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U.S ramps up effort to isolate Hezbollah, more sanctions to follow

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Hezbollah was first designated by the U.S as a terrorist organization in 1995 (AP Photo)

 

BEIRUT: The U.S stepped up its efforts to clamp down on Hezbollah’s financial network Thursday by issuing “targeted sanctions against one of its main financiers”, Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi, a senior U.S government official told Annahar.

Marshall Billingslea, who is currently serving as the Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing in the U.S Department of the Treasury, said that Bazzi is being pursued due to his “horrendous” dealings in Gambia, West Africa.

According to Billinglsea, Bazzi has been involved with Gambia’s former “dictator” Yahya Jammeh who has provided him “with a monopoly on oil imports,” using the millions of dollars in exchange to prop up Hezbollah’s coffers at home.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) also targeted Hezbollah’s representative to Iran Abdallah Safi-Al-Din, in line with a global effort “across multiple countries to block Hezbollah’s access to their financial network.”

Safi-Al-Din is accused by the U.S of acting as the middleman between Hezbollah and Iran, previously working with the Central Bank of Iran Billingslea told Annahar.

The Assistant Secretary maintained that more sanctions should be expected in the near future while calling on “all Lebanese banks to unite together in order to expel Hezbollah from the financial sector.”

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The tightening of the noose comes in the midst of an increased effort by the U.S to try and curb Hezbollah’s influence and that of its patron Iran.

Lebanon’s government has been informed of the measures, said Billingslea, adding that his office has been “working closely with the Central Bank” and its governor Riad Salameh.

“We understand what a difficult and dangerous job they have, but they know that the full power of the United States is in support of them,” he said.

The measures are intended to “eliminate the different networks used by Iran to funnel money to Hezbollah” as part of a broader partnership with the Terrorist Financing and Targeting Center (TFTC).

On Wednesday, OFAC and TFTC announced a joint action against Hezbollah’s leadership after designating its Shura Council, leader Hassan Nasrallah and other Hezbollah affiliates and entities.

The Shura Council is responsible for Hezbollah’s decision making processes, including its day to day activities, military and strategic matters.

The U.S’ cooperation with the United Arab Emirates, a member of the seven-nation TFTC, “took down the principle network by which the Iranian Quds Force was moving millions of dollars through the UAE to Hezbollah.”

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Hezbollah was first designated by the U.S as a terrorist organization in 1995 and the western power has been adamant that no differentiation should be made between its political and military wing.

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Europe designated Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization in 2013 and has refrained from blacklisting the group in its entirety.

“There is no such thing as just a military wing of Hezbollah, there is only one Hezbollah which is controlled by the Iranians,” Billingslea said.

Touching on the sanctions’ impact on Hezbollah’s activities and financial health, the senior official maintained that the group is reeling under the expanded embargo’s pressure.

“They are feeling the effect of our actions, they stopped their social programs in order to send more Lebanese men to Syria to fight and die.”

U.S President Donald Trump’s recent withdrawal from the nuclear deal laid the groundwork for the current campaign against Hezbollah, with both series of event linked Billingslea told Annahar.

“One of the reasons for pulling out of the nuclear deal is that it failed to put any limitations on Iranian terrorism,” he said, adding that the Islamic Republic dictates to Nasrallah what to do with the $ 700m a year it sends him.”

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Observers had previously expressed concerns that sanctions would not only impact Hezbollah but Lebanon as a whole, yet Billingslea stood firm in his belief that Hezbollah “is a cancer that must be dealt with before it spreads further” by rooting it them out of the banking sector.

“Lebanon has two pillars, the banking sector and its armed forces, Hezbollah must not be permitted to infect either.”

Following the conclusion of the country’s first Parliamentary elections in nine years, Lebanese officials will now begin negotiations to form a new Cabinet which is expected to be an arduous task.

Hezbollah and its allies secured a commanding win in the race, giving them increased leverage in the negotiation process for the formation of a new Cabinet, with Pro-Hezbollah media outlets reporting that the party is demanding to be assigned a key portfolio.

Yet Billingslea maintained that the sanctions were not aimed at influencing the Cabinet formation, telling Annahar that “the Lebanese government would make these decisions as it sees fit.”

From: Annahar

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