The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved three bills that would give the Trump administration more economic tools in the global war against radical Islāmic terrorism. Frankly, some of these measures are not necessary. President Trump has the statutory and constitutional power to impose most of the proposed sanctions; however, if the Congress wants a voice in these matters, then legislate it will. Yes, Congress wants to tell the administration what to do. And, sometimes, it can.
One bill takes aim at Hizbollah, one of Iran’s favorites allies in Iran’s global destabilization network. Hizbollah and other fellow travelers’ tentacles reach Latin America and they have committed acts of terror in the region, that we know of, since the early 1990s. In addition to new economic sanctions that urge the President to target Hizbollah global financial web, legislators are also, again, pushing the European Union designate Hizbollah a terrorist organization. President Bill Clinton named Hizbollah a terrorist organization in 1997. Most European leaders lack the courage to do this, mostly because of Iran.
One of the Congressional proposals targets Iran’s ballistic missile program. The Iranians were upset and wasted no time igniting a rhetorical volley that lasted all week and well into this past weekend. Hassan Rouhani said last Monday that “[n]o decisive actions can be taken in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, North Africa, and the Gulf region without Iran’s consent.” It was a jab at Uncle Sam, especially in Lebanon where Iran coddles and supports Hizbollah. On Saturday, Rouhani piled on, stressing that Iran “will produce any weapons of any kind that we need and stockpile it and use it at any time to defend ourselves.” When Rouhani says “any kind” of weapon, he’s talking about the gamut, from suicide bombers to ballistic missiles.
The civilized world that Iran secretly wishes to be a part of expects the rhetorically challenged Iranian regime to go unhinged when the ‘great Satan,’ does or says just about anything that Iranian regime officials deem insulting. This is especially true when it discussing economic sanctions. It is political kryptonite. However, what caught my attention last week was not Iran’s rants, but Lebanese politicos. Several Lebanese politicians issued a series blunt statements about Rouhani’s missive that nothing can happen in places such as Beirut without Iran’s consent.
Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri posted several statements via Twitter stressing that Lebanon is an “independent Arab state that will not accept any guardianship, and refuses any violation to its dignity” from Iranian leaders.
Hariri’s Future Movement Bloc parliamentarians issued a joint communiqué saying that it was “now obvious that Iran aspires to take control of Lebanon and the region. Several Iranian officials have expressed this wish over the past few years, and we were misled into thinking that they were moderate and open-minded.” Meanwhile a leading member of the second largest parliamentary bloc Lebanese Forces, Antoine Zahra, also chimed in saying that Rouhani’s remarks
“proves the truth that we always say: that Hizbollah is part of an Iranian project in Lebanon and the region, while they have been misleading people and saying otherwise.”
The political back and forth with the Lebanese and the Iranians is nothing new. Lebanese politics is a melange of competing power centers that never seem to agree on anything; however, if any foreigner publicly crosses the sovereignty line, then things can get ugly. What politician wants to look weak? That is what Rouhani did, stuck it to the Sunnis and the Christians. Why does any of this matter now? The Lebanese, in part, are trying to implement a new electoral law that if done the wrong way could plunge the country into chaos and Hizbollah with more political power that it, and Iran, already wield in Lebanese politics.
As the economic noose continues to tighten around Hizbollah’s global terror-financing network, expect the war of words to escalate in the weeks and months to come. As far as relations between the Americans and the Lebanese governments, expect the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration to demand more from our friends in Beirut to kick Hizbollah to the sidelines or, ideally, farther out. Certain Lebanese political leaders should know by now that it is not business as usual. Time will tell if they are reading the political tea leaves correctly.
A senior-level Congressional delegation visits Beirut this week. I hope they are carrying a strong message from the U.S. taxpayer that the days of Uncle Sam looking the other way while Iran, through its proxy, Hizbollah has its way in the region, may be coming to an end. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf region allies would like to make that so. As was the case with the terrible Iran Deal, the Obama administration did a really bad job in working with the many groups and interested parties in Lebanon, and elsewhere, to control the Hizbollah adventurism. As the 1992 and 1994 terrorist attacks in South America illustrate, and other since the United States cannot ignore Hizbollah adventurism.
The Congress needs to do more than economic sanctions, but they are as right a place to start as any these days. They should work closely with the Trump administration to make it so. Getting a better handle on export controls and Lebanese Armed Forces would also be a good thing. There will likely be new projects coming online with allies in places such as Latin America to crush Hizbollah terror financing networks. Whatever is done, it should not be business as usual.