MON 27 - 1 - 2020
Date: Jul 10, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
US sanctions 2 Hezbollah MPs, security chief
BEIRUT: The United States Tuesday sanctioned three high-ranking Hezbollah members, the first time Washington has taken aim at sitting MPs from the party.

The Treasury Department named MP Mohammad Raad, MP Amin Sharri and security chief Wafiq Safa as "specially designated global terrorists," effectively cutting them off from the international financial system.

“Hezbollah uses its operatives in Lebanon’s Parliament to manipulate institutions in support of the terrorist group’s financial and security interests, and to bolster Iran’s malign activities” Sigal Mandelker, the U.S. undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement from the Treasury Department.

The announcement was swiftly denounced by Lebanon's finance minister, Ali Hasan Khalil. "The sanctions concern all Lebanese though their target is Hezbollah. The measures that Lebanon has taken and the laws that have been adopted ... make these sanctions unjustified and [these measures] don't serve financial stability," he tweeted.

"We are committed to all legal standards linked to this matter. Lebanon is a committed country; its banks are committed to all regulations and there is no justification whatsoever to escalate these sanctions," he added.

Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad was less measured in his criticism, calling the American move "a humiliation for the Lebanese people." The lawmaker told local media, "There must be an official position from Parliament and from the government on matters that affect the sovereignty of Lebanon."

But Sharri was more dismissive. "It's only a message, nothing more," he told reporters earlier as he entered the Parliament building.

Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar TV said the party's leader, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, would address "Lebanese and regional issues" in an interview scheduled for Friday night.

Sharri was accused of "threatening bank employees and their family members" after the bank froze the assets of another Hezbollah member sanctioned by the U.S. The Treasury Department also accused him of maintaining a close relationship with Adham Tabaja, an alleged Hezbollah financier sanctioned by Washington in June 2015.

The U.S. claimed that in 2017 Raad, who heads Hezbollah's "Loyalty to the Resistance" bloc in Parliament, met with Tabaja and Hussein Ali Faour "to ensure Hezbollah's funding mechanisms would remain open despite sanctions." Faour was also sanctioned in June 2015.

The statement said that "Hezbollah leveraged Safa to facilitate the passage of items, including illegal drugs and weapons, into the Port of Beirut, Lebanon," and that the Hezbollah security chief also had close ties to Tabaja.

It said all three were being sanctioned "for acting for or on behalf of Hezbollah."

The statement did not mention Hezbollah's other active politicians. The party has 12 members in Parliament; another MP, Walid Sukkarieh, caucuses with the party. It also has two members in Cabinet, and named a third minister as part of its share.

All three men sanctioned Tuesday play active roles in the Lebanese state, working closely with government institutions and other politicians from different parties.

The U.S. originally sanctioned Hezbollah in 1995, but has applied new designations under different legal authorities in subsequent years. The sanctions announced Tuesday come under an executive order issued in the immediate aftermath of Al-Qaeda's attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

The U.S. has issued over 50 executive legal actions against Hezbollah and its members since 1995. The pace picked up after President Donald Trump effectively tore up an agreement with Iran negotiated by his predecessor. The deal had offered broad sanctions relief to Iran in return for stringent controls over the latter's production and use of nuclear materials.

The U.S. withdrew from the deal on May 8, 2018. Since then, it has reinstated punishing sanctions on Iran and, through its control of the international financial system, forced other countries to largely follow its strict rules on trade with Iran.

In parallel, the U.S. has been targeting Hezbollah, which it says "[does] Iran's bidding."

After the withdrawal from the Iran deal, Washington took three actions that same month targeting more than a dozen individuals and companies in an attempt to degrade Hezbollah's financial networks. One action was coordinated with a coalition of Gulf countries.

In total, 2018 saw nine executive legal actions against the party – more than any other year. Eight came after the U.S. exited the Iran deal.

That pace has continued into this year, with Tuesday's action the fourth.

In April 2019, a Treasury Department official termed the party "a cancer in the heart of the Lebanese economy," repeating an oft-used epithet. "We urge the Lebanese government to excise this cancer," Marshall Billingslea, assistant secretary for terrorist financing, told The Daily Star.

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