On July 22, the House of Representatives voted 404-0 to pass legislation that would introduce sanctions on Hezbollah and its foreign assets. Hezbollah has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States since 1995, and operates out of Lebanon. The sanctions aim to financially cripple the group, in turn protecting the Lebanese people from further poverty.
Hezbollah has played a critical role in the conflict in Syria. In April of 2014, the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, boldly stated that the war had essentially ended. He asserted that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had regained control of the country and had won.
Nasrallah spoke as Hezbollah continued to intensify involvement in the conflict, fighting for Assad’s continued reign.
The reaction in Lebanon to Hezbollah’s involvement has been tense, as many fear it may carry the conflict back to Lebanon.
Even without the war taking place in Lebanon, the people feel the effects of the Syrian conflict. As hundreds of thousands of refugees pour into Lebanon, the economy is slipping.
“For each of the conflict years, we found that growth has been 2.9 percent lower than [had the conflict not happened]” Eric Le Borgne, lead Lebanon economist for The World Bank, explains.
IRIN reported in 2013 that 170,000 Lebanese were in danger of falling into poverty for reasons caused by the Syrian conflict. Lebanon is a small country, with a population of only four million, and cannot withstand the surge of 800,000 refugees.
The Syrian conflict, which has generated poverty and destruction outside its borders, not only in Lebanon, but also in other refugee-host countries, such as Afghanistan, has been escalated by foreign involvement. Hezbollah is one of the main contributors to the violence.
Furthermore, Hezbollah is known to be in close alliance with the Iranian government. Recently, Iranian news agency, Fars, published an article titled Iran Urges Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese Resistance Groups to Ink Defense Pact.
Effectively, this means that an attack on one of the groups from Israel would constitute an attack on all of them. The defense pact would heighten tensions in the region, and any attack on one group would involve multiple countries.
Analyzing the effects of the conflict in Syria on Lebanese poverty alone provides reason enough to avoid inflaming conflict.
The new sanctions passed in the House are an important step against poverty. The sanctions would specifically target Hezbollah’s foreign finances by allowing the Department of the Treasury to deny payable-through accounts in the U.S. through foreign financial institutions connected to Hezbollah activity.
The legislation would also allow the President to officially categorize Hezbollah as a foreign narcotics trafficker and transnational criminal organization in addition to its terrorist organization designation.
“Today we have the opportunity to place a critical blow to Hezbollah,” said Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the bill’s sponsor. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., compared these sanctions to the ones placed on Iran over its nuclear weapons development. Engel proposed that the current negotiations with Iran are happening because of the international sanctions.
“This can be done with Hezbollah. This is what we’re trying to do today,” he says, providing a beacon of hope for further peace in the region.
– Julianne O’Connor
Sources: The Algemeiner, IRIN, The Guardian, The Hill