Members of the US House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday voted in favor of two draft laws on Hezbollah, which is listed by the US as a foreign terrorist organization.
The first restricts Hezbollah’s ability to fundraise and have access to the international financial system; the second condemns Hezbollah for using civilians as human shields during warfare.
The two bills are expected to receive bipartisan support when they reach the US House, according to press reports.
Louis Hobeika, a Lebanese economist and university professor, said that the “act is unfair to Lebanon.”
Hobeika added: “The United States is determined to discard facts and insists on punishing Hezbollah even though Lebanon tried its best to prove it is fighting terrorism. Apparently, this is an internal US problem and Lebanon is being used as a tool to let off steam.”
“These sanctions will negatively impact investments in Lebanon as well as the banks. We will waste so much time trying to prove to the US that Lebanon is innocent — which is the truth — at a time when the US insists on deeming us guilty,” Hobeika explained.
Sources in a Lebanese delegation that visited Washington last July and met with members of Congress said that they had aimed to mitigate the damage to Lebanon, especially when a sanctions act had been previously passed in 2015 and is currently being strictly imposed.
The Lebanese delegation sought to exclude sanctions on the second party clients. The new draft act includes sanctions on anyone who receives a salary from Hezbollah, which could have wide repercussions on Lebanon’s economy. This is expected to get amended to impose sanctions directly on concerned individuals and firms found to be involved in financing Hezbollah.
In addition to freezing assets and preventing banks and financial institutions from dealing with individuals or institutions included in the sanctions, the act also prohibits the issuance of US visas to those involved. Moreover, the act imposes sanctions on non-Lebanese countries and bodies if found guilty of supporting Hezbollah, whether financially or economically through investments.
“Our message back then was clear: What you are doing is pressuring Lebanon and hurting its economy as well as its stability even though you insist you care for the country and support the Lebanese army,” a source in the Lebanese delegation said.
“Expatriate remittances to Lebanon are key for financing the country’s economy, and these sanctions mean that there will be unnecessary scrutiny that will lead to a downturn in the cash inflow.
“During our visit to Washington, Congress listened to the Lebanese concerns, understood them and said that the sanctions would target individuals who are breaching the public financial system or those with suspicious financial transactions, and, most likely, the Foreign Relations Committee delayed passing these sanctions after reviewing them in the light of what they heard from us.”
“The Lebanese Parliament passed financial laws that comply with international standards on trans-border cash movements, and the Central Bank is keen on abiding by these laws which were approved by the US Treasury, which in turn described Lebanon’s compliance with international standards on many occasion as ‘amazing’.”
Sources in the Lebanese delegation to Congress added, “What we heard back then was that a group of congressmen were lobbying in support of tightening sanctions on Hezbollah, and we know how active the Israeli lobby is, but Lebanon is fighting terrorism and combating money laundering and the smuggling of antiquities, which is documented by the US.”
The sources also pointed out that “the amendments included names of Hezbollah officials targeted by the sanctions, but did this really require the passing of a new act? Congress had no answer for this question, and we believe this has to do with the administration of the US President Donald Trump, which has issued warnings to Iran but couldn’t do anything beyond these threats, and this makes Lebanon a consolation prize with regard to internal US bargains. The Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017 may be passed either within a month or by the end of this year.”
Lebanese MP Yassin Jaber said the new sanctions would negatively affect his image and the banking sector. He also explained that he fears the US president would further amend the act because he has the power to do so. “We must wait for the final decision to assess the damage it’ll cause Lebanon,” he said. “In my opinion, Lebanon will not be capable of bearing these sanctions.”