By INU Staff
INU - US escalation toward the Iranian government and the Lebanese Hizbollah moved forward when on Wednesday, Democratic and Republican members of Congress unanimously voted through measures designed to curb Iran's ballistic missile program and Hizbollah’s funding. Three resolutions were approved, after nearly six months of deliberations and amendments, that tighten the economic screws on Tehran and the Shiite militant party.
Democratic and Republican members of Congress unanimously voted orally in unison, and passed the following resolutions: 1- H.R 359 - Urging the European Union to designate Hizbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization; 2-H.R. 3342 - Sanctioning Hizbollah’s Illicit Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act; 3-H.R. 3329 - Hizbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017 (HIFPA).
On Thursday, Members will vote on Resolution H.R. 1698 - Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act. These Ballistic missile sanctions put a stop to any outside support for Iran's missile program, and are significant in terms of timing and efforts by the Trump administration to push for concessions from Tehran on the issue.
In terms of scope and reach of the proposed sanctions, the HIFPA bill represents the largest escalation against Hizbollah. It authorizes new sanctions against the group and its financial networks, and it requires the US president to release an annual estimate of the net worth of Hizbollah leaders and backers, including its secretary general Hassan Nasrallah.
Also targeted by the bill are Hizbollah affiliates, including Bayt Al Mal, Jihad Al Bina, the Islamic Resistance Support Association, the Foreign Relations Department of Hizbollah, the External Security Organization of Hizbollah, and its media outlets — Al Manar TV and Al Nour Radio.
An expert on Hizbollah at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hanin Ghaddar, said that “official Lebanese visits to Washington in 2017 have somehow succeeded in protecting the Lebanese banks from these sanctions.” She added, "But that doesn’t mean that Lebanon’s economy won’t be affected.”
Joseph Bahout of The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace agrees with Ghaddar. He said “Hizbollah itself has mastered new financial engineering to navigate through sanctions but the real impact will be felt on banking system in Lebanon.” Mr Bahout continued, “If the Lebanese banks were to fully implement all the measures [requested under HIFPA] lots of foreign capital would flee the system.”
Hassan Nasrallah, an Hizbollah leader, previously boasted that “all the banks of the world cannot stand as an obstacle to Hizbollah.” He said, "As long as there is money in Iran, we will have money.”
Ms. Ghaddar said, “Hizbollah will not be directly affected as we all know how money comes from Iran — in bags — and sanctions won’t stop this flow.” However, she also said that this may hurt Hizbollah, as “its backers’ financial assets will have to be revealed, and its institutions will be sanctioned, this will create a serious gap and mistrust between Hizbollah and its community.” Ms. Ghaddar added that as a result, many in business community “will try to distance themselves from Hizbollah for fears of sanctions.”
Mr. Bahout said HIFPA may complicate Hizbollah’s activities locally, “like paying employees of their agencies [that are targeted] or doing business with organizations, commerce tied to them, and a whole range of minute day-to-day annoyances that could follow.”
There are concerns over possible Hizbollah retaliation. Ms. Ghaddar pointed out that the last time a lighter version of HIFPA passed in 2015, “Blom bank in Verdun was blown up few months after.”
The bills will now move to the Senate where another vote is expected, before the new legislations are sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law. This process is expected to take approximately one month.