Mul­ti­lat­eral sanc­tions will re­strain Hezbol­lah

▶ It is time the group cur­tailed its mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties and served the Le­banese peo­ple

The National - News - - OPINION -

It is a tragedy of the mod­ern Mid­dle East that mul­ti­lat­eral ac­tion is so rare. Take Syria, which af­ter seven years of war is be­ing cleaved apart by a host of self-in­ter­ested par­ties. Equally un­com­mon to­day are ef­fec­tive non-vi­o­lent strate­gies. But Wed­nes­day’s sanc­tions on Hezbol­lah, lev­elled by the US and the Ter­ror­ist Fi­nanc­ing and Tar­get­ing Cen­tre – which in­cludes Saudi Ara­bia, the UAE and other Gulf states – bucked both trends. The largest ma­noeu­vre of its kind since US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as­sumed of­fice in 2017, the sanc­tions tar­get 10 se­nior Hezbol­lah com­man­ders, in­clud­ing leader Has­san Nas­ral­lah, and con­nected en­ti­ties. It is the third time the US Trea­sury has sanc­tioned Mr Nas­ral­lah since 1995. This feat of co-op­er­a­tion echoes the grow­ing di­vide be­tween the Gulf states and Iran-backed Hezbol­lah – be­tween the forces of unity and those of dis­cord. Peace­ful and well-planned, the sanc­tions ag­gres­sively pur­sue Hezbol­lah while re­spect­ing the in­tegrity of Le­banese af­fairs.

These pages have long held that there is lit­tle di­ver­gence be­tween the mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal wings of the mili­tia group. While Hezbol­lah spins a nar­ra­tive of po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy within Le­banon – where it is deeply en­trenched – it has dis­patched thou­sands of mili­ti­a­men to fight along­side the bru­tal Syr­ian regime of Bashar Al As­sad. Through­out the Mid­dle East and in­creas­ingly across Africa, Hezbol­lah has par­tic­i­pated in desta­bil­i­sa­tion and the traf­fick­ing of drugs and arms. Ac­cord­ing to US Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steve Mnuchin, the sanc­tions will be of “great value to in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity by dis­rupt­ing Hezbol­lah’s desta­bil­is­ing in­flu­ence”. Os­tracised by fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions across the globe, the group will be forced to sup­press some of its more vi­o­lent ten­den­cies. Nat­u­rally, there are lim­i­ta­tions. Dur­ing a tele­vised ad­dress in 2016, Mr Nas­ral­lah de­clared: “As long as Iran has money, we will have money.” The defiant ad­mis­sion spoke to the fi­nan­cial life­line that flows from Tehran to Hezbol­lah cof­fers in Le­banon. It is a sto­ried pa­tron­age re­la­tion­ship that sanc­tions will not sever. More­over, fears that the sanc­tions could push Hezbol­lah to­wards new, more ne­far­i­ous fi­nance streams beyond Le­banon are jus­ti­fied, if overblown. The puni­tive mea­sures will af­fect Hezbol­lah’s rev­enue stream and its abil­ity to ad­vance its in­ter­ests in the re­gion. For the se­nior cadre of Hezbol­lah of­fi­cials, it spells iso­la­tion and paral­y­sis.

The tim­ing of the sanc­tions – shortly af­ter elec­tions in Le­banon and Mr Trump’s Ira­nian nu­clear deal pull-out – is sig­nif­i­cant. Hezbol­lah is now the most pow­er­ful al­liance in Le­banon’s par­lia­ment. It must re­lin­quish its air of re­sis­tance and em­brace se­ri­ous pol­i­tics. Jaded Le­banese vot­ers need jobs, util­i­ties and se­cu­rity. Cur­tail­ing Hezbol­lah’s many of­fences via a non-vi­o­lent feat of co-op­er­a­tion be­tween the US and its Gulf al­lies could prove hugely ben­e­fi­cial for the blame­less peo­ple of Le­banon and the wider re­gion at large.

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