x

Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 May 2018

Hezbollah sanctions reflect nonviolent multilateral action at work

It is time the group curtailed its military activities and acted in service of the Lebanese people

Hezbollah supporters carry posters of Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah (R) and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during the funeral of three Hezbollah fighters killed in combat in Syria in 2017. Mahmoud Zayyat / AFP
Hezbollah supporters carry posters of Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah (R) and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during the funeral of three Hezbollah fighters killed in combat in Syria in 2017. Mahmoud Zayyat / AFP

It is a tragedy of the modern Middle East that multilateral action is so rare. Take Syria, which after seven years of war is being cleaved apart by a host of self-interested parties. Equally uncommon today are effective nonviolent strategies. But Wednesday’s sanctions on Hezbollah, levelled by the US and the Terrorist Financing and Targeting Centre – which includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf states – bucked both trends. The largest manoeuvre of its kind since US President Donald Trump assumed office in 2016, the sanctions target 10 senior Hezbollah commanders, including leader Hassan Nasrallah, and connected entities. It is the third time the US Treasury has sanctioned Mr Nasrallah since 1995. This feat of co-operation echoes the growing divide between the Gulf states and Iran-backed Hezbollah – between the forces of unity and those of discord. Peaceful and well-planned, the sanctions aggressively pursue Hezbollah while respecting the integrity of Lebanese affairs.

These pages have long held that there is little divergence between the military and political wings of the militia group. While Hezbollah spins a narrative of political legitimacy within Lebanon – where it is deeply entrenched – it has dispatched thousands of militiamen to fight alongside the brutal Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad. Throughout the Middle East and increasingly across Africa, Hezbollah has participated in destabilisation and the trafficking of drugs and arms. According to US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the sanctions will be of “great value to international security by disrupting Hezbollah’s destabilising influence”. Ostracised by financial institutions across the globe, the group will be forced to suppress some of its more violent tendencies.

Naturally, there are limitations. During a televised address in 2016, Mr Nasrallah declared: “As long as Iran has money, we will have money”. The defiant admission spoke to the financial lifeline that flows from Tehran to Hezbollah coffers in Lebanon. It is a storied patronage relationship that sanctions will not sever. Moreover, fears that the sanctions could push Hezbollah towards new, more nefarious finance streams beyond Lebanon are justified, if overblown. The punitive measures will affect Hezbollah’s revenue stream and its ability to advance its interests in the region. For the senior cadre of Hezbollah officials, it spells isolation and paralysis.

The timing of the sanctions – shortly after elections in Lebanon and Mr Trump’s Iranian nuclear deal pull-out – is significant. Hezbollah is now the most powerful alliance in Lebanon’s parliament. It must relinquish its air of resistance and embrace serious politics. Jaded Lebanese voters need jobs, utilities and security. Curtailing Hezbollah’s many offences via a nonviolent feat of co-operation between the US and its Gulf allies could prove hugely beneficial for the blameless people of Lebanon and the wider region at large.