July 18th, 2019 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina by Hezbollah. According to The New York Times, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of this tragedy, Argentina designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. As part of this designation, Argentina ordered a freeze on the financial assets of the group. The Times of Israel claims this move by Argentina coincided with a U.S. decision to impose sanctions on Salman Raouf Salman, the Hezbollah leader that was suspected of masterminding the attack in 1994. The U.S. sanctions freeze any assets of Salman on the grounds of acting for or on behalf of the terrorist organization Hezbollah. Additionally, The Times of Israel notes the U.S. State Department is offering a $7 million reward for any information on Salman’s location.
Both Argentina and the United States have acknowledged that Hezbollah continues to be a threat. BBC News claims that Argentina’s Financial Information Unit said, “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 New York Times reported that Justice Minister German Garavano explained the importance of Argentina’s actions, “This is a very useful tool that reinforces our legal framework to prevent future actions related to terrorism and its financing. The move also has a symbolic value.” The Times of Israel reported the U.S. Treasury’s comments on the new sanctions. The Treasury claimed, “The new sanctions highlight Hezbollah’s ongoing operational presence in the Western Hemisphere and that [it] continues to pose a threat to the region by actively plotting attacks against civilian targets.” The Treasury said, “Salman provided all necessary support to perpetrate the terrorist attack against the AMIA building, coordinating the activities of the Hezbollah attack squad in Buenos Aires, and maintaining communication with Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon and the operations logistics command center in the Tri-Border Area [of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay]. We think is now probably somewhere in the Middle East.”
The actions taken by both Argentina and the United States are steps in the right direction for combating terrorism. Argentina naming Hezbollah to its terrorist list was important legally because it provides the framework for counterterrorism actions that may be taken against the group. More importantly, it symbolically shows its opposition to the group and its actions. It is a clear stance against the group, and a bold statement that it is prepared to take action against it. The decision to implement sanctions was a good way to put financial pressure on the group and hinder its ability to grow and carry out attacks. Likewise, the United States also called attention to its opposition to the group and has made moves to also weaken the group financially. Sanctions and financial pressure are great non-violent solutions to terrorism. If the resources of a group can be dried up, then the recruitment and power of the group will fall. However, choosing to combat the group in this way does have the risk of retaliatory attacks.
Argentina’s problems with Hezbollah began a quarter century ago. In 1992, Hezbollah launched a bombing on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed more than twenty people. The 1994 bombing killed 85 people and was considered one of the deadliest anti-Semitic crimes since World War II according to The New York Times. Earlier this year, eight individuals were convicted in taking part in a cover-up that obstructed the investigation in 1994. The New York Times also reports that last year the Financial Information Unit set the precedent for the recent sanctions by freezing the assets of the so-called Barakat Clan, which is considered the most direct connection with Hezbollah in the region. They work in a tri-border region and serve as a hub for illegal activity, including funding terrorism. Nearly 30 years after the two bombings, Argentina and the international community are working to end Hezbollah.
The actions of both Argentina and the United States are examples of effective, non-violent approaches to terrorism. Cutting the financing to terrorists helps bring down the organization by decreasing its recruiting and attack capabilities. Publicly adding the group to a terrorist list has symbolically declared Hezbollah to be an opponent to the state of Argentina and opened up legal possibilities for further action against the group. These types of actions encourage other countries to join and hopefully eradicate the group in the future. Only time will tell if the strategy works, or if Hezbollah will strike back against these financial sanctions.