US sanctions Lebanese bank used by Hezbollah, Gaza terror finance network
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US sanctions Lebanese bank used by Hezbollah, Gaza terror finance network

Administration officials say move meant to send signal to Shiite terror group and Tehran; Israel praises ‘important step’

A piggy bank with a photo of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is displayed to collect money for the group in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Rumman, Lebanon on January 21, 2016. (AP/Bilal Hussein)
A piggy bank with a photo of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is displayed to collect money for the group in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Rumman, Lebanon on January 21, 2016. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department on Thursday targeted a Lebanese bank the Trump administration calls the “bank of choice” of Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, as part of a maximum pressure campaign against Tehran.

The US, in partnership with Oman, also announced sanctions against individuals accused of moving tens of millions of dollars between Iran’s elite Quds Force and the military wing of the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza.

The Treasury sanctioned Jammal Trust Bank, a financial institution based in Lebanon that facilitates banking activities for Hezbollah, and its three subsidiaries. The bank and Hezbollah have been doing business since at least the mid-2000s, the department said.

Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy and has identified Hezbollah as the most potent military threat on its borders.

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

“Corrupt financial institutions like Jammal Trust are a direct threat to the integrity of the Lebanese financial system. Jammal Trust provides support and services to Hezbollah’s executive Council and the Martyrs Foundation, which funnels money to the families of suicide bombers,” said Sigal Mandelker, undersecretary for terrorism and financial Intelligence. “The US will continue to work with the Central Bank of Lebanon to deny Hezbollah access to the international financial system. This action is a warning to all who provide services to this terrorist group.”

Senior US administration officials, speaking on condition of not being identified, told reporters that the two actions were above all meant to send a signal.

The bid to squeeze Jammal “should be seen as a warning shot that Hezbollah and its Iranian puppet masters should keep their hands off Lebanese financial institutions,” one official said, calling this part of a strategy to “choke off every last avenue of funding.”

Although Jammal is only a modest sized bank in Lebanon, it is the “bank of choice” for Hezbollah, another official said.

A third senior official called the sanctions a reflection of the “gloves off approach” by US President Donald Trump against Hezbollah.

US President Donald Trump and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speak at a press conference at the White House on July 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Tasos Katopodis)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cheered the move and urged other countries to act against “Iranian aggression in the Middle East.”

“This is an important step designed to put pressure on Iran and its proxies, which are acting against the State of Israel,” he said.

Tensions between Israel and the Iran-backed group have ratcheted up in recent days after an Israeli strike on an alleged Iranian drone attack plot in Syria and a mysterious UAV explosion at a Hezbollah office in Beirut attributed to Israel.

In Beirut, the Association of Banks in Lebanon voiced “regret” over the US move — while insisting all funds deposited with Jammal Trust Bank were safe and stressing the ability of the country’s central bank to remedy the situation if need be.

The Treasury, in partnership with the Arab nation of Oman, also sanctioned Mohammad Sarur, Kamal Abdelrahman Aref Awad and Fawaz Mahmud Ali Nasser for supporting Hamas.

Palestinian school girls pass a billboard covered by national and Iranian flags with Arabic reading, “thanks and gratitude to Iran”, in Gaza City, Wednesday, November 28, 2012. (AP/Adel Hana)

“These facilitators funneled tens of millions of dollars from Iran’s Quds Force through Hezbollah in Lebanon to Hamas for terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip. Hamas’ continued violent campaign against innocent civilians and the state of Israel is to the great detriment of the people in Gaza,” Mandelker said. “Treasury will continue to disrupt terrorist networks by targeting those who generate funds to carry out the Iranian regime’s violent agenda.”

Thursday’s action blocks any property or interests in property that the targets have within US jurisdiction. It also bans Americans from engaging in transactions with them and prohibits transactions involving them from moving through the United States.

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