Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative for Iran and senior policy adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, recently told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and International Terrorism that the sanctions on Iran have made it difficult for the Islamic Republic to expand its military capabilities and continue funding proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Tehran-allied Shiite militiamen in Iraq.
In January 2018, Forbes designated Hezbollah the wealthiest terrorist group in the world with an annual income of $1.1 billion, generated primarily by “aid funding from Iran, drug manufacture, and trade.”
Hezbollah controls the lucrative drug trade and money laundering activities across the Western Hemisphere, particularly Latin America, according to U.S. government sources. Still, it receives over $700 million a year – around 60% of its revenue, from Iran.
Hook told House lawmakers that Trump’s maximum pressure campaign on Tehran has forced “Hezbollah and Hamas” to enact “unprecedented austerity plans due to a lack of funding from Iran.”
The Obama administration turned a blind eye to Hezbollah’s drug trafficking activities in Latin America to secure approval of the controversial Iran nuclear deal.
Last year, President Trump pulled the United States out of the very nuclear agreement, something he had been critical of throughout his campaign. Trump reimposed sanctions as part of a wave of restrictions that remain in place today.
Other wealthy financiers of Hezbollah including the Shia Muslim community from Lebanon and elsewhere have also been deterred by a separate set of sanctions targeting companies and banks that conduct business with the group.
In March, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called on his followers to contribute “a ijihad of money” in an effort to compensate for its dwindling revenue streams.
Hezbollah has placed piggy banks in grocery stores and retail outlets seeking the spare change of sympathizers, reflecting desperation. They have even been more pro-active in their fundraising campaign in Yemen — considered one of the poorest Arab countries.
Hezbollah’s social media sites have been telling Lebanese Shias that it’s their “religious duty” to contribute to Hezbollah.
According to an Asia Times report, Hezbollah sanctions on Iran are more detrimental to their income flow than sanctions on the organization itself.
Hezbollah gives compensation to members killed in its conflicts – with Israel/ Syrian rebels and ISIS. Also, they have non-military programs where they maintain children’s playgrounds and Mosques. It is believed that these non-military programs were the first to be defunded given the effect of sanctions.
Most Lebanese Shiites will tell you that they have at least one relative in Hezbollah. Estimates suggest that the organization has an armed strength of 30 000 members. It has many more serving in other roles.
Hook declared that while the Trump administration does not seek war with Iran, it stands ready to “defend our citizens, forces, and interests, including against attacks by Iran or its proxies.”