House lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill Monday aimed at cutting off money and propaganda support for Hezbollah.
The Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act urges the Obama administration to turn the screws on financial institutions — including the central banks of Lebanon and other nations — as well as media providers accused to aiding the Shiite militia and its media arm.
House Foreign Affairs Committee members Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Brad Schneider, D-Ill., Introduced the legislation, which also has the support of committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and ranking member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
"It shall be the policy of the United States," the bill states, "to prevent Hezbollah's global logistics and financial network from operating in order to curtail funding of its domestic and international activities; and utilize all available diplomatic, legislative, and executive avenues to combat the criminal activities of Hezbollah as a means to block that organization's ability to fund its global terrorist activities."
The effort, which was first revealed by Al-Monitor last month, comes as lawmakers are seeking to undermine Hezbollah's ability to aid Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria while harming its patron, Iran.
"Hezbollah continues to be a terrorist organization," Engel told Al-Monitor. "It has turned the tide of the civil war in Syria in favor of Assad."
The bill gives the Treasury Department 90 days to prohibit the US accounts or "impose strict conditions on" the accounts of any foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitate the activities of Hezbollah, including money laundering. Domestic financial institutions maintaining accounts for foreign firms will be required to inform Treasury of such activities.
The department can waive those requirements for "national security interests" but must inform Congress.
The bill also requires Treasury to identify any central banks found to be supporting Hezbollah. Sanctions can be avoided if the central bank demonstrates that it has stopped or "taken significant verifiable steps" to terminate such activity and the foreign government has provided "reliable assurances" that support for Hezbollah won't continue in the future.
"This is bipartisan legislation that gives extra teeth to the sanctions already in place targeting Hezbollah," said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former counterterrorism analyst at the Treasury Department. "The key to making this a success is for Treasury to identify financial targets in places like Latin America and West Africa, where Hezbollah has been known to operate. It will also be interesting to see if Lebanese banks are targeted, given Hezbollah's rather obvious exploitation of them and Treasury's reluctance to target them in the past."
The bill also gives the president 30 days to provide Congress with a full list of all satellite, broadcast and other providers that "knowingly" transmit the content of Al-Manar TV. The bill requires a breakdown of which providers have been sanctioned and which haven't — the United States designated Al-Manar a terrorist entity in 2004 — and an explanation for the latter.
The effort follows years of warnings from the Obama administration to Lebanon that its financial sector — a key part of the nation's economy — must do more to crack down on ties with Hezbollah.
The Treasury Department blacklisted the Lebanese Canadian Bank in 2011, accusing it of laundering $200 million worth of drug proceeds per month. Soon after, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Terrorist Financing Daniel Glaser traveled to Beirut to warn Lebanon that its banks risked being blacklisted for helping Syria evade sanctions. And last year, Treasury sanctioned two Lebanese exchange houses, Kassem Rmeiti & Co. and Halawi Exchange Co., for the same reasons.
The Meadows bill further gives the president 30 days to determine whether Hezbollah meets the requirements for designation as a significant narcotics trafficker under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act or a significant transnational criminal organization. Both designations would give the government more authorities to target the group.
Hezbollah has denied involvement in the drug trade.
"They say a lot of things that are far from reality and are part of the media war against Hezbollah," Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah told Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in 2012 in the premiere of his now-defunct show on Russia Today.
The bill will be referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction on sanctions legislation in the House of Representatives.