National Security

Lawmakers Demand New Hezbollah Sanctions to Thwart Another Mass Explosion in Beirut

Hezbollah hiding missiles beneath residential buildings

Aug. 4, 2020, explosion in Beirut / Getty Images

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is demanding the White House take action to sanction Hezbollah leaders following the disclosure of new evidence indicating the Lebanese terror group is manufacturing and stashing weapons beneath residential buildings in Beirut.

Lawmakers recently were made aware that Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant group, is storing precision-guided missiles and related components under civilian buildings in and around Beirut, endangering those who live in these areas. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are now petitioning the Trump administration to take immediate action against Hezbollah, according to a letter sent to the White House on Wednesday and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The letter comes just after a Hezbollah-linked explosion in southern Lebanon last month as well as a massive explosion in Beirut that killed hundreds and wounded nearly 7,000 civilians in August. Many blamed the explosion on Hezbollah and its practice of storing arms and explosives in highly populated areas to maximize civilian casualties if the facilities come under attack by the United States, Israel, or other Western nations. The volatile nature of these weapons means that Hezbollah operatives working at these illicit missile factories could make a mistake that pulverizes the building above.

"These factories could be viewed as military targets and therefore put at risk the civilians living above them," the lawmakers wrote in a letter led by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "The September 22, 2020, explosion at a facility in southern Lebanon underscores the risks posed by Hezbollah's habitual and purposeful positioning of weapons in civilian areas. The chance of a disaster at sites such as this is far too high to allow this practice to continue unchecked."

Hezbollah missile depots have been located in Beirut's Laylaki and Chouaifet neighborhoods, according to information seen by the lawmakers.

The letter also was signed by Reps. Thomas Suozzi (D., N.Y.), Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.), Josh Gottheimer (D., N.J.), Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), Brad Schneider (D., Ill.), Vicky Hartzler (R., Mo.), Dan Lipinski (D., Ill.), Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.), and Randy Weber (R., Texas).

The lawmakers requested that the Trump administration quickly move to sanction Hezbollah leaders under recently passed legislation barring the use of human shields, or the practice of putting civilians in harm's way. Authority granted to the president under the 2018 Shields Act allows sanctions to be placed on any person or entity that uses human shields. The president has yet to exercise his right to sanction Hezbollah or any other group under this law.

"While the U.S. government has taken strong measures to counter Hezbollah and Hamas in recent years, it has yet to sanction these entities specifically for their use of human shields," the lawmakers wrote. "Adding human shields to existing sanctions regimes would make clear the U.S. government does not tolerate those who put civilians in harm's way and would encourage like-minded countries to take similar measures."

Orde Kittrie, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, said there has been an uptick in Hezbollah's use of human shields. Other terror groups such as Hamas send children into war zones to maximize civilian casualties and generate headlines.

"The administration has not yet imposed any sanctions pursuant to the Shields Act," Kittrie said. "It is time for the U.S. government to implement the Shields Act and hold terrorists and their material supporters publicly accountable for the war crime of using human shields."