Hanin Ghaddar

US diplomatic source to NOW: Nasrallah leading efforts to help Syrian crackdown

US Accuses Nasrallah of Helping Bashar al-Assad

The United States Treasury Department denounced Hezbollah for backing Bashar al-Assad on Friday, and added it to a list of organizations under sanctions for their ties to the Syrian regime.


NOW Lebanon was able to speak to a US diplomatic source on condition of anonymity on the topic of the newest US sanctions.


What is the essential concern of the US behind its designation Friday of Hezbollah as an organization supporting the Syrian regime’s crackdown?


US diplomatic source: Hezbollah, like Iran, is one of Syria’s critical allies in the region.  Hezbollah operates as an instrument of and proxy for Iran and their support for the [Bashar al-] Assad regime exposes their true nature as willing to assist the brutal crackdown of an illegitimate regime against its people who are striving to establish a democratic and pluralistic Syria.


Hezbollah remains one of the Syrian regime’s few close partners and as the Department of Treasury’s designation shows, Hezbollah and their Iranian allies provide a range of critical support to the Assad regime—including training, advice, and logistical assistance—as the regime continues its brutal crackdown against the Syrian people.  These continuing close ties reflect the long-standing and deep relationship between Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.


We think Hezbollah is tarnishing its reputation by supporting Assad because he is such a critical supporter of Hezbollah and Hassan Nasrallah and is key to the group’s survival in its current militant and terrorist form.  Without Assad and unfettered access to Syrian territory, Hezbollah will be weakened.


All of these actions undermine regional stability, and Hezbollah’s actions further undermine the sovereignty and independence of the Lebanese state.


How is the US Treasury going to target/sanction Hezbollah?


US diplomatic source: Today’s action exposes Hezbollah’s support for the Syrian regime, including operational activities, as well as its role in facilitating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force’s support to Syria.  In October 2001, Hezbollah was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist pursuant to E. O. 13224.


By exposing Hezbollah’s activities in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime, we are once more highlighting the true nature of this organization, willing to assist the brutal crackdown of an illegitimate regime against its people who are striving to establish a democratic and pluralistic Syria.
This designation also demonstrates that while Bashar al-Assad calls the legitimate opposition forces terrorists, he himself is relying on a known terrorist group to help him perpetrate violence on Syrian civilians.


We are using all of the tools at our disposal to intensify pressure on the Assad regime and its regional backers.  This action serves to further demonstrate the extent of the links between Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah and their close cooperation in Syria’s ongoing suppression of the Syrian people and in working together to evade international sanctions.


Will businessmen affiliated with Hezbollah be sanctioned?


US diplomatic source: As we have demonstrated in the past, we will not hesitate to take action to protect our financial system from illicit activity and those who support terrorism; however, we cannot comment on any potential, future action by the US government.


Will Hezbollah’s Lebanese allies, such as SSNP, MP Michel Aoun or Speaker Nabih Berri, be targeted as well, and how?


US diplomatic source: We cannot comment on any hypothetical, future action at this time. 
What is important to emphasize is that since the start of the unrest in Syria in early 2011, Hezbollah has provided training, advice, and extensive logistical support to the Syrian regime. Hezbollah has directly trained Syrian regime personnel inside Syria and has facilitated the training of Syrian forces by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force.


Hassan Nasrallah has been leading the efforts to help the Syrian regime’s violent crackdown on the Syrian civilian population.  Hezbollah has also played a substantial role in efforts to expel Syrian opposition forces from areas within Syria.


All of these actions undermine regional stability, and Hezbollah’s actions further undermine the sovereignty and independence of the Lebanese state.


Is the Lebanese government going to be affected, considering that Hezbollah is the major party in government? Will the US cut aid for Lebanon for example?


US diplomatic source: We continue to support the Lebanese people and are committed to promoting a stable, sovereign and independent Lebanon. 


How is this going to influence Lebanese banks, considering recent reports that the US may consider targeting more Lebanese banks?


US diplomatic source: Hezbollah’s activities have negatively impacted the Lebanese banking sector.  Hezbollah’s active and direct connection to the international drug trade and money laundering and use of the Lebanese financial system has been the focus of past Treasury designations.  We uncovered a massive Hezbollah-related scheme led by Ayman Joumaa to launder the proceeds of narcotics trafficking in Latin America and other crimes through Lebanese banking sector.  The designation of the Lebanese Canadian Bank showed how pervasive this scheme was and Hezbollah’s role in it. 


We continue to work closely with the Lebanese government, the Central Bank, and individual banks and share our concerns on these issues, but our efforts also demonstrate that we will not hesitate to take action on our own to protect our financial sector.  Lebanon’s financial system is aware of our concerns and of international sanctions against Syria and Iran and it is up to it to determine how to eradicate illicit activities that threaten its continued viability.


What is the US view on recent reports linking Hezbollah to terrorist activity, including the bus-bombing in Bulgaria that targeted Israeli tourists?


US diplomatic source: We are increasingly concerned about Hezbollah’s activities on a number of fronts, including their stepped up terrorist campaign around the world, their members’ and supporters’ growing involvement in large-scale, international criminal activity, and their critical and ongoing support for the Assad regime.


As the designation notes, Hezbollah’s support of the Syrian regime’s crackdown on its people has been coordinated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force and reflects Hezbollah’s dependence on the Iranian regime as it continues to serve as its proxy.  Hezbollah and the Iranian leadership share a similar worldview and strategic vision and are seeking to exploit the current unrest in the region to their advantage.  This approach has, at times, increased sectarian tensions and conflict throughout the region, and served as a further destabilizing force in a time of great change.


Hezbollah has also shown its willingness to engage in international terrorism.  Earlier this year, Hezbollah was preparing to attack what we believe were Israeli tourists in Thailand, according to press reports.  Hezbollah may also have been plotting attacks in Europe. 


According to press reports, in January 2012 Bulgarian security services investigated an alleged Hezbollah plot to attack Israeli or Jewish interests in Bulgaria.  Later, on July 18 a bus carrying Israeli tourists was attacked in a manner resembling Hezbollah’s plotting earlier this year.  Working with our partners, we continue to assess the facts to discover who was responsible. That same month, press reports on the arrest of a Hezbollah member in Cyprus suggest the group was preparing other attacks in Southern Europe. 


Our assessment is that Hezbollah and Iran will both continue to maintain a heightened level of terrorist activity and operations in the near future.

The US on Thursday accused Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah of leading efforts to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C) stay in power. (AFP/HO/Sana)