Eurasia Review: US Initiative First Of Many Actions To Drain Hezbollah’s Financing – Analysis

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By Sirwan Kajjo

A United States initiative toward three key figures within
Hezbollah’s financial networks would be the first in a series of actions
against the Lebanese militant group to drain it of resources, analysts
predict.

The U.S. on Monday offered $10 million for information on three financiers of the Lebanese terror group.

“This looks like it will be one move of many targeting the funding
streams Hezbollah uses,” Phillip Smyth, a research fellow at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told VOA on Tuesday.

“While some offers for rewards have been better with some groups over
others, this may show further cracks within the group regarding
overseas financiers and those linked to them,” he added.

Cash rewards program

The U.S. announcement is part of the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program, which has largely focused on offering cash rewards for information that leads to the capture of wanted terrorists around the world.

U.S. officials said this announcement marks the first time that the
U.S. State Department has offered a reward for information on Hezbollah
financial networks.

“In previous years, Hezbollah has generated about $1 billion annually
through direct financial support from Iran, international businesses
and investments, donor networks, and money-laundering activities,”
Assistant Secretary for State for Diplomatic Security Michael T. Evanoff
said during a press briefing on Monday.

Evanoff said the Shiite group uses these funds to support its
destructive activities throughout the world, including Syria and Yemen,
and surveillance and intelligence gathering operations in the U.S.

Hezbollah has been increasingly targeted by U.S. sanctions over the past few months.

In 1997, Hezbollah was designated a foreign terrorist organization by
the U.S. State Department. In October 2018, the Department of Justice
named Hezbollah as one of the top five transnational criminal
organizations in Latin America.

Targeted figures

The three Hezbollah figures targeted in the cash rewards program —
Mohammed Bazzi, Ali Charara and Adham Tabaja — are key figures in the
group’s financial network that operates on four continents, U.S.
officials said Monday.

“Together, these individuals comprise key parts of Hezbollah’s
financial modus operandi, and they have networks that span four
continents, with links to the formal financial sector as well as the
drug trade and corrupt foreign governments,” said Marshall Billingslea,
assistant secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing.

In 2015, the U.S. Treasury designated Tabaja, who has direct ties
with Hezbollah’s senior leadership, and three branches of his business
in Lebanon and other countries including Iraq, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

In 2016, the Treasury designated Charara, Hezbollah’s personal wealth
manager, and his Lebanese-based company, Spectrum Investment Group
Holdings SAL.

And Bazzi, who funded Hezbollah from his transcontinental business
holdings, was designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by
the Treasury in May 2018. Bazzi has closely worked with the Central Bank
of Iran to expand banking access between Lebanon and Iran, U.S.
officials said.

Ties with Iran

Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, also has been targeted by U.S.
sanctions in recent months. Since May 2018, when the U.S withdrew from
the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. has imposed a series of
sanctions against Tehran.

“We’re talking about Hezbollah today, but any conversation about
Hezbollah must begin in Tehran,” said Nathan Sales, ambassador-at-large
and coordinator for counterterrorism, who was also at the Monday’s
briefing.

This week, the U.S. ended its sanctions waivers for five countries
importing Iranian oil, with the hope to put new pressure on Tehran to
curb its military aggression in the Middle East.

“Iran remains the world’s leading state-sponsored terrorism… The
regime spends nearly a billion dollars a year on its terrorist proxies
around the world, and that includes up to $700 million for Hezbollah
alone,” Sales said.

Sales added that Iran also actively engages in terrorism itself.

Earlier this April, the U.S. labeled Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization for what U.S. officials call its destabilizing role in the Middle East.

With concurrent sanctions on Iran and Hezbollah, U.S. officials hope
both sides will be forced to reduce their military activities in the
Middle East and beyond.

“If Hezbollah can’t count on the same levels of support from Tehran,
the group increasingly will need to raise money to support terrorism
itself. In this administration, we use every tool at our disposal to
dismantle Hezbollah’s global financing network,” Sales said.

Eurasia Review


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