The Trump administration on Tuesday targeted Iran-backed Hezbollah with fresh terrorism-related sanctions, as the U.S. moves to keep up pressure on Tehran and its tools of foreign-policy abroad despite resistance from European allies.
The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on four men it says lead Lebanon-based Hezbollah’s operations in Iraq. In a separate but coordinated action, the State Department added Jawad Nasrallah, the son of the group’s leader, and the al-Mujahidin Brigades, a militia with alleged links to Hezbollah, to its list of individuals and groups designated as terrorists.
The men named in the U.S. actions and the al-Mujahidin Brigades couldn’t immediately be reached to comment. Hezbollah didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment.
“Iran has never been party to sectarian conflicts in the region,” said Iran’s spokesman at the United Nations, Alireza Miryousefi. Iran’s presence in Syria “is by invitation of its government—which is a member state of the U.N.—to fight terrorism and terrorist groups operating in Syrian territory,” he said.
The U.S. is targeting Hezbollah as a surrogate for Iran’s military and political operations abroad—including against U.S. ally Israel and U.S.-backed forces battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime—as the Trump administration levies an economy-crippling sanctions program against Tehran.
The administration is seeking to force the Iranian government into a new security deal. The administration said the 2015 nuclear accord it pulled out of in May didn’t adequately curb Tehran’s ability to make nuclear weapons, development of missiles and support for armed forces in the region, including Hezbollah.
The four men targeted in Tuesday’s Treasury action lead the group’s operational, intelligence and financial activities in Iraq, Treasury said, including Adnan Hussein Kawtharani, who Treasury said was a major fundraiser for the group, and Shibl Muhsin ‘Ubayd Al-Zaydi, who the U.S. said acted as financial coordinator between Iran’s elite militia, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, and sectarian armed groups in Iraq.
“Hezbollah is a terrorist proxy for the Iranian regime that seeks to undermine Iraqi sovereignty and destabilize the Middle East,” said Sigal Mandelker, U.S. Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Ms. Mandelker is in Europe this week, as the U.S. seeks to ensure Washington’s trans-Atlantic allies enforce the administration’s new sanctions policy against Iran. Europe, fearing Iran will also pull out of the nuclear accord and rev up its program again, has sought to protect its companies from the U.S. sanctions and vowed to keep trade and financial lifelines open.
Some analysts say Europe’s efforts, even if commercially ineffective, are designed to send a political message to Iran. Many European governments have also been reluctant to target all of Iran’s proxies, segregating Hezbollah’s political operations as separate from the group’s martial wing, which the continent has blacklisted as a terror organization.
The Trump administration says that is a false distinction and is urging Europe to join Washington in designating Hezbollah’s entire operations as a terror group.
Under pressure from the U.S., officials in France, the U.K. and Germany have discussed going more aggressively after Hezbollah, including by targeted sanctions on Hezbollah fighters in Syria. There has also been support in the U.K. parliament for a blanket ban on Hezbollah.
The European Union, however, fears that blacklisting the whole group would prevent the bloc from providing assistance to the Lebanese government and other institutions, and playing an active role in securing Lebanon’s fragile peace. Hezbollah has a significant role in that government. Any move to blacklist the group would need approval by the whole bloc, likely too high a hurdle.
The Trump administration estimates Iran spends more than $700 million a year backing Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah does not operate as two separate entities…it does not maintain organizational firewalls,” said Ambassador Nathan Sales, the U.S. State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator.
A new U.S. law signed last month broadened sanction authority against anyone aiding Hezbollah. Foreign banks are at risk of fines and even expulsion from the U.S. financial system if caught handling transactions for the group.
Lebanese banks could face sanctions for dealing with Hezbollah, said Ms. Mandelker. “They need to root out Hezbollah from their financial system,” she said. “The message is going out to them loud and clear.”
Source » wsj