Date: Jul 19, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Argentina brands Hezbollah a terrorist organization
Cassandra Garrison| Reuters
BUENOS AIRES: Argentine authorities designated Hezbollah, which it blames for two attacks on its soil, a terrorist organization Thursday and ordered the freezing of the group’s assets in the country.

The announcement coincided with a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as Argentina marks the 25th anniversary of the deadly bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in which 85 people died. Argentina blames Iran and Hezbollah for the attack. Both deny any responsibility. Argentina also blames Hezbollah for an attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 that killed 29 people.

“We commend Argentina for designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, an important step in cutting off its ability to plot terrorist attacks. The world is recognizing Hezbollah for what it is - a terrorist proxy of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo tweeted.

The Argentine government’s Financial Information Unit ordered the freezing of assets of members of Hezbollah and the organization a day after the country created a new list for people and entities linked to terrorism. “At present, Hezbollah continues to represent a current threat to security and the integrity of the economic and financial order of the Argentine Republic,” the unit said in a statement.

The freezing of assets automatically places Hezbollah on Argentina’s registry, designating it a terrorist organization, a government source with direct knowledge of the action confirmed.

The designation is the first by any country in Latin America.

Last year, Argentina froze the assets of 14 members of the Barakat clan, an extended family that officials say has close ties to Hezbollah.

U.S. and Argentine officials say Hezbollah operates in what is known as the triborder area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, where an illicit economy funds its operations elsewhere.

Several Hezbollah MPs in Lebanon refused to comment on Argentina’s decision.

It is not yet clear whether the new designation will lead to other concrete actions against Hezbollah in the area, but some kind of U.S. security support, including increased intelligence sharing, could follow, said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Wilson Center’s Argentina Project in Washington. Argentina’s decision to join the U.S. in designating Hezbollah a terrorist group is a significant win for President Donald Trump’s administration and could put pressure on Brazil and Paraguay to follow suit, Gedan said.

The U.S., looking to revive a security relationship that suffered after a souring in diplomatic ties during the previous administration of President Cristina Fernandez, views President Mauricio Macri as a partner, particularly as traditional European allies have been slower to offer support amid U.S. tensions with Iran.

“Clearly, they are not a good replacement for European allies, because they don’t engage Iran significantly, so they cannot put on the same commercial and economic pressure as the Europeans,” Gedan said of Washington’s allies in Latin America. “But at least it gives the impression that the Trump administration is not standing alone,” he said, adding that the U.S. put significant pressure on Argentina to prepare the announcement in time for Pompeo’s visit.

Other U.S. allies that designate Hezbollah or its military wing a terrorist organization include Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and Israel.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz tweeted that Israel welcomed Macri’s “important decision” to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Macri for the designation. “It is time the entire enlightened world understand the grave danger Iran and Hezbollah pose. It is time the entire world stand up against it,” he said from occupied Jerusalem. - With The Daily Star