Members of the U.S. Congress are seeking new tools to stop the flow of cash to the militant group Hezbollah in hopes of reducing its ability to recruit, raise funds and carry out propaganda.
“We have got to double down on the money that's coming in from Iran and coming in from Syria,” said Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and one of the originators of a bipartisan bill to levy new sanctions on the group.
The bill is co-sponsored by Representative Eliot Engel, the most senior Democrat on the foreign affairs committee. Speaking at a recent event on the bill, Engel said this legislation updates U.S. sanctions passed against Hezbollah two years ago.
“I'm a firm believer that we need to do everything we can to isolate Hezbollah – as recruiters, financiers, weapons traffickers and propagandists – and that's why I'm pleased to be the lead Democratic sponsor of Chairman Royce's bill," Engel said.
"This legislation updates the Hezbollah sanctions that we passed two years ago to push back against Hezbollah's financial patrons, including Iran.”
Hezbollah is a Lebanon-based Shi'ite militant group and has enjoyed backing from Iran since its creation in 1982. It has played a major role in the Syrian civil war in support of President Bashar al-Assad, building up its supply of missiles and expanding its influence within the region.
For US, a terrorist organization
The United States has declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization, making it illegal under U.S. law to provide support or resources to the group.
Some analysts say existing sanctions against Hezbollah have failed to seriously reduce its sources of funding.
“Despite the ongoing U.S. sanctions on this organization, Hezbollah’s financial activities remained intact, and its revenues have reached to almost a billion dollar annually,” said Yaya J. Fanusie of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, organizer of the event where Royce and Engel spoke.
Fanusie said Tehran is by far the main source of funding for Hezbollah. “Iran remains Hezbollah’s primary source of financial support and is the [source for almost 80 percent] of it,” he said.
Royce said the proposed legislation would close a number of loopholes allowing funding to reach Hezbollah. “It gives us additional leverage.”
Engel also accuses Russia of helping Hezbollah and said he hopes his legislation will target its enablers.
“Russian coordination with Hezbollah has increased with their support of Hezbollah on the Syrian battlefield," he said.
"And this legislation also targets Hezbollah's fund-raising, recruitment and propaganda activities, as well as those states that are providing weapons, financial, and material support to Hezbollah. Now is the time to choke off Hezbollah's assets, and that's why we must pass this legislation into law.”
The bill recommends sanctions against foreign states that support Hezbollah.