This week, Congress will consider three pieces of legislation aimed at cutting off the funding streams that Hezbollah uses to fill its coffers and perpetrate terrorism. These bills include the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act, a measure to sanctions Hezbollah for its use of human shields, and a resolution to pressure European countries to designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Together, these measures seek to isolate Hezbollah from the international community, limit its access to banking and illicit finance networks, and prevent Iran from pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the terrorist organization.
A recent study of Hezbollah’s finances estimates that the group has an annual budget of roughly $1 billion, a figure that has grown substantially over the past 15 years. While fighting alongside the Assad regime has proven costly, Hezbollah continues to expand its arsenal of rockets and other sophisticated weapons that pose a grave danger to Israel. To combat this threat, Congress is now taking action to try and limit how Hezbollah resources itself and how it acquires advanced weapons technology.
The Hizballah International Financing and Prevention Amendments Act (HIFPAA), which passed unanimously in the Senate and will now be considered on the House floor, goes beyond previous efforts to cut Hezbollah off from the formal banking sector, including the central bank of Lebanon and financial institutions abroad. The new legislation hopes to move the U.S. closer to several long-standing goals: severing the ties between Hezbollah and its patron state, Iran; increasing pressure on financial institutions that do business with Hezbollah; and thwarting the group’s ability to recruit and fundraise globally.
An important feature of HIFPAA is the imposition of mandatory sanctions on foreign persons who recruit and raise funds on behalf of Hezbollah. The bill also includes sanctions on foreign states, agencies, and instrumentalities of a foreign state that support the terror group yet have escaped designation. This is especially important as it would target various Iranian entities, including quasi-governmental organizations that provide support to Hezbollah. In a complementary move, Congress passed in July the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which required the president to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a whole for their support of terrorism, an action Treasury took earlier this month.
Congress will also consider a resolution to encourage the European Union and its member states to designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Currently, Europe employs a false distinction between the political and military wings of Hezbollah, applying sanctions only to the latter. There is no such distinction in practice, a point that Hezbollah itself acknowledges. Rather, the group’s political and fundraising efforts support terrorism, the subversion of the Lebanese state, and Hezbollah’s continued military alliance with the Assad regime.
A third measure to be considered this week would sanction Hezbollah officials who are complicit in using human shields to protect military targets during conflict. This is in line with the Geneva Conventions, which outlaw the use of civilian populations to deter military operations.
Together, these three new measures expand the means at America’s disposal to combat the destabilizing force that Hezbollah represents. The threat posed by Hezbollah should concern U.S. allies in both the Middle East and Europe, not to mention U.S. citizens who have been targeted by Hezbollah, including U.S. services members killed by the terrorist organization.
Tyler Stapleton is deputy director for congressional relations at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Tyler on Twitter @Ty_D_Stapleton
Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD.