US ramps up pressures on Iran, proxies

Those added to the US list of “specially designated global terrorists” include four leaders of Hezbollah.
Thursday 15/11/2018
Nathan Sales, US State department counterterrorism coordinator, during a hearing on Capitol Hill. (AFP)
Nathan Sales, US State department counterterrorism coordinator, during a hearing on Capitol Hill. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - The United States is stepping up its campaign against Iran and groups and individuals it designates as “pro-Iran terrorists” subject to US sanctions.

Those added to the US list of “specially designated global terrorists” include four leaders of Hezbollah, including Jawad Nasrallah, son of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Nathan Sales, US State department counterterrorism coordinator, refused to make any differentiation between Hezbollah's political and military wings. “We reject the false distinction between Hezbollah’s terrorist wing and a purportedly peaceful political wing. Hezbollah is one organisation. It is a terrorist organisation, root and branch,” he said in a posting on the Washington Institute website.

“The actions we’re announcing today are one more step in our campaign to build the toughest sanctions regime ever imposed on Iran. More sanctions are coming and they will continue until Iran and its proxies change their behaviour,” Sales said at a State Department briefing.

Sales said Iran was devoting nearly $1 billion a year to support its proxies in the Middle East. “The resources Iran uses to fund its global terrorist campaign come directly out of the pockets of ordinary Iranians. The regime robs its own citizens to pay its proxies abroad,” he said.

In addition to the new terrorist designations by the State and Treasury departments, the State Department offered rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of three “Iran-linked terrorists": Hamas leader Salih al-Aruri and Hezbollah leaders Khalil Yusef Mahmoud Harb and Haytham Ali Tabataba’i.

The money is offered through the US government’s Rewards for Justice Programme, which has paid more than $150 million to more than 100 people who have given the US information that prevented international terrorist attacks or led to the capture of international terrorists.

Also designated among “pro-Iran terrorist organisations” is al-Mujahidin Brigades (AMB) based in Gaza. “AMB has ties to Hezbollah, and Hezbollah has provided funding and military training to AMB members,” he said.

The four Hezbollah leaders whom the US designated as global terrorists are Shibl Muhsin 'Ubayd Al-Zaydi, Yusuf Hashim, Adnan Hussein Kawtharani and Muhammad Abd-al-Hadi Farhat. They are accused of moving money, acquiring weapons and training fighters in Iraq for Hezbollah.

Zaydi was a financial coordinator between Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its armed supporters in Iraq, the Treasury Department said. The sanctions against the four men “highlight the degree to which Hezbollah operates as a clandestine, terrorist arm of the Iranian regime,” said Sigal Mandelker, the department’s under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The sanctions were announced the same day Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri called Hezbollah a “big obstacle” to forming a new government. Hariri’s largely Sunni political party is locked in a power struggle with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah “continues to block Lebanon from forming a new government,” said Sales. “This is all at the expense of the Lebanese people in an effort to extract more concessions for Hezbollah’s own benefit.”

Sales said the United States was “deeply concerned about Tehran’s growing ties to Hamas. After a brief split early in the Syria conflict, Hamas and Iran have rebuilt their relationship. Iran is once again providing Hamas with much-needed funding.”

The actions announced November 13 came one week after the US reinstated sanctions against Iran’s energy, financial and shipping sectors as part of US President Donald Trump’s campaign to build economic pressure on Iran. The sanctions had been waived under the Iran nuclear agreement, from which Trump withdrew earlier this year.

“We will continue to ratchet up the pressure until Iran comes to its senses, joins the community of civilised nations and ends its support for murder and mayhem across the globe,” Sales warned.

US national security adviser John Bolton vowed on November 13 to ratchet up pressure on Tehran. Speaking in Singapore, Bolton said: "We think the government is under real pressure and it's our intention to squeeze them very hard. As the British say, squeeze them until the pips squeak."