Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Sens. Cruz, Cramer, Reps. Zeldin, Luria Introduce Bill to Curb Hezbollah Influence on Lebanese Forces, Combat Growing Threat Toward Israel

June 18, 2019   |  202-228-7561

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.) today introduced the Countering Hezbollah in Lebanon's Military Act of 2019, which would withhold 20 percent of U.S. military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) unless the President can certify they're taking necessary steps to end Hezbollah and Iran's influence over the LAF.

United Nations Security Council resolution 1701 calls upon the Lebanese government and LAF to prevent armed groups like Hezbollah from operating in South Lebanon. In December 2018, Israel uncovered six sophisticated cross-border tunnels built by Hezbollah in South Lebanon, which included stairs, a rail system and wide passageways allowing for the movement of equipment and forces, intended to cause substantial harm to Israeli civilians by enabling terrorists to sneak across the border and carry out attacks.

"United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 required the Lebanese Armed Forces to disarm Hezbollah, and the United States gives military assistance to Lebanon to enforce that resolution," Sen. Cruz said. "Last year I secured language requiring an evaluation of whether the resolution was being implemented, and now it's time to take the next step and reassess the assistance we provide if Iran continues to exert influence on the LAF directly or through Hezbollah."

"Israel is our greatest ally in the world's most dangerous region; a threat to them is a threat to us," said Senator Cramer. "Hezbollah is a state sponsor of terrorism, undeserving of assistance from the United States or any country we choose to support. Lebanon must separate itself from Hezbollah's influence, and this legislation urges them to do so."

"Hezbollah has overwhelming political and military influence in Lebanon that presents an imminent geostrategic threat to Israel, and with Iran providing Hezbollah with hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of missiles, Hezbollah's threat to Israel is greater than ever," said Congressman Zeldin. "Meanwhile, the United States is pouring over $1.7 billion in foreign assistance into the LAF as it reportedly takes resources from this flagrant terrorist organization and Iranian puppet. The United States must fight against Iranian influence and stand with our nation's greatest ally - Israel."

"I am proud to work with Congressman Zeldin on a bipartisan effort to combat Hezbollah's influence," Congresswoman Luria said. "We should continue to exert pressure on governments that partner with terrorist groups and threaten our ally Israel. Having visited the border of Israel and Lebanon, I recognize the gravity of this situation and I urge Congress to swiftly pass our bill to curb Hezbollah's presence and impact."


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Reps. Zeldin, Meng, Deutch, Billrakis Urge Germany to Designate Hezbollah as Terrorist Organization

June 13, 2019 Press Release

WASHINGTON - Today, Representatives Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1), Grace Meng (D, NY-6), Ted Deutch (D, FL-22), and Gus Bilirakis (R, FL-12) urged Germany to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. This call follows Germany's failed vote in the Bundestag on June 6, 2019, to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.

In 2013, Germany, as part of the European Union, designated Hezbollah's military wing only.

Since 2016, multiple international entities, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and United Kingdom (UK), have labeled Hezbollah's political and military wing as a terrorist organization, and the Members are urging Germany to do the same and designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.

A PDF of the signed letter is available here.

Full text of the letter is as follows:

Her Excellency Angela Merkel

Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Dear Madame Chancellor,

We write to you today to express our concern over the recent failed vote in the Bundestag to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.  We appreciate your government's commitment to fighting terrorism, and we believe that taking the step to designate the political wing of Hezbollah will have a significant impact on Hezbollah's activity in Europe and around the globe.

Since 2016, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and United Kingdom (UK) have labeled Hezbollah's political and military wing as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, has overwhelming political and military influence in Lebanon that presents an imminent geostrategic threat to Israel. Iran has provided Hezbollah with approximately $800 million annually for military equipment and supplied over 100,000 missiles in southern Lebanon, including the capability of building more missiles. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has clearly expressed his intent to spread jihad and wipe Israel off the map. The threatening influence of Hezbollah extends beyond Israel and poses a tremendous risk to the security interests of Europe as a whole. As you know, your intelligence service has detailed that the number of Hezbollah members and supporters has increased to 1,050 in 2018. The growth of support for Hezbollah will also contribute to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, which has already resulted in deadly attacks against Jews. That is why we strongly urge Germany to take substantive action against Hezbollah through sanctions and other means that will hamper their ability to project influence in the region.

We support the steps that Germany has already taken by designating Hezbollah's military wing, and believe that it is critical that Germany take into full consideration the impact that designating Hezbollah's political wing will have on the terrorist organization's dangerous activities. The alliance between our two countries, whether for combating terrorism or supporting democracy, has been a cornerstone of the transatlantic relationship and NATO alliance, and our coordinated efforts have been critical to our collective national security. That is why we hope that Germany will consider this decision to once and for all, fully designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

U.S. and Argentina Convene Workshop on Countering Hizballah’s Terrorist Activities in the Western Hemisphere


The United States and the Government of Argentina convened a workshop on countering Hizballah's terrorist and illicit activities in the Western Hemisphere on June 11-12 in Buenos Aires. Law enforcement, prosecutors, and financial practitioners attended from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru, as did representatives from Ameripol. The workshop was held in advance of the upcoming Western Hemisphere Ministerial that the Government of Argentina will host July 19 in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Hizballah attack on the Mutual Israelite Association of Argentina (known by its Spanish acronym AMIA) community center in Buenos Aires.

The workshop focused on Hizballah's modus operandi globally and its terrorist and criminal infrastructure and activities in the Americas. Participants discussed various techniques to constrain and counter the group's illicit activities, including the financial and law enforcement tools available to identify, investigate, and prosecute Hizballah's global support and facilitation networks. Participants also discussed Hizballah attempts to continue and expand fundraising in the Western Hemisphere, especially in light of the current financial pressure on Hizballah.

Officials from the U.S. Departments of State, Justice, and the Treasury, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Counterterrorism Center, and Drug Enforcement Administration also participated in the meeting.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Together on the front lines: How the US and UN are promoting stability in Lebanon

The Lebanese Armed Forces have made notable progress in size, strength and capability

Posted May 29, 2019 5:00 AM

OPINION — Certain things become clear when you fly over the "Blue Line" — which separates Lebanon from Israel — in an open helicopter.

As the first members of Congress to visit this contentious stretch of land in over a decade, we realized that even though we come from different political parties, we have much more in common than we might have thought. Between the three of us, we share a strong support for a safe and secure Israel, a desire to counter ISIS and Hezbollah, and an understanding that Lebanon needs international help to manage the next phase of the Syrian conflict and the more than 1 million refugees currently living in the country.

We know now that these intentions are not incompatible, and we've developed recommendations to ensure the United States can act more effectively in the region.

Without question, the U.S. is Lebanon's primary security partner, providing $1.7 billion in aid since 2006. Over that time, we've wisely invested in the Lebanese Armed Forces, or LAF, a stabilizing and moderating force in the country. 

This support is important because we know that a weak Lebanese military would leave the country even more vulnerable to unwanted Iranian influence. The situation is already on shaky ground as the presence of Hezbollah, the Islamic republic's local political party and terrorist proxy, brings a constant fear of violence to the nearly 9 million people living on the other side of the Blue Line.  

Over the past decade, with assistance from the U.S. and the international community, the LAF has made notable progress in size, strength, and capability. It now operates with 75,000 troops and has plans to grow its naval operations with four additional speedboats expected to join its fleet this year.

In a meeting with Gen. Joseph Aoun, the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, we learned that LAF soldiers used to each shoot a measly 10 rounds per year, but now with better training and equipment from the U.S., they shoot 5,000 rounds per year.

A stronger relationship

In fact, many Lebanese soldiers do their training at military bases in our home states and across the U.S. This partnership shows the appreciation the LAF has for our military capability, and bodes well for a stronger working relationship and better collaboration in future operations.

During our visit to the border, we also learned that the U.S. isn't Lebanon's only partner. The United Nations and its peacekeeping force, the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, also play a vital and stabilizing role for the country.

Some 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers from 43 countries work side by side with the Lebanese army and navy. Joint exercises with LAF personnel constitute a core element of UNIFIL's mandate. In just one year, from July 2017 to June 2018, almost 700 joint activities were conducted on land and sea.  

Over the past 10 years, this joint force development has paid off.  In August 2017, for example, the Lebanese army launched a huge operation to drive the last ISIS stronghold from the country. During the "Dawn of the Hills" campaign, LAF commanders effectively used a combination of special forces, round-the-clock surveillance, drones and armored vehicles, and close air support. The success of the mission proved this is a viable, long-term option for Lebanon's security, separate from Hezbollah.      

Behind the scenes, UNIFIL acts as a key broker between the Israeli and Lebanese defense forces. In the absence of a mutually accepted or even visible border, the U.N. is delineating a Blue Line of markers and barrels to help avoid inadvertent crossings by residents and to help reduce tensions between the two countries. 

The U.N. also moderates an ongoing discussion between the two forces, providing military leaders with a means to discuss infractions, find solutions and maintain the calm. Since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, which began in southern Lebanon, the U.N. has played an important role in helping keep the peace across the area.

In this current environment, with relative quiet on the border and a dramatically improved Lebanese military, we need to capitalize on our footprint here. We certainly acknowledge the LAF is not without fault nor does it operate entirely free of Hezbollah's influence. Notably, the LAF is currently unwilling to rid southern Lebanon of Hezbollah missiles, an area of grave concern we expressed to Gen. Aoun during our meeting.

Still, we do see the potential for the LAF to continue growing as a Hezbollah counterweight, especially as the U.S. ramps up its efforts to disrupt the finances of these terrorist groups.  

Moving forward, the U.S. can bolster bilateral support for the LAF, enticing even more of its personnel to train at U.S. military bases, while also ensuring greater focus on weeding out the influence of Hezbollah. While the LAF works to strengthen its defenses, we should push for the full funding of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.

We can also ensure the U.S. maintains its support for the U.N. refugee agency, or UNHCR, and other humanitarian organizations helping Lebanon deal with the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, which has put a massive strain on the limited resources of this small country and others in the region.

With a population of approximately 4 million citizens and 1 million Syrians, Lebanon is the largest per capita refugee hosting nation in the world. Despite this, the country has shown remarkable generosity since the Syrian war began in 2011, but the government and populace are showing signs of fatigue.

Fighting terrorism

With continued U.N. humanitarian and development assistance, we can help the Lebanese government both politically and economically, while also reducing opportunities for ISIS or Hezbollah to incite dissent in disaffected communities. Plus, this aid — administered by UNHCR and UNICEF —provides vital schooling to over 200,000 Syrian children, as well as vocational and job training programs that help prepare refugees who want to return home and restart their lives.

Looking out over the Blue Line, we saw a complicated situation but a great opportunity for continued progress and real potential for eliminating Hezbollah.

While more steps need to be taken, the goals outlined above could be accomplished by our government this year and would make a valuable difference in a conflict that has caused immeasurable harm and suffering. We firmly believe that with hope and opportunity, and greater stability in the region, freedom will prevail and a lasting peace can be achieved.

Reps. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, and Vicente Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat, serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Tom Graves, a Georgia Republican, serves on the House Appropriations Committee. They recently traveled to Lebanon to assess the impact of U.S. aid.