Taking aim at Iran, US hits Hezbollah with new sanctions
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Taking aim at Iran, US hits Hezbollah with new sanctions

Treasury vows 'relentless' pursuit of terror group's global financial support networks as it targets key financier

Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah terror group hold portraits of its leader Hassan Nasrallah (R) and its former military chief Imad Mughniyeh during a protest in Beirut on December 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid)
Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah terror group hold portraits of its leader Hassan Nasrallah (R) and its former military chief Imad Mughniyeh during a protest in Beirut on December 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid)

WASHINGTON — Taking aim at Iran’s global footprint, the Trump administration on Friday hit six people and seven businesses linked to Hezbollah with terror sanctions, calling it “the first wave” in a pressure campaign that will escalate throughout the year.

The sanctions aim to squeeze Hezbollah financier Adham Tabaja, who is already designated by the US as a global terrorist, by freezing out a network of companies in Lebanon, Ghana, Liberia and elsewhere. The Trump administration said companies and their executives act on Tabaja’s behalf, forming “conduits” of funding for the Lebanon-based militant group.

“We will be relentless in identifying, exposing, and dismantling Hezbollah’s financial support networks globally,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The campaign comes as the Trump administration works to undermine Iran’s ability to stoke unrest and expand its influence throughout the region. Senior Trump administration officials said the US estimates Iran sends Hezbollah about $700 million per year, arguing that Hezbollah has become the Iranian government’s primary tool to project its power in the Arabic-speaking world.

Steven Mnuchin testifying during his Senate Finance committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)

Formed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in 1982 to fight Israel’s invasion of Beirut, Hezbollah has morphed into a powerful political player in Lebanon, and is a member of the Mediterranean nation’s coalition government. The US considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization and has hit the group with sanctions before.

More recently, the US has grown concerned about the group’s involvement in other conflicts, including in neighboring Syria, where it’s sent thousands of fighters to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad. US officials said Hezbollah is also helping train and advise Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen who are being pummeled by a Saudi-led coalition supported by the United States.

Trump officials said more sanctions would be coming against Hezbollah, the results of an investigation into the group that President Donald Trump ordered last summer. They said there were “dozens” more financial networks linked to Hezbollah that could be targeted. The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The first wave of penalties target Al-Inmaa Engineering Contracting, a company run by Tabaja and based in Hezbollah’s stronghold south of Beirut. The construction company is mostly active in predominantly Shiite areas in Lebanon such as Beirut’s southern suburbs and the southern market town of Nabatiyeh.

Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah gather in the southern town of Nabatiyeh on May 24, 2015 (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

“We will no longer allow corrupt Hezbollah and other Iranian regime cronies to hide their crimes behind front companies,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter.

The other companies named Friday are mostly based in Africa, where tens of thousands of Lebanese — many of them Shiites — have been living for decades. Most of the individuals targeted had not been publicly known to be Hezbollah financiers and are not prominent names in Lebanon.

The sanctions freeze any assets in the US and bar Americans from dealing with those being sanctioned.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday that should war erupt again with Lebanon, Beirut will “pay the full price” for Iran’s entrenchment in the country.

Liberman said that Lebanon will be held to account in a future war because, led by the terrorist Hezbollah group, it has “sacrificed its national interests by subjugating fully to Iran.”

Over the past year, Israel has often warned of a growing Iranian influence in Lebanon, with Liberman telling United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres in August that Iran is “working to set up factories to manufacture accurate weapons within Lebanon itself.”

In a rare Arabic op-ed published Sunday in Lebanese news outlets, the IDF spokesman accused Iran of turning Lebanon into “one big missile factory.” In the piece, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said Iran’s extensive support for Hezbollah had turned the country into a “branch” of the Islamic Republic.

“It is no longer just the transfer of weapons, money and advice. Iran has de facto opened a new branch — ‘the Lebanon Branch.’ Iran is here,” Manelis wrote.

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