US imposes sanctions on Hezbollah leaders

The US Government has imposed sanctions on Hezbollah leaders and members of Lebanon’s Parliament, the first time that sanctions have been imposed on elected politicians in Lebanon.

Amin Sherri and Muhammad Hasan Ra’d are both members of the Lebanese Parliament, while a third individual sanctioned, Wafiq Safa, is said to be a senior Hezbollah security official. All three have been added to the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list.

The move is described as part of a US effort to pressure groups and individuals with close connections to Iran. As part of the announcement, photos were released of the individuals, including one showing Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani with his arm around Sherri’s shoulder.

Sigal Mandelker, the US Treasury Department’s under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said: “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. The US will continue to support efforts of the Lebanese Government to protect its institutions from exploitation by Iran and its terrorist proxies, to secure a more peaceful and prosperous future for Lebanon.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the three individuals were sanctioned because they “exploited their positions to smuggle illicit goods into Lebanon, pressure Lebanese financial institutions to assist Hezbollah, undermine Lebanese institutions and evade US sanctions against Hezbollah facilitators and financiers”.

As a result of the sanctions US citizens will be barred from dealing with the individuals, whilst assets held by the individuals in the US are frozen. It also limits their access to the US financial system. Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said in response: “For us Hezbollah is a Lebanese party, not terrorists. Its members of Parliament were elected by the Lebanese people, with high popular support.”

Lebanon’s Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil wrote on Twitter that the designations are “unjustified” and “concern all of the Lebanese even if they are directed at Hezbollah”. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is due to give an interview tomorrow to mark 13 years since the start of the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006.