Hezbollah faces new US sanctions bill targeting flow of illicit financing
London- The US House of Representatives has approved bipartisan legislation to block the flow of illicit money to Iran-backed Hezbollah militants and to sanction the group for using civilians as human shields.
The measures were approved by voice vote as lawmakers took aim at what they called Tehran’s leading terrorist proxy.
The bill targeting Hezbollah’s finances, sponsored by Representatives Ed Royce and Eliot Engel, directs the Trump administration to sanction people and businesses engaged in fund-raising and recruitment activities for Hezbollah. Royce, a California Republican, is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Engel, from New York, is the committee’s top Democrat.
Hezbollah is a member of Lebanon’s coalition government and the House of Representatives’ measure touched off alarms in Beirut, where officials said they feared major damage might be done to the country’s banking sector if the bill is enacted.
Joseph Torbey, chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, had earlier said that US officials reassured a Lebanese banking delegation that recently visited Washington that the sanctions will not target Lebanese banks if they abide by American regulations.
Washington considers Hezbollah a terrorist organisation and has previously imposed sanctions on the group and its top commanders. The expected new sanctions come at a time the Trump administration is increasing pressure on Iran, Hezbollah’s main backer. It has been supplying the group with weapons and money for more than three decades.
Hezbollah’s major role in the Syrian civil war highlights the part played by Iran’s proxies in regional conflicts. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said: “Iran provides extensive material, financial, training and logistical assistance to its regional partners. For example, Iran has supplied Hezbollah with as much as $200 million each year.”
Another House bill calls on the president to push for the UN Security Council to impose international sanctions against Hezbollah for the group’s use of civilians as human shields.
A separate House resolution urged the European Union to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organisation. The measure says the European Union in 2013 gave only the terrorist designation to the group’s so-called military wing. Hezbollah “continues to conduct illicit narco-trafficking, money laundering and weapons trafficking throughout Europe,” the resolution stated.
“These critical measures will impose new sanctions to crack down on Hezbollah’s financing and hold it accountable for its acts of death and destruction,” Royce said.
Winning international support for an intensified campaign against Hezbollah could prove challenging. It is part of Lebanon’s fragile coalition government and commands enormous influence through the social services it provides to the Lebanese Shia communities.
The Iran-backed group said the measures were a “blatant intervention in Lebanese internal affairs, a violation of Lebanese sovereignty and an unacceptable targeting of the Lebanese people.”
A Hezbollah official earlier told the Associated Press that US sanctions would not affect the operational activities of the group, calling them part of efforts to “demonise” Hezbollah.