A recently passed U.S. law approves new sanctions against Hamas and Hizbullah, a strategy that some analysts see as part of a plan to drive Iran back to the negotiating table
The U.S. Senate passed two bills last week which approved the implementation of sanctions against Hamas and Hizbullah, two groups that are widely recognized as terrorist organizations. The move, which aims to directly weaken these groups, comes amid the Trump administration’s growing pressure on Iran with renewed economic sanctions ever since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal last May.
The two bills were passed with wide support from both Republicans and Democrats. One law, called the “STOP Using Human Shields Act,” condemns and penalizes the tactic of utilizing non-militant civilians to deter retaliation. The other, titled the “Hizbullah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017,” seeks to create a mechanism with which to undermine the financial networks of the Lebanese terrorist group.
The provisions of the two laws go beyond those of past U.S. legislative attempts to rein in terrorist activities. In addition to authorizing the imposition of sanctions on governments, agencies, and individuals, the laws also allow for the creation of new terrorist monitoring systems.
Specifically, the second bill requires U.S. senators to be updated with bi-annual reports on banks that could be financing Hezbollah, authorities outside of Lebanon who allow Hizbullah to operate on their territory, and the estimated net-worth of Hizbullah members.
Middle East experts have expressed cautious optimism about the potential effectiveness of the new measures.
Eytan Gilboa, a professor of communications and international relations, told The Media Line that “Trump is a business man who imposes sanctions all over the place, thinking that it is an effective means of achieving goals.
“These moves,” he continued, “seem to be part of a comprehensive plan to increase the pressure on Iran. Iran is already reporting significant economic disruption, so it is unlikely that it will be able to continue providing the estimated $1 billion that it has been contributing to its proxy organizations, Hizbullah and Hamas. As such, these groups will have to find other means of raising funds.”
Samuel Sandler, an expert on Israeli foreign policy and national security at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told The Media Line that “sanctions often take time, especially when not backed by the European Union which is actively attempting to circumvent U.S. pressure. It is even possible that Russia will step in to soften the blow on Iran.”
The EU’s reluctance to side with the U.S. has been a complicating factor when it comes to assessing the effects of this legislation and bills like it, Gilboa explained.
“There is a fundamental disagreement between the U.S. and Europe with regard to Iran,” he said, explaining that both entities consider Iran’s nuclear threat and missile development a top priority. But Europe hopes to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, while the U.S. wants to scrap it.
The Obama-era deal sought to put measures in place to prevent Iran’s development of nuclear weapons in exchange for removing the crippling international sanctions placed on the Islamic Republic. The EU has been persuading Iran not to abandon the deal, while the U.S. is trying to pressure Iran back to the negotiating table.
While the U.S. has designated Hamas and Hizbullah “global terrorists,” the harshest designation that includes all their branches—political and military, Europe has done so only with these groups’ military branches.
This distinction gives the EU more leeway in leveraging sanctions, which may help it persuade Iran to remain within the confines of the nuclear deal, an approach that contrasts boldly with the U.S., which aims to continually ramp up pressure.
“U.S. measures are accompanied by secondary impacts,” Gilboa said. “Businesses and banks that continue to deal with Iran will face repercussions in U.S. markets. This causes businesses in Europe to pressure EU authorities to desist in their efforts to circumvent American sanctions.”
Analysts expect more U.S. pressure on Iran before the November elections. “U.S. Treasury Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin has projected additional stringent sanctions in November, which indicates that the U.S. might have a comprehensive plan to continually raise its pressure on Iran,” Gilboa said.
As the U.S. midterm elections near, questions have been raised about how a possible Democrat majority in Congress could affect U.S. policies toward Hamas, Hizbullah, and Iran.
“Congress might be able to slow down the pace of sanctions, but Trump will still be president,” Nir Boms, a counter-terrorism expert at the Tel Aviv University, told the Media Line.
“Furthermore, protests in Iran by women, trade unions, and students have already shown that the people are not and will not be happy with continued funding of terrorist groups amid economic troubles. But the EU is still sticking to the opposite line and much remains to be seen about that,” Boms added.
As disagreements persist between the U.S. and Europe on the Iran nuclear deal, experts seem to agree that U.S. sanctions are drawing Iran into a more vulnerable situation. What remains to be seen is whether organizations like Hamas and Hizbullah—in light of the U.S. laws restricting their finances and freedom of action—will be pushed into a corner and act out of desperation, or will scale back their terrorist activities.
(Victor Cabrera is a student intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)