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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 May 2018

US-Gulf sanctions target top leaders of Hezbollah

The party’s leader Hassan Nasrallah and his deputy Naim Qasim are among those targeted

Supporters of Hezbollah watch Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah on a big screen as he delivers a speech from an undisclosed location on May 14 2018. Nabil Mounzer / EPA
Supporters of Hezbollah watch Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah on a big screen as he delivers a speech from an undisclosed location on May 14 2018. Nabil Mounzer / EPA

In a coordinated US-Gulf move, new sanctions were announced on Wednesday against the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, targeting 10 senior leaders and entities connected to the organisation.

Late on Wednesday, the Treasury Department, one week after Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, rolled out collective sanctions that targeted leaders from Hezbollah including its secretary general Hassan Nasrallah and his deputy Naim Qassem.

The sanctions were announced in partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the co-chair of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), and the other TFTC member states which was formed in 2017. Besides Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Sultanate of Oman and Qatar have also imposed those sanctions in full. The National has learned that Kuwait did not designate Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah but has joined in the sanctions on the 9 other individuals and groups on the list.

The names targeted are Hasan Nasrallah and Naim Qasim; the leader of the judicial council, Muhammad Yazbak; Husayn Al-Khalil, who advises Mr Nasrallah; Ibrahim al-Amin al-Sayyid, the head of Hezbollah’s political council; the head of Hezbollah’s External Security Organization, Talal Hamiyah; and Hashem Safieddine, a senior leader in the party. The list also included other names and entities: Ali Youssef Charara; Spectrum Group; Hasan Ebrahimi; Maher Trading; Adham Tabaja; Al-Inmaa Group; and Al-Inmaa Engineering and Contracting.

The announcement is the largest coordinated US-GCC action against Hezbollah since Mr Trump took office. The US Treasury had previously designated Nasrallah for disrupting the Middle East peace process in 1995 and for actions in Syria in 2012.

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Matthew Levitt, an expert on sanctions and a former Treasury official, told The National, that “these measures are impactful not only as a means of exposing Hezbollah’s illicit conduct and the intimate ties between its military/terrorist and social/political activities, but also because it plugs into 2014’s Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act and is therefore liable for secondary sanctions.”

Mr Levitt, who works at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted that “the fact the GCC countries – including Qatar – joined the US for most of these designations further exposes the rift between Sunni Arab states and Hezbollah over the latter’s activities in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”

Mr Pompeo in a call to his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani highlighted efforts to end the Qatar dispute “as it benefits Iran.”

But more broadly the joint action should be alarming to the Lebanese government argued Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for New American Security. “The US-Gulf coordination is meant to be a powerful punch in the face to the status quo in Lebanon,” Mr Heras told The National. “That status quo is run under the assumption that there is a regional safety valve for the Lebanese. The Trump administration, and its Gulf partners, are closing that valve.”

The Trump administration, Mr Heras said has “decided to put Hezbollah in its crosshairs in a way that the Obama administration never dared to do.”

While Washington realises there is no “military solution” to the Hezbollah challenge, the measures are meant to isolate it, and is also “meant as a shot across the bow at the Lebanese state, and especially senior Lebanese politicians that have close dealings with Hezbollah, in the aftermath of the parliamentary elections [two weeks ago] and the run up to the Lebanese government formation” said the expert.