A Hezbollah member carries his weapon on top of a building in Bekaa Valley.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A US congressional committee considering enhancing sanctions targeting Hezbollah’s financial network met with four security experts.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-California), the chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee who called Thursday’s hearing, said the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act (2014) was a “good start,” but that it needed enhancing as the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist organization continues to pose a significant threat to Israel, JTA reported.
The 2014 law, which sanctions anyone who finances the group in any significant way, placed major restrictions and other measures on the Lebanese banking sector, but lawmakers Washington believe that it needs to be broadened to cripple the group which is involved in fighting in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and even Yemen.
Matthew Levitt, the director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that applying secondary sanctions on organizations dealing with Hezbollah in Africa and Latin America “would serve as a powerful reminder of HIFPA’s [the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act’s] global reach.”
Speaking at the hearing, Levitt said that the US must resume sanctioning Iran for its sponsorship of Hezbollah, as it continues to provide financial and military support to the group, according to some estimates to the tune of at least $200 million a year. With that, Hezbollah has more than rebuilt its military capabilities in Lebanon since the 2006 war with the Jewish state, with advanced military hardware able to penetrate deep into Israeli territory.
“Without undermining the JCPOA [the 2015 deal with Tehran], which is limited to nuclear development and proliferation, more vigorous action could be taken against Iranian entities such as the IRGC Qods Force, Mahan Air [an airline based in the Iranian capital], and a host of others involved in Tehran’s support for terrorism,” Levitt said.
Hezbollah operatives also rely on businesses that are shell companies which raise, launder and transfer large sums of money to it. The group also runs a large network of criminal and narcotic rings, based primarily out of Africa as well as in both North and South America.
According to Royce, Hezbollah has “developed a broad criminal network involved in a range of illegal activities – from drug trafficking to cigarette smuggling to money laundering to counterfeiting. These global terrorists double as global criminals.”
Hezbollah is one of the most prominent terrorist organizations in the world, and while it has become bogged down fighting in Syria for President Bashar Assad, Phillip Smyth, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Jerusalem Post
that the group tries to show that it is capable of operating effectively “on a variety of fronts.”
Hezbollah says future war with Israel could take place in Israeli territory (credit: REUTERS)
Meanwhile on Thursday, the Department of Justice confirmed that two American citizens were arrested in early June for planning attacks against Israeli and US targets in Panama and New York for Hezbollah.
Levitt told the Post
that “evidence that Hezbollah has tasked US-based operatives to conduct pre-operational surveillance of US, Israeli and Panamanian interests is highly disconcerting.
But the arrests reveal significant information about Hezbollah modus operandi, including secure communication methods and more.
“It also suggests significant command and control from Lebanon of diverse operatives abroad,” Levitt said.
According to Smyth, while “it’s hard to say what Hezbollah’s capabilities are in the United States,” it “has in the past demonstrated a willingness to attack Jews and Israelis outside of the Middle East,” a reference to attacks by the group against Israeli diplomats in India, against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, and against Jews in Buenos Aires.
“I think certain intelligence operations have taken a toll on some of their overseas abilities. However, that doesn’t mean they will stop. They are a capable force when it comes to operating outside of Lebanon,” Smyth said.