What Goals Are Driving New Anti-Hezbollah Sanctions?
Story Code : 804903
On Tuesday, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced a ban on two parliamentarians representing Hezbollah, Mohammad Raad and Amin Sherri, and member of the Lebanese resistant movement Wafiq Sada. The ban comes under the ruse of undermining the Lebanese government and working as proxy forces for Iran.
When the Syrian war broke out in 2011 and the Western-backed terrorist militias were moved into the Syrian territories to fight the central government in Damascus, Hezbollah was among the first parties to send forces in opposition to the terrorists. Syria war transformed the Lebanese movement into a significant regional actor. This was the time the Saudi and Israeli anti-Hezbollah lobbying started to intensify and the sanctions against Hezbollah took new aspects. The sanctioning approach to Hezbollah, in fact, began in 2014 and struggled to curb growing Hezbollah influence at home and in the region in the post-ISIS period. In 2014, many satellite service provides stopped airing Hezbollah-linked news channel Al-Manar. Also, individuals or institutes with affiliation to Hezbollah went under severe banking restrictions all to weaken the movement financially. In 2015, the Republican Congressman Edward Royce unveiled a list of 100 people and organizations sanctioned for their links with Hezbollah. In 2017 and before the Lebanese parliamentary elections, Washington introduced bans on a number of foreign-based institutions of Hezbollah like Bayt al-Mal, Jihad Al-Bana, The Association of Support to Islamic Resistance, Foreign Relations Office of Hezbollah, and Foreign Security Office of Hezbollah. The restrictions all chased a single goal: cutting off Hezbollah finances. According to the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, every three months the US president should present a report on the new people and institutions to be covered by the sanctions.
What do new sanctions seek?
Despite the pre-election sanctions and unsuccessful Saudi scenario of detention of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during his visit to Riyadh, the parliament vote’s outcome was a satisfactory-to-all balance of power among traditional political forces in Lebanon. Hezbollah managed to gain 12 of the 128 parliament seats. From the 30 cabinet ministers, 3 were Hezbollah’s. Hezbollah refrained from any push to get key ministries to avoid sensitivity and dispute, though its win allowed it to do so. Ministry of youth, ministry of health, and ministry of state for parliamentary affairs were given to Hezbollah. Thus, the tensions the Israelis via Saudi Arabian interventions and US sanctions sought were thwarted by the sapience of such influential parties as Hezbollah and the allied Amal Movement and with the company of the opposition Future Movement.
In the way to realize “the deal of the century” which eyes territorial seizures from Palestine and the neighboring states, the Israeli regime failed to extract any privileges from Lebanon. Almost all of the Lebanese parties showed a cohesion of voice on the cases of the border villages and the dispute with Tel Aviv over the energy reserves in the Mediterranean.
So the new anti-Hezbollah sanctions come with a set of goals:
Sowing division inside Lebanon
The US, (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab League, and some other countries have blacklisted Hezbollah as a terrorist movement. So there remains no play card for them to press it and extract concessions. The remaining hope is the domestic division. For example, Amin Sherri, who was recently added to the US blacklist, secured a seat in the parliament from the sensitive Beirut II electoral district. He was a candidate of an alliance comprised of Hezbollah, Amal Movement, and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement against a bloc including Future Movement and Progressive Socialist Party in a tough competition for the seat. Choosing him for the ban list is a shot of division at a spot where major Lebanese parties meet and there is no single party to be affected.
Al-Nahar newspaper of Lebanon wrote that the new American sanctions are aimed to push Lebanon into an internal confrontation. The newspaper continued that the Arab country is engulfed by complicated cases, the government is roughly shut down, and very likely the American embassy in Lebanon will inform the Lebanese Foreign Minister and President of Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil of the sanctions on Mohammad Raad, Amin Sherri, and Wafiq Safa, a senior Hezbollah security official.
Disrupting banking sector
In its statement, the Department of Treasury argued that the restrictive move comes in defense of Lebanese sovereignty. But there is a consensus among many analysts that the measures are violating Lebanon’s sovereignty and are set to cause new economic problems to the country that lies on the Mediterranean coasts and its economy is largely dependent to the banking sector.
After 2017 sanctions, Riyadh Salama, the governor of the Lebanese central bank, issued a decree asking the banks to block accounts of Hezbollah parliamentary representatives and their affiliates as the country felt a 15 percent foreign currency unavailable to Beirut without cooperation with the American sanctions. Amendments were issued to the governor’s order later, however.
Heads of the political parties have reacted to the ban arguing that the new restrictions will target the national economy. Saad Hariri in a conservative stance said the sanctions will not set up obstacles ahead of the activities of the parliament and government. “The important issue is that we should protect the banking sector and the economy,” he went on.
Apparently, the US punitive measures are driven by a superficial knowledge of the Lebanese political forces mainly influenced by the pro-Israeli lobbies which strive to eliminate Hezbollah politically and militarily. This is while the resistant movement has deep cultural and social roots in the Lebanese society and was founded in response to the Israeli threats. As long as the Israeli threats and risk to Lebanon are existent, Hezbollah will continue life in various ways and via the representation of various people.