How Washington Can Counter the Rise of Hezbollah

Time to Invoke the Patriot Act

A Lebanese supporter of Hezbollah holds a picture of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, September 2017. Hassan Abdallah / Reuters

Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia and political party, is now the most powerful actor in Lebanon. Since 2006, Hezbollah’s last declared conflict with Israel, the group has amassed military hardware to rival that of a formal standing army and evolved into Lebanon’s most important political power broker. For those who view Hezbollah as a destabilizing force, with links both to terrorism and to Iran, the question is how best to counter this rise. 

In the United States, Congress has taken the debate up in earnest. There are those who wonder whether it is still in the U.S. interest to fund the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), traditionally seen as a check on Hezbollah, given the latter’s dominance of Lebanon’s financial, military, and political affairs. But cutting off Lebanon means ceding it to Iran—a grave diplomatic and tactical error. Instead, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will soon mark up the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act (HIFPAA). This bill will include a range of new sanctions designed to punish Hezbollah for links to international terrorism and target the group’s domestic financial activity. However, HIFPAA may not go far enough. To undercut Hezbollah’s rise and strengthen those in Lebanon aligned with U.S. interests, Congress should call on the White House to designate Hezbollah-controlled regions as areas of “primary money laundering concern” under Section 311 of the USA Patriot Act.

This novel and decisive step would isolate financial entities operating in territories that fall under Hezbollah control—including South Lebanon, Beqaa Valley, and the Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh—by barring correspondent banking relationships between them and any institution using the U.S. financial system. The broad-based nature of a Section 311 designation makes it more potent than the targeted sanctions included in the current HIFPAA bill. Moreover, by specifically and exclusively applying Section 311 to areas of Lebanon under Hezbollah control, the United States would signal its support for elements in the state that have withstood Hezbollah’s efforts to take

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