US puts Hezbollah lawmakers on sanctions blacklist for first time

US puts Hezbollah lawmakers on sanctions blacklist for first time

Treasury official says no distinction between Lebanese terror group’s political, military wings; senior official close to chief Hassan Nasrallah also placed on terror list

Hezbollah supporters take part in a rally to mark the anti-Israel al-Quds day in Beirut, Lebanon, May 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Hezbollah supporters take part in a rally to mark the anti-Israel al-Quds day in Beirut, Lebanon, May 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

WASHINGTON — The US Treasury placed two Hezbollah members of Lebanon’s parliament on its sanctions blacklist on Tuesday — the first time Washington has taken aim at the Iran-allied terror group’s elected politicians.

The Treasury named MPs Amin Sherri and Mohammed Hasan Raad to a terror-related blacklist, saying that Hezbollah uses its parliamentary power to advance its violent activities.

Also placed on the blacklist was Wafiq Safa, a top Hezbollah official close to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.

“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,” said Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

The move came as the US steps up pressure on Iran and its proxies in the Middle East, including close ally Hezbollah.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, is greeted by Lebanese Hezbollah lawmaker Amin Sherri on his arrival at Rafik Hariri airport in Beirut, Lebanon, February 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

It was the first time the US Treasury had placed Hezbollah lawmakers on its blacklist, which forbid US individuals and businesses with a US branch — including leading international banks — from doing business with those sanctioned.

“It is time, we believe, for other nations around the world to recognize that there is no distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wing,” a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity told journalists.

“To any member of Hezbollah considering running for office, know that you will not be able to hide beneath the cover of political office,” the official said.

But officials stopped short on Tuesday of a threatened sanctions action against Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

On June 24, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Zarif would be added to the sanctions list “later this week,” amid rising tensions in the Gulf.

Electoral posters of Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (top left) Iranian-born Lebanese cleric Musa al-Sadr (top right and bottom right) and Hezbollah member of parliament Mohammad Raad (bottom left), in the southern Lebanese town of Adaisseh, near the border with Israel, on May 5, 2018. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)

A senior administration official who insisted on anonymity would not confirm that plan.

“We are obviously exploring… various avenues for additional sanctions on Tehran. Obviously Foreign Minister Zarif is a figure of key interest,” she said.

Raad, 64, is the head of the parliamentary bloc of the party and an MP since 1992.

Sherri, 62, is a 17-year Hezbollah veteran of parliament representing Beirut. A Treasury official said Tuesday that Sherri had threatened violence against officials of a Lebanese bank and their families last year after the bank froze the accounts of a US-sanctioned Hezbollah financier.

Safa, the Treasury said, maintains the group’s ties to financiers and allegedly helps arrange the smuggling of weapons and drugs.

The newest sanctions brought to 50 the number of Hezbollah individuals and entities blacklisted by the Treasury since 2017.

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