Pro-Hezbollah Lebanon’s president and parliament speaker decried on Wednesday new US sanctions targeting two Hezbollah lawmakers.
The country’s top leaders, who are Hezbollah sympathizers, were reacting a day after the U.S. Treasury Department said it is targeting two Hezbollah lawmakers and a security official suspected of using their positions to further the aims of the Iran-backed group. The US also accused all three of bolstering Tehran’s “malign activities.”
The new sanctions were the first time Washington targeted lawmakers currently seated in Lebanon’s parliament. It represents a jab at the terrorist group’s growing political influence, which seems to have struck a nerve. Lebanon is going through a deep economic slump.
The widening dragnet also comes as the U.S. increases its pressure on Tehran by levying new sanctions on Iran.
THE US ACTS AGAINST HEZBOLLAH IN LEBANON
Hezbollah has been under increasing financial sanctions from the United States. But Treasury officials said the latest designation, naming lawmakers Mohammad Raad who leads the group’s parliamentary bloc and Amin Sherri, makes clear that there is no dividing line between Hezbollah’s political and militant wings.
Pro-Hezbollah Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said the U.S. decision to target lawmakers was regrettable.
Aoun said the decision contradicts previous U.S. positions vouching for the commitment of Lebanon and its banking sector to international agreements combating money laundering, funding terrorism and other criminal activities.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called the sanctions an aggression against the whole country and against Lebanese democracy. He called on the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union to take the necessary measures to deal with “the irrational behavior.” It is not clear what the union can do.
Both Berri and Aoun are close Hezbollah allies. Aoun would have never made president without Iranian and Hezbollah support.
APPEASEMENT IS ALL DECENT LEBANESE LEADERS CAN DO
The Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri, one of Hezbollah’s main local opponents, said the sanctions took a “new course” when they hit elected lawmakers. He urged that the issue not be exaggerated to avoid aggravating already tense domestic relations.
Hariri said during a function in Beirut:
This will not affect parliament or the work that we do both in parliament and in the Council of Ministers. It is important that we preserve the banking sector and the Lebanese economy, and God willing, this crisis will pass sooner or later..
Hezbollah and its allies won a majority in 2018 elections and the group has three Cabinet seats. It is the largest number it has ever controlled. The terrorist group is one of the most violent groups in the region. The IRGC in Tehran founded Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has also sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to fight alongside the troops of Chemical Assad. The terrorist organization has killed tens of thousands of Syrian civilians.
Lebanese groups are sharply divided over Hezbollah’s growing regional clout but the local rivals have worked together to preserve a delicately balanced political system. The sectarian-based arrangement has survived flare ups over policy decisions following a 1989 political deal that capped 15 years of civil war.