- Hezbollah sanctions bill unanimously clears House committee, setting up renewed debate over destabilizing illicit finance network
- Israel names Hamas kidnappers, as Netanyahu calls for Abbas to withdraw from Palestinian unity gov’t
New legislation that would establish a range of new sanctions against Hezbollah - and, crucially, against Lebanese and even non-Lebanese entities that facilitate the Iran-backed terror group's illicit financial activities - unanimously passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday by voice vote, just a few months after news leaked that lawmakers were mulling such measures. That the bill would include language establishing so-called third party sanctions, under which banks in Lebanon and other nations would face penalties for knowingly participating in transactions boosting Hezbollah's efforts, had been revealed in early April. The bipartisan legislation had originally been co-sponsored by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Brad Schneider (D-IL), and Meadows had taken to Twitter last month to announce that it had garnered 225 co-sponsors, guaranteeing its passage by the full chamber. The language also targets satellite and other broadcasters that knowingly transmit content from Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV, which the U.S. has formally considered a terrorist entity since 2004. The developments were picked up by Lebanon's Daily Star, which contextualized it against the backdrop of other recent sanctions, including an August announcement by Washington "that it was sanctioning Hezbollah over its support for the Syrian regime" and a September move to impose "further financial sanctions against Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah for giving assistance to Assad." The terror group has been subject to increasingly vocal criticism, both inside Lebanon and abroad, for its seeming willingness to endanger the integrity of the Lebanese financial system in order to carry out global campaigns seen as being done at Iran's behest. Hezbollah had insisted for decades that it was an indigenous Lebanese group promoting Lebanese interests, a stance that had occasionally found sympathy in corners of the Western foreign policy establishment. Some Western diplomats had sought to shield the group from international censure by arguing that it was an integral and stabilizing participant in Lebanese politics. Foundation for Defense of Democracies Research Fellow Tony Badran among others had ridiculed the claim, in no small part due to the degree to which Hezbollah's illicit financial activities - which lean heavily on Lebanese banks - endanger those institutions.
Hamas operatives are behind the abductions of three Israeli teenagers earlier this month, according to Israeli officials who late Thursday released the kidnappers' names. Marwan Kawasma and Amer Abu Aysha had both reportedly been arrested in the past for militant activities, and the release of their identities comes more than a week after Israeli officials up to and including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Iran-backed terror group of being behind the plot. Netanyahu on Thursday called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw from the unity government formed last month between his Fatah faction and the rival Hamas terror group. Hamas involvement in the abductions has for weeks threatened to derail the new government – Avi Issacharoff, who covered the kidnappings extensively, last week quoted a Fatah source insisting that Hamas had promised not to engage in violent operations as a condition for the unity pact. The same source told Issacharoff at the time that Hamas involvement in the kidnappings would be “mark the crossing of a red line” and would void the Palestinian unity agreement.
Following Wednesday reports that Tehran is pouring assets into Iraq, analysts are raising concerns that Iranian efforts in the country, which in recent weeks has seen Sunni extremists overtake portions of the country, could complicate U.S. moves aimed at restabilizing the Iraq. Ephraim Kam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and a former colonel in colonel in the research division of IDF Military Intelligence, on Thursday warned that increased Iranian involvement will harden sectarian divisions in the country, amid the ongoing seizure of Iraqi territory by Sunni fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, predicted that Tehran will “fan the flames of sectarian war in both Syria and Iraq… [and] reflexively try to find common ground with jihadists in anti-American rhetoric.” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs analyst Pinhas Inbari emphasized that - more broadly - the Iranians and Americans are fundamentally split on the strategic level, contrasting Washington's efforts to establish a robust Iraqi central government with the Iranian preference for "Iraq to become a subservient client state.”
Israeli producer Ram Bergman, who is currently producing actress Natalie Portman‘s first film as director, A Tale of Love and Darkness, has been tapped to produce the next two Star Wars episodes. The Rishon Lezion native is considered a rising star in Hollywood thanks to his work on films like Looper and Don Jon. In what American media is calling a surprise move, Rian Johnson has been given the nod to write and direct Episodes VIII and IX. Anyone who has followed Johnson’s career knows that he is considered one of the most prominent directors in the US independent film industry right now. He and Bergman have successfully teamed up before — on Looper and Brick — and now plan to use the Jedi force and take viewers on a journey to a galaxy far, far away. (via Israel21c)
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