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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

The world should follow the US clampdown on Hezbollah

The Iranian proxy has destabilised large areas of the Middle East. This cannot be allowed to continue

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addresses supporters via a screen in Beirut. Reuters/Aziz Taher
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addresses supporters via a screen in Beirut. Reuters/Aziz Taher

So severe is the polarisation of modern US politics that the Democrats and Republicans seldom agree on anything. Therefore, the unanimous passage through Congress of two bills targeting Hezbollah on Friday indicates the gravity of the threat posed by the Iranian proxy. Together the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017 and the STOP Using Human Shields Act take aim at Hezbollah and the individuals and companies that sponsor it. They will curb Hezbollah’s ability to destabilise the Middle East – from Yemen to Syria – in service of Tehran’s regional ambitions. The war in Syria has already exacted a significant loss of life and revenue on the group, while US sanctions on Iran have hit Hezbollah’s chief backers. Any measures that further limit Hezbollah’s access to funds are highly welcome, because the group’s activities must be isolated and curtailed – for the sake of regional stability.

In May 2013, Nigerian authorities arrested a trio of Hezbollah agents who were in possession of enough weaponry to, in the words of a Nigerian public prosecutor at the time, “sustain a civil war”. It was an indication, five years ago, of the terrifying spread of Hezbollah’s activities, which now span the Middle East and large areas of North and West Africa. The group emerged with Iranian backing in Lebanon in the 1980s, with the aim of repelling an Israeli invasion. Today, it is firmly enmeshed in Lebanese politics, which gives its military endeavours a veneer of legitimacy. This is a model that Tehran would like to see exported to Yemen, Syria, Iraq and further afield. That cannot be allowed to happen.

In order to send a stream of fighters into Syria and to sponsor the Houthi rebels in Yemen with weapons and financing, Hezbollah has relied on narcotics and weapons trafficking, which compromise the stability and sovereignty of other nations, not least those in the Gulf. But the individuals and companies on whom the organisation relies operate in a wide range of sectors. When Hezbollah financier Kassim Tajideen was hauled before a US judge last year, it emerged that he oversaw a multi-billion dollar supermarket, construction, property and diamond empire in Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, funnelling revenue to Hezbollah in the process.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, there are concerns that Hezbollah has long used civilians as cover by operating in residential areas. As US Senator Ted Cruz, who sponsored the STOP bill, said late last month: “In just the last few weeks we’ve seen new evidence that Hezbollah is using Lebanese civilian infrastructure as military depots.” The fact that the US Congress is stepping up its action against Hezbollah is reassuring. The rest of the world should open its eyes and follow suit, because, put simply, a wealthy Hezbollah makes for a deeply insecure Middle East.