U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairwoman of the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, held a hearing on Tuesday on “Hezbollah’s Threat Against U.S. National Security Interests in the Middle East.” Ros-Lehtinen said the following in her opening statement:
Before we begin today, I would just like to say, and I’m sure speaking on behalf of all our Members, that we condemn in the strongest terms the terror attacks in Brussels today and our condolences are with those impacted by this evil and with the people of Brussels. We stand ready, willing and able to assist our European allies with whatever they need to root out these terrorists and hold those responsible accountable. I think today’s attacks and the subject matter of today’s hearing only serve to further underscore the need for all of us – the U.S., our allies, all – to do more to combat and destroy ISIS and other terrorist groups, like Hezbollah, and it has to start with finding a comprehensive plan for Syria that includes defeating all the terror groups and seeing Assad removed from power. We certainly have trying times ahead, but I am confident that these terrorists will not change our way of life and that freedom and democracy will ultimately triumph over this radical extremism and hatred.
Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and the Arab states and Iran, these are all some of the top priorities for U.S. national security interests in the Middle East. And one of the common denominators here – one thing at the center of all of this – is the U.S. designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, Hezbollah. This Shiite Islamist group is an Iran proxy group that is known to be one of the world’s most dangerous and capable terror organizations, trained and equipped and funded by Iran’s Qods Force. Hezbollah has been responsible for some of the world’s most infamous terror attacks, including the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, the 1994 AMIA Jewish Community Center bombing in Buenos Aires, and the bombing of a bus in Bulgaria which targeted Israeli citizens.
But this is just a small fraction of the terror activities, as Hezbollah is present around the world, including an alarming presence right here in our own Hemisphere, where it is involved in drug trafficking, smuggling networks, and terror operations. The U.S. designated FTO has been responsible for provoking war with Israel, most recently in the 34-day conflict in 2006 which saw the militant group launch over 4,000 rockets indiscriminately into northern Israel. Hezbollah is responsible for destabilizing Lebanon’s political scene, and is growing its influence and presence there, much to the detriment of Lebanon and her people. Hezbollah was found to be responsible for the assassination of the former prime minister in 2005. And of course, Hezbollah has been used by the Iranian regime as ground forces to protect the regime’s interests in Syria.
With all of this, it is clear that Hezbollah represents a growing threat to our national security interests, especially in the wake of the sanctions relief that the Iranian government has received as part of this weak and dangerous nuclear agreement. Hezbollah receives financial and materiel support from Iran, and now with the regime receiving this financial windfall of over $100 billion, it is not only reasonable to expect Iran will increase its support for its proxy, it is as near a guarantee as one can have. With the terror group being such a vital arm of Iran’s foreign policy agenda, we would be silly and ignorant to expect that it wouldn’t use this as an opportunity to strengthen this vital extension of its damaging apparatus.
This is likely one of the major driving forces behind the Gulf countries and Arab League making the decision to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. This designation, regardless of the motivations, was a step in the right direction and we’d like to see more of that from our GCC partners in fighting terror groups like Hezbollah, and that includes doing more to combat terror financing in those countries. But it is encouraging, and we should seek to work with them in an effort to cut off Hezbollah’s support from Iran and eliminate the threat that it poses. Saudi Arabia has cut its military assistance to Lebanon in part because of Hezbollah’s undue influence in Beirut and the Lebanese government. That undue influence led the Lebanese Justice minister to resign. This should be sounding alarm bells for the administration – not only is it allowing Iran and Hezbollah to push us around in Syria, but it is allowing Iran to grow its influence in Lebanon and extend its grasp in the region.
Now we have Hezbollah on the border with Israel in Lebanon and we have Hezbollah in the Golan Heights, and just because it is preoccupied with the fight in Syria doesn’t mean it has turned a blind eye on Israel. Make no mistake about it – the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah has nothing to do with Hezbollah not wanting to fight Israel. It has everything to do with the terror group restocking and building up its missile and rocket stockpile so that it can once again launch an all-out attack against the Jewish state. In fact, with all the chaos going on in Syria right now, it has helped Iran and the Assad regime in their efforts to smuggle more weapons and more ammunition and more sophisticated weapons systems to the terror group. And that includes some advanced Russian-made weapons systems, which could seriously jeopardize Israel’s security. Any time we have Russia, Iran and Hezbollah operating in the same theater with the same objectives, it cannot be good for the security and stability of the region. It is an imminent threat to our friend and ally, the democratic Jewish state of Israel, and it is a great threat to our national security interests in the region, as the proxy war between Iran and some of our GCC allies threatens to escalate.
The Obama administration needs to do more to counter Hezbollah and Iran in Syria, which means delivering a comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS and the Assad/Hezbollah/Iran nexus. It needs to do more to take action to combat the weapons transfers from Russia to Iran and to Hezbollah in Syria. The president needs to use the tools at his disposal to sanction Hezbollah and cut off its network. And the president needs to realize that foregoing old alliances in the region to legitimize relations with, and legitimize itself, the Iranian regime is a strategic calamity that will have terrible consequences for the region and for our national security interests for years to come.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., was first elected to Congress in 1989.