By Eli Fosl
While still mourning the lives lost in the attacks on Belgium last Tuesday, the U.S. Congressional Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa intensified pressure on the Obama administration to take more forceful measures to combat Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organization.
Following Hezbollah’s designation as a terrorist organization by both the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League, Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) called on President Obama to deliver a comprehensive strategy to combat the growing group, which she called one of the world’s most dangerous and capable terror organizations.
“The Obama Administration needs to do more,” she said.
Ros-Lehtinen emphasized that Hezbollah’s strength, as well as its most serious threat, came from its relationship to Iran and Russia.
The chairwoman said that Hezbollah had been given enforcements and funding from the Iranian government in order to protect Iran’s interests in Syria. Hezbollah has and continues to fight on the side of the Assad regime in Syria.
Ros-Lehtinen also blamed the “weak and dangerous” nuclear agreement between Iran and the United States for Hezbollah’s growing threat, and claimed it was as near of a guarantee as one can have that the increase in funds to Iran will lead to an increase in funds for Hezbollah.
According to Ros-Lehtinen, Hezbollah has been given advanced weaponry from Russia as well.
“Any time we have Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah operating in the same sphere with the same objectives,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It cannot be good for the security and stability of the region.”
Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Florida) reiterated some of the worst attacks attributed to Hezbollah, including the 1992 Israeli embassy bombing in Argentina, which killed 29; the 1994 bombing of the Imad Jewish Center, which killed 85; and the attack on a bus of tourists in Bulgaria in 2012, which killed six.
He also said that Hezbollah was mainly responsible for the destabilization of the Lebanese government.
Although Hezbollah has been a designated U.S. terror organization since 1997, Deutch said, it still operates freely around the world as a so-called political group, which allows it to fundraise throughout Europe and Latin America.
Both Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen underscored that Hezbollah’s biggest threat to U.S. National Security was its threat to Israel.
According to Deutch, Hezbollah was created as a resistance group determined to destroy the state of Israel.
Ros-Lehtinen said Hezbollah was responsible for firing over 4,000 rockets into Northern Israel in 2006, and although it was currently occupied with Syria, it would soon turn an eye back to the Israeli state, which she called a close friend and ally to the U.S.
“Make no mistake about it, the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah has nothing to do with Hezbollah not wanting to fight Israel,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It has everything to do with the terror group restocking… so that it can once again launch an all-out attack against the Jewish state.”
Deutch criticized the lack of action taken to disarm Hezbollah, which both he and Ros-Lehtinen outlined as the most crucial and effective way to take on the group.
Deutch demanded the international community step up its efforts to support the United Nations Security council. He claimed the U.N. peacekeeping missions in Lebanon do not have the ability to disarm Hezbollah because there is no enforcement mechanism.
The House heard from three witnesses: Dr. Matthew Levitt, Tony Badran, and Dr. Daniel Byman, all experts on counter-terrorism, security and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
The witnesses enforced the points made by congressional members, emphasizing the growth of Hezbollah as a real, militarized threat, while also underscoring the organization’s involvement in drug and weapon smuggling and warfare.