This week Matthew Levitt, the Fromer-Wexler fellow and director of The Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, testified on Capitol Hill about how Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are going to be the main beneficiaries of the nuclear deal with Iran.
Hezbollah’s benefits from the nuclear deal are only part of the story though. As Hezbollah has expanded from focusing mainly on fighting Israel and internal Lebanese issues, to a major regional, Shiite, Arab power, its funding requirements have gone way up. New money it will receive from Iran will be important, but Hezbollah has in the meantime been busy setting up the networks necessary to support its growing mission. As it has expanded its footprint in Iraq - Levitt noted - Hezbollah has started to invest in commercial front organizations to support its presence and operations in the country.
On June 10 of this year the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated three Lebanese men as supporters of Hezbollah, freezing all of their and their companies’ assets in the U.S. and banning Americans from doing business with them.
Of particular note is Adham Tabaja, who runs a Lebanon-based real estate development and construction firm Al-Inmaa Group for Tourism Works. As Hezbollah has joined the fight in Iraq, supporting the government and helping to spur internecine violence, they have also started using their support network - Tabaja and his associates most prominently - to use seemingly legitimate business initiatives in Iraq to fund their operations. Tabaja’s company’s Iraqi subsidiaries have won business in the oil and construction development businesses. The companies then in turn take the profits from these supposedly legitimate contracts and pass much needed money on to Hezbollah.
Kassem Hejeij is another Lebanese businessman who works with Tabaja and also provides a great deal of support to Hezbollah. In addition to facilitating access to Lebanese banks that allow Hezbollah to have accounts and gain access to credit, Hejeij has also been a part of Hezbollah’s expansion into Iraq where he has invested in the infrastructure that is underpinning Hezbollah’s activities there.
Treasury also sanctioned Husayn Ali Faour whose Car Care Company has provided vehicles to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Faour is a member of Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad wing, which is responsible for carrying out terrorist attacks overseas. Faour has helped Tabaja obtain the projects in Iraq that are helping finance Hezbollah’s terrorism, and he has also provided project management support to Tabaja and his Iraq operations.
Through these designations the U.S. Government is affirming its commitment to fighting terrorism at one of its roots, its financial support networks. Much more can be done to shine a light on where Hezbollah is getting its money and how networks of regional businesses are funding Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.