WASHINGTON (JTA) — A congressional committee convened to consider enhancing sanctions targeting Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia and Iranian ally.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee who called Thursday’s hearing, said the 2015 Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act was a good start, but one needing enhancement as Hezbollah still remained a threat to Israel.
“Part II of this legislation is coming,” he said in his opening remarks. “But unfortunately that’s of little comfort to Israelis staring down an arsenal of rockets that sit just across the border in Lebanon, or the Syrians being slaughtered at the hands of these terrorists.”
Hezbollah is a Lebanese militia designated by the United States to be a terrorist group. It launched a war against Israel in 2006 and is also seen as a proxy for Iran. It was founded with the support of Iran following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and Hezbollah and Iran are now helping to prop up the Assad regime in Syria, where a civil war continues to rage.
Witnesses counseled, among other measures, expanding existing sanctions on financial institutions connected to Hezbollah to include “secondary” sanctions, targeting entities that deal with the sanctioned institutions. Matthew Levitt, the director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said applying secondary sanctions on organizations dealing with Hezbollah in Africa and Latin America “would serve as a powerful reminder of HIFPA’s global reach.” HIFPA is the acronym for the 2015 law.
The Anti-Defamation League, submitting written testimony, made a similar recommendation. “Despite the public exposure of Iranian and Hezbollah operatives in the deadly 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Argentina, Hezbollah continues to enjoy financial benefit through relations with regional-based transnational criminal organizations,” the ADL said. Hezbollah has never acknowledged a role in the bombing, which killed 85 people.
David Asher, a finance expert testifying on behalf of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, described the reach of Hezbollah’s alleged criminal enterprises, which he said funds its terrorist activities.
“Hezbollah, partnered with Latin American cartels and paramilitary partners, is now one of the largest exporters of narcotics from South and Central America to West Africa into Europe and is perhaps the world’s largest money laundering organization,” he said in his testimony.
Royce spoke about how Hezbollah has garnered its military influence: “Since its inception,” Royce said, “Hezbollah has developed a broad criminal network involved in a range of illegal activities – from drug trafficking to cigarette smuggling to money laundering to counterfeiting. These global terrorists double as global criminals.”
Separately, the U.S. Justice Department on Thursday announced the arrests of Ali Kourani and Samer El Debek, for allegedly conducting activities on behalf of the terrorist organization.
Their alleged responsibilities included finding weapon suppliers in the United States to as well as identifying U.S. and Israeli military targets in the New York area and in Panama, the Justice Department’s statement said. NBC reported that they also surveilled La Guardia airport and FBI headquarters in New York City.