Despite Congressional measures to push Hezbollah out of the formal banking sector in Lebanon, Hezbollah has continued to thrive in Lebanon through illicit finance channels and has received funding through its patron Iran. To counteract this, Congress last night unanimously approved the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act, which will now go to the president’s desk.
The bill would require the president to impose mandatory sanctions on Hezbollah’s recruitment and fundraising activities. The bill specifies that any person or entity providing support to Hezbollah-controlled organizations shall be subject to sanctions. Such organizations include Bayt al-Mal (a bank, creditor, and investment arm for Hezbollah), Jihad al-Bina (a real estate foundation run by Hezbollah), the Islamic Resistance Support Association (a charity used to raise funds for Hezbollah military activities), the Foreign Relations Department of Hezbollah (an agency coordinating with foreign states to support the terror group), the External Security Organization of Hezbollah (Hezbollah’s external intelligence and planning group for terrorist activities), or any successor of these organizations.
The legislation also builds on previously passed initiatives by targeting Hezbollah’s media empire – including al-Manar TV, al-Nour Radio, and the Lebanese Media Group – for mandatory sanctions, along with any person that interacts with these entities.
More importantly, this new legislation would allow the president to impose sanctions on Hezbollah as a transnational criminal organization. This is an important recognition of Hezbollah’s long history of utilizing drug cartels and gangs to launder money and raise funds for its malign activities. This relationship with global drug markets has further allowed Hezbollah to fundraise and recruit members throughout Europe, Asia, and South America.
To counter this activity, the new bill calls for sanctions on Hezbollah’s facilitation networks, which would allow law enforcement to target the group even in countries where Hezbollah is not designated as a terrorist group. And as the United Kingdom now considers proscribing Hezbollah as a terror group, this legislation could enhance efforts to curtail the terror group’s activities in Europe.
Lastly, the bill would add additional sanctions on Iran and its allies. Indeed, the legislation mandates sanctions on any foreign government supporting Hezbollah, including agencies or instrumentalities of that state. Sanctions could also be imposed on the governments of Syria and Lebanon, which are known to facilitate and coordinate with Hezbollah.
This congressional initiative aligns with the Trump administration’s policy of containing Iran’s regional aggression, which includes its terrorist proxies. New sanctions pressure can help contain Iran’s most lethal asset in Lebanon but which also has tentacles in Syria, Yemen, and beyond.
Tyler Stapleton is deputy director for congressional relations at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Tyler on Twitter @Ty_D_Stapleton. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.