August 10th, 2012
06:17 PM ET

U.S. Official: Hezbollah, Iran continue to pose terror threat

By Jamie Crawford

Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based Shiite militant group, and its patron Iran continue to pose serious terror threats around the world, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

"Our assessment is that Hezbollah and Iran will both continue to maintain a heightened level of terrorist activity and operations in the near future," and could launch attacks "with little or no warning," Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, told reporters in a conference call Friday.

"We have not detected any operational activity of the group in the United States," Benjamin said of Hezbollah's activity. "They certainly have been the subject of law enforcement actions in the past primarily for fundraising and illicit activities related to that, but we do not have any information on operational targeting or anything like that in the U.S., but that said, it's a very ambitious group with global reach."

The comments come the same day the United States Treasury Department announced sanctions against Hezbollah for its operational and logistical support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Benjamin's comments came during the call with reporters to explain the sanctions against Hezbollah.

Hezbollah was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States in 1995. In the same conference call with reporters, David Cohen, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, told reporters the group was responsible for killing more Americans than any other terrorist group until the attacks of September 11, 2001, by al Qaeda.

Cohen said the repression of al-Assad's regime "is intolerable and we believe there is high priority on exposing the support Hezbollah has given to Syrian government." While Hezbollah is already subject to a wide range of U.S. sanctions, Cohen said, the purpose of such designations is "not solely focused on the immediate financial impact" of an organization, but to expose the activity of the party designated to the rest of the world, for conduct that led to it."

In addition to the sanctions against Hezbollah, the United States also imposed sanctions on Syria's state-run oil company Friday for conducting business with Iran's energy sector the State Department announced.

The action against Sytrol, was taken under the authority of a legislative amendment to the Iran Sanctions Act, which sanctions entities deemed to be conducting business with or assisting Iran's energy sector.

"Though these sanctions are a direct result of Syria's provision of gasoline to Iran, the United States views Iran's broader support for the Assad regime as completely unjustifiable," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a written statement. "Iran is actively advising, supplying, and assisting the Syrian security forces and regime-backed militias that are carrying out gross human rights abuses against the Syrian people."

The sanctions come the same day the Treasury Department sanctioned the Lebanese-based Shiite militant group Hezbollah for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. It also follows recent U.S. legislation and additional executive orders from the Obama administration that target Iran's energy sector in an effort to get the regime to negotiate with the United States and western powers over its disputed nuclear program.

In April of this year, Syria sent Iran 33,000 metric tons of gasoline worth over $36 million, the State Department said. That figure significantly exceeds the monetary threshold for triggering sanctions under the law.

The Obama administration says the extensive trade between Iran and Syria allows the regime in Tehran to continue developing a nuclear weapons program, while providing the Syrian government with resources attack its own people.

"The revelation that Sytrol sold literally tons of gasoline to Iran is a reminder about the dangerous and ongoing relationship between these two pariah states and that sanctions against the Iranian regime, if fully implemented and enforced, can also hurt its Syrian partner," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

"While I am pleased that the administration took this step to punish a Syrian company selling gas to Iran, there remain a vast number of entities getting a free pass for their ongoing business dealings with Tehran. We can and must do better. Time is of the essence," she said.

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