By Cassandra Garrison
BUENOSAIRES (Reuters) – Argentinian authorities designated Hezbollah, which it blames for two attacks on its soil, a terrorist organisation on Thursday and ordered the freezing of the Lebanese Islamist 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 centre 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.
The Argentine government’s Financial Information Unit, ordered the freezing of assets of members of Hezbollah and the organisation a day after the country created a new list for people and entities linked to terrorism. The designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group was the first by any Latin American country.
“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.
There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah on the move.
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 tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, where an illicit economy funds its operations elsewhere.
Argentina’s decision to freeze Hezbollah assets and join the United States in designating it a terrorist group is a significant win for President Donald Trump’s administration as it seeks to increase pressure on Tehran and its proxies.
The financial impact on Hezbollah will likely be insignificant because it has other sources of funding, said Seth Jones, director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“What the administration is hoping is that even taking little bites out of the apple right now may end up being significant in the long run if they can continue to freeze assets of organizations like Hezbollah in a range of different countries,” Jones said.
The United States, 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, said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Wilson Center’s Argentina Project in Washington.
“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.
Other U.S. allies that designate Hezbollah or its military wing a terrorist organisation include Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Macri for the designation from Jerusalem.
“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,” Netanyahu said.
(Reporting by Cassandra Garrison and Nicolas Misculin; additional reporting by Marina Lammertyn in Buenos Aires and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Ross Colvin)