WASHINGTON – On the heels of Hezbollah’s claim Monday that it helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad defeat the insurgency in his country, a carefully crafted bipartisan bill is being introduced in Congress that would toughen economic sanctions on the Iranian-backed jihadist group and political party.
The Hezbollah International Financial Prevention Act is sponsored by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
The bill takes a comprehensive approach to the threat posed by Hezbollah by imposing severe new sanctions on its fundraising channels and restricting its ability to use its funds to support global terrorist activities.
Dealing a blow to Hezbollah’s finances would reduce its capacity to sow instability in the Middle East, the sponsors argue, cutting off a major source of terrorist support.
Hezbollah has close ties to the Assad family going back to the 1980s.
Engel pointed out that the “threat of Hezbollah has grown substantially as the region becomes more unstable.”
“Hezbollah’s actions in Syria – directed by their patrons in Iran – have helped keep the Assad regime in power,” he said.
The New York Democrat said Hezbollah “must be held responsible for their destructive actions in Syria and the threat that they continue to pose to our ally, Israel.”
Engel said he supports the bill because he believes it will give the administration the tools they need to break any lifeline to Hezbollah.
Meadows said the U.S. “must deal with Hezbollah firmly and decisively with unyielding resolve by crippling its extensive, illegal financial network.”
“Hezbollah’s days of unhindered criminal operations and terrorist activity are numbered,” said Meadows.
Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, agreed.
“This much is clear: should the U.S. fail to adapt the culture of our law enforcement and intelligence community, to enact appropriate laws and procedures and to commit the necessary resources and resolve, we will find the war on terror that much harder to fight, lasting that much longer in duration and exacting that much higher and tragic a cost in human life,” he said in a statement posted on his website.
Levitt explained that counter-terrorism is about restricting the target’s ability to operate within a given environment and making it difficult for it to function at every level, from conducting operations in fronts for charitable contributions to financing, raising and laundering funds.
“Only with greater international coordination will authorities succeed in targeting Hezbollah’s international financial support network and constricting the operating environment in which this designated terrorist organization currently thrives,” he said.
Levitt pointed out that prior to Sept. 11, Hezbollah was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist organization.
“Since that time their capabilities have grown, enabling them to attack the U.S. and our allies around the world – from the Philippines, to Bulgaria and in even on our doorstep in South America,” he said.
“We cannot afford to ignore this threat. This vital legislation empowers the administration to strike at Hezbollah’s fundraising and international financing.”