we must block the group’s access to financial and logistic support,” Shaheen said.
“From the Middle East to our own hemisphere, Hezbollah, backed by its state sponsor Iran, threatens the United States, our allies, and our interests,” Rubio said.
“This legislation highlights the diverse illicit activities Hezbollah engages in to finance its operations and ensures that the United States is using all the tools at our disposal to shut down its networks, wherever they exist,” he added.