US Republicans and Democrats unite to fight Hezbollah
The US Senate cleared two major bills sanctioning the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, passing both unanimously with bipartisan support.
Legislators sent the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017 to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign in it into law in the coming days.
That bill and the “Stop Using Human Shields Act” clear the way for sanctions against the Iranian-funded group.
The US will use the first bill to pursue foreign people and companies that voluntarily provide financial, material or technological support to Hezbollah and its affiliates.
It will apply sanctions on Hezbollah-controlled social and financial organisations such as Bayt Al Mal, the Islamic Resistance Support Association, Jihad Al Binaa, the Foreign Relations Department of Hezbollah, Al Manar TV, Al Nour Radio and the Lebanese Media Group.
The bill also requires the president to report to Congress on Hezbollah’s transnational activity, including any money laundering and narcotics activity across Latin America, the African continent or Asia and Europe.
It also allows the US to go after state sponsors of the Lebanese party.
The human shields prevention act will impose sanctions on groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Al Qaeda, which Washington accuses of using civilians as human shields in conflict.
The bill eliminated a requirement for the president to go to the UN Security Council and enact a human shields resolution.
It will now go to the House of Representatives for another vote before being referred to Mr Trump.
Tyler Stapleton, a deputy director at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, told The National that unanimous support for the bills across shows where Congress stands on Hezbollah.
“It means that every senator
thinks targeting Hezbollah’s finance is a good policy objective and that sanctioning countries that do business with Hezbollah is worth pursuing,” Mr Stapleton said.
He said that – particularly with the financing amendment act – “sanctions could also be imposed on the governments of Syria and Lebanon” if they were found to be helping and co-ordinating funding for Hezbollah.
This pressure may complicate matters for the group inside Lebanon, said Randa Slim, director of the Track II Dialogues Programme at the Middle East Institute think tank.
Ms Slim, who has studied Hezbollah extensively, told
The National that the bills “further complicate Hezbollah’s financial situation, which has already been weakened by four factors”.
These included the costs of Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria and US sanctions on Iran, which are cutting into Hezbollah’s money supply from Tehran.
Then there were fears among Hezbollah’s Lebanese financiers after the arrest and extradition to the US of Kassim Tajeddine, a major Hezbollah backer arrested in Morocco last year.
Lebanon’s worsening economic conditions also put more strain on the group’s core constituency.
Asked if the sanctions would affect Hezbollah’s stake in the future Lebanese government, Ms Slim did not expect major changes. “This has already been factored into their calculus,” she said.