(photo credit: Reuters/Khalil Hassan)
The US House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bipartisan bill on Thursday to block the financing of Hezbollah terrorism and to limit the group’s access to logistical support.
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), a co-sponsor of the bill, said its goal is to “enact tougher sanctions on Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that continues to pose a threat to the United States, its allies, and interests throughout the Middle East and well beyond.
“Hezbollah uses its global financial connections to launder money and help fund terrorist activities,” he continued, adding that the bill would “help stifle that financial network” and give the US more tools to crack down on Hezbollah financially.
The bill does not become law until passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.
In May, US Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), both members of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2014 following its introduction in May by Reps. Schneider, Mark Meadows (R-NC), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Ed Royce (R-CA.) In an extremely short period, the bill has accumulated more than 300 co-sponsors (a number which more than doubled in a matter of weeks and far exceeds the 218 number needed for a majority) in the House 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, based in New Jersey, on April 30.
Terrorism financing has also 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 the Arab Bank for serving as conduits of financing for Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and others.
The US Supreme Court is expected to adjudicate the Arab Bank terrorism financing case as early as Monday.
The legislation broadens financial sanctions against Hezbollah by holding responsible the foreign financial institutions that enable its activities.
The Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act also pursues additional designations and provides for increased scrutiny of support to the terrorist organization and its media offshoot, al-Manar.
For example, the bill extends to Hezbollah many of the same, broader financial sector sanctions that have proven effective in at least bringing Iran to the bargaining table.
More specifically, the bill provides the administration with tools to target and sanction foreign banks that conduct business with Hezbollah and its enablers, and not just domestic banks.
In contrast, current law prevents American financial institutions only from dealing with Hezbollah. The ultimate effect of the prohibition is simply to drive Hezbollah into the arms of non-US financial institutions.
The new legislation seals this gaping 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 still carry Hezbollah’s television station, in spite of the US having designated it as promoting terrorism.
Next, the bill would require the administration to explain why those offending providers have not been penalized for providing material support to Hezbollah’s al-Manar 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.
Regarding whether the current cooperation between the US and Iran on nuclear issues and possibly Iraq could hurt the bill’s chances – such as whether Iran, which directs Hezbollah takes offense at its being targeted – it has been noted that the legislation does not touch on Iran and that nothing in the current US-Iran cooperation addresses the terrorist organization.
It has been noted that President Barack Obama can exercise a waiver on specific issues if deemed necessary. According to Schneider’s spokeswoman, Staci McCabe, the administration has not yet taken a position on the bill. But she added that Reps. Schneider and Meadows shared the legislation and asked for official view from the departments of State and Treasury, as well as the administration generally.
McCabe noted that the bill is bipartisan, popular in targeting Hezbollah, and would likely pass if brought to the House floor. A few weeks ago, she said that she hoped by the August recess that the relevant congressional committees would already have reviewed the legislation – with Thursday’s passage in a key comm