Since January 2017, the Trump administration has taken a variety of steps not only to tighten sanctions on Iran, but also to sanction directly its Lebanese proxy Hizballah. Ali Bakeer argues that these measures, if strengthened further and aimed against both the terrorist group’s own financial empire and the financial pipeline from Tehran, can significantly weaken it:
[The] organizational structure and stretched regional agenda of Hizballah require huge financial capabilities. . . . Indeed, since 2006, Hizballah established itself as the second-largest employer in Lebanon after the Lebanese state. Although ideological [and] religious factors are important in securing the support of [Lebanese Shiites], it is mostly through money that Hizballah is able to carry out its agenda and sustain the loyalty and support of a large segment of Lebanese society. . . .
Since its establishment in the early 1980s, Hizballah relied heavily on money from Iran. However, during the last two decades, it has worked hard to diversify its sources of income. . . . To that end, the Shiite party built its own parallel economy inside Lebanon and [engaged] in economic and financial activities across several continents—from Africa to Latin America to Asia. Its activities as “a transnational criminal organization” [to use the U.S. Justice Department’s term] mainly include money laundering, construction, and contracting. . . .
Aware of its financial vulnerability, Hizballah recently slashed its expenditures and is encouraging many of its members and supporters to find jobs working for the Lebanese government. . . .
[However], the sanctions against Iran are not tight enough. Since 2009, the Iranian people have become more sensitive regarding the financial support given by their government to such regional allies as Hizballah. Although more sanctions on Iran might not eliminate its financial support for its ally in Lebanon altogether, they would certainly reduce it and incite more Iranian people to protest against this kind of support. Historical experience proves that whenever the sanctions on Tehran are tight and/or oil prices are low, Iran as a state tends to reduce its support for Hizballah to a minimum.