Iran’s Lebanese terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, finds itself in dire financial straits after years of sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies, a top U.S. Department of Treasury official told lawmakers this week.
Adam Szubin, the Treasury’s acting under secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that America and the international community have tightened the reins on Hezbollah.
“After many years of sanctions targeting Hezbollah, today the group is in its worst financial shape in decades,” testified Szubin, who is considered the architect of U.S. sanctions against Iran. “And I can assure you that, alongside our international partners, we are working hard to put them out of business.”
Szubin went on to note that the nuclear deal that Iran struck with five U.S.-led world powers last summer, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has not hindered America’s ability to target Hezbollah.
“Ultimately, we are clear-eyed about the nature of the non-nuclear threats posed by Iran,” he declared. “We will continue to combat these threats using a range of tools at our disposal – including by enforcing existing sanctions, and by designating new targets when appropriate.”
A day after the nuclear deal was announced, President Barack Obama admitted that Iran will likely use the billions of dollars in sanctions relief it is expected to receive under the agreement to fund terrorist organizations it uses as surrogates, such as the anti-American, anti-Semitic group Hezbollah, which was founded in the early 1980s with the help of Ayatollah Ruhollah Moosavi Khomeini in an effort to export Iran’s Islamic Revolution. President Obama made similar acknowledgements in August.
“Let’s stipulate that some of that money will flow to activities that we object to. … Iran supports terrorist organizations like Hezbollah,” conceded the U.S. President. “It supports proxy groups that threaten our interests and the interests of our allies — including proxy groups who killed our troops in Iraq.”
“The truth is that Iran has always found a way to fund these efforts, and whatever benefit Iran may claim from sanctions relief pales in comparison to the danger it could pose with a nuclear weapon,” he added.
Some analysts estimate that Iran provides up to $200 million to Hezbollah annually.
While testifying this week, Szubin acknowledged that Iran “supplies funding and weapons to Hezbollah.”
“In late January, we sanctioned a major Hezbollah financial support network, which was laundering criminal proceeds to support Hezbollah’s terrorism and destabilizing activity,” he told House lawmakers. “And just last month, we published new sanctions regulations to implement the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 – a law which gives us yet more tools in our campaign to destroy Hezbollah’s financial networks.”
Hezbollah maintains a presence in the Western Hemisphere.
In Latin America, the terrorist group has established “an extensive regional network of supporters and sympathizers” and “also maintains an infrastructure with the capability to conduct or support terrorist attacks,” U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) chief Adm. Kurt Tidd, who oversees U.S security in the region, said in an annual statement submitted to Congress earlier this year.
On March 10, the SOUTHCOM commander told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran has established a “longstanding presence” in Latin America through Hezbollah, adding in the annual statement, “As a state sponsor of terrorism, Iran’s nefarious involvement in the Western Hemisphere also remains a matter for concern.”
Hezbollah is believed to be the most prominent Islamic terrorist group in Latin America, generating millions through various illicit activities in the region, including money laundering and drug trafficking.
Citing U.S. officials, the Times of Israel reports that five members of a Hezbollah cell in Europe were arrested in February and charged with “using millions of dollars from cocaine sales in South America to buy weapons for Syria” where the group has been fighting in support of the country’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad.
The Times of Israel notes:
Among those arrested in the raid were leaders of the Lebanon-based terror group’s European arm, accused by Washington of laundering Hezbollah funds through a Lebanese front company. The international probe uncovered a network of couriers who collected and transported millions of euros in drug proceeds from Europe to the Middle East. Large amounts passed through Lebanon en route to terror organizations such as Hezbollah.
In March, Adm. Tidd warned, “While Iranian engagement [in the Western Hemisphere] has waned in recent years, President Rouhani recently indicated that Tehran intends to increase economic, scientific, and cultural ties with Latin America though he has made this same pledge several times since his election in 2013.”