US steps up fight against terror financing with Hezbollah sanctions
In a significant move to combat the financing of Hezbollah, the US Treasury Department last week imposed terrorism sanctions on a family network spanning seven individuals and several businesses with ties to Lebanon and South America. Among those targeted was Amer Mohammed Akil Rada, a Lebanese man alleged to have played a role in two deadly attacks in Argentina during the 1990s.
This decisive action underscores the unwavering commitment of the US government to pursue Hezbollah operatives and financiers, regardless of their locations. Brian Nelson, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, emphasized this commitment in a statement following the announcement.
Authorities have described Rada as “one of the operational members” behind the horrific attack on the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires in 1994, which resulted in the tragic loss of 85 lives, with hundreds more people wounded. Another attack on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina in 1992 claimed the lives of 29 individuals. According to the Treasury Department, Rada spent more than a decade in South America before relocating to Lebanon. During his time in South America, he managed a charcoal business that regularly exported goods from Colombia to Lebanon. Shockingly, he used a substantial portion, specifically “80 percent of the proceeds of his commercial enterprise,” to benefit Hezbollah.
Apparently, crime runs in the family. The sanctions also targeted Rada’s brother, Samer, who faces accusations of involvement in various drug trafficking and money laundering operations across Latin America. He was previously based in Belize but fled due to a drug-related case. He was part of a smuggling operation that attempted to transport a staggering 500 kg of cocaine, valued at $15 million, which was concealed within fruit shipments that were seized in El Salvador.
The US decision was not just an isolated action but was testament to the resolve of the country to counteract the global reach of Hezbollah and to dismantle its financial network. The militant group, backed by Iran, has a long history of terrorism financing and other illicit activities worldwide. Targeting individuals and entities involved in supporting terrorism sends a powerful message that America will not stand idly by while those who seek to harm innocent civilians or undermine global security continue to operate with impunity.
When discussing Hezbollah’s terrorist activities and funding sources, it is impossible to ignore the significant role played by Iran. The intertwining connections between these two entities have long been a concern for global security. In 2020, the US State Department estimated that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful branch of the Iranian military, provided an annual assistance package of approximately $700 million to the terrorist organization and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah. This financial support has allowed Hezbollah to sustain its operations, expand its influence and continue its agenda of violence and instability in Lebanon and other areas in the Middle East.
To be truly effective, international cooperation is essential, as Hezbollah’s network spans multiple countries and regions.
The Trump administration’s decision in 2019 to label the IRGC as a terrorist organization underscored the gravity of the situation. This move clearly recognized the IRGC’s involvement in supporting various terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and several militias in Iraq and Syria, as well as the need to hold it accountable for its actions.
Furthermore, the IRGC’s influence has extended beyond financial support. The group has been funding and arming various factions and militias in the region, some of which have utilized roadside bombs and missile barrages against US forces stationed in the Middle East. Since President Joe Biden assumed office, there have been nearly 100 reported attacks against American troops in the region, either directly orchestrated by Iran or carried out by its proxy militias.
These attacks underscore the complex and evolving dynamics in the Middle East, where long-standing regional tensions intersect with the global struggle against terrorism. Iran’s actions, including its support of Hezbollah, have contributed to a volatile environment where diplomatic efforts to de-escalate and stabilize the region face significant challenges.
Addressing this multifaceted issue requires a comprehensive and strategic approach. It necessitates continued vigilance in countering Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah while also engaging in diplomatic initiatives to reduce tensions and promote regional stability.
What steps has the Biden administration taken? It engaged in negotiations with Tehran, allowing for the release of five detained Americans in exchange for the unfreezing of $6 billion of Iranian assets. It is not possible to accurately predict the percentage of unfrozen Iranian assets that might go to Hezbollah or other militia groups in the region, nor can one estimate how much of these funds could potentially be used for terrorist activities against the US or its allies in the region, especially Israel.
The concern over the potential diversion of funds to groups with hostile intent is valid. It underscores the importance of robust monitoring and verification mechanisms in any agreements involving unfreezing Iranian assets. International oversight and accountability are critical factors in ensuring the released funds are used for legitimate, nonthreatening purposes.
While the sanctions against Hezbollah’s financiers are undoubtedly a significant step in the right direction, the fight against terrorism financing remains an ongoing battle. To be truly effective, international cooperation is essential, as Hezbollah’s network spans multiple countries and regions. It is a reminder that the fight against terrorism is a shared responsibility that requires collective global action.
• Dalia Al-Aqidi is Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Policy.