”Our goal is to liberate the 1948 borders of Palestine [Jews] can go back to Germany, or wherever they came from.” That not-so-subtle threat came from a Hezbollah spokesman a dozen years ago. Increasingly, it’s looking like more than bravado.
In the decade since, that threat has mushroomed under the sponsorship of Iran. One prominent Israeli reports that Hezbollah’s arsenal contains some 150,000 missiles and projectiles, “several thousand of which have a range that cover the entire State of Israel.” The current Hezbollah arsenal includes surface-to-sea missiles, anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft missiles and drones. Thanks largely to Iran, Hezbollah’s unofficial army, which led former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to describe Hezbollah as the “A-Team of terrorists,” outguns Lebanon’s official army.
I was in Israel during its 2006 war with Hezbollah. I witnessed some of the 4,000 missiles fired into the northern city of Haifa, clearing its ports and streets. Hezbollah had just 10,000 missiles then. Having seen that carnage, it is sobering to contemplate Hezbollah with more than 100,000 missiles, and even more Iranian money, high-tech weapons and technical support. Hezbollah, as committed as ever to Israel’s destruction, is clearly seeking to overwhelm Israel’s U.S.-backed Iron Dome missile defense system.
The Hezbollah-Iran threat is not isolated to Israel, though. It is easy for Americans to forget that prior to Sept. 11, 2001, Hezbollah was responsible for killing more Americans than any other terrorist organization: 241 Americans in the 1983 bombing of the Beirut Marine barracks. Some of the propaganda techniques we see the Islamic State and al Qaeda use today were pioneered by Hezbollah, which runs its own TV network.
More recently, we have seen the Hezbollah model proliferating throughout the Middle East under Iran’s direction. The Hezbollah-Iran alliance is active in Syria, where it props up Bashar Assad’s regime and is smuggling even more advanced weapons into Lebanon. Meanwhile Iran is reconstituting Shia militias in Iraq and undermining U.S. interests by fueling sectarian divisions in that country. Iran continues to sow unrest in Bahrain and supported the Houthi militia that recently overthrew the U.S.-friendly Hadi government in Yemen.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the Obama administration grasps the fact that this terrorist alliance is rapidly expanding and undermining U.S. interests and allies in the Middle East. Nor does the administration seem concerned that its nuclear negotiations with Iran seem poised to reward Tehran with billions in sanctions relief and the infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon. Imagine Hezbollah backed by a nuclear-armed Iran.
To prevent that nightmare scenario, President Obama must urgently overhaul his Iran-Hezbollah strategy. First, the administration must not take a “bad deal” in its nuclear negotiations. Any agreement that does not effectively dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons capability and gives a financial windfall to Tehran is a winner for Hezbollah.
Second, the president could back the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act. This legislation, which will soon make its way through Congress, would impose new sanctions on businesses that help facilitate Hezbollah’s terrorist activities, including the satellite providers that broadcast its propaganda and the foreign banks that knowingly provide it hard currency. The bill also targets Hezbollah’s drug trafficking and other criminal activities. This bipartisan bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate last year.
Lastly, the president must clearly articulate and implement a policy that rolls back Hezbollah and Iranian influence throughout the Middle East by supporting those Arab partners most being undermined by Tehran. This means providing security assistance and political support.
The Obama administration’s Middle East policy is a growing concern to allies and many in Congress. But working together, there is still time to shift policy for the sake of the security of the United States, Israel and our other Middle Eastern allies. Mr. President, it is time to bring an “A-game.”
• Rep. Ed Royce, a California Republican, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.