US sanctions on Iran not without fallout in Lebanon

Additional sanctions are to be implemented against Iran’s proxy militias and entities, especially against some Iraqi organisations affiliated with Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah.
Sunday 07/04/2019
Tough times. A vendor sells Hezbollah and religious flags and other memorabilia in the southern suburbs of Beirut.(AP)
Tough times. A vendor sells Hezbollah and religious flags and other memorabilia in the southern suburbs of Beirut.(AP)

The United States is preparing to introduce new sanctions against Iran. The sanctions are expected to further impede Iranian oil exports after a grace period given some countries to import oil from Iran during the first phase of the sanctions campaign. This is being done with the understanding that those countries would find alternative oil suppliers.

Sources in Washington indicated that additional sanctions are to be implemented against Iran’s proxy militias and entities, especially against some Iraqi organisations affiliated with Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah.

The recent visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the region, and to Lebanon in particular, strengthened the option of imposing harsher sanctions on Hezbollah and some of its Lebanese allies, who, in the eyes of the Americans, are providing political cover for Hezbollah’s political and financial activities, the sources said, citing a US official.

The sources did not make it clear whether the sanctions would affect Lebanese President Michel Aoun and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri or figures in their closest circles.

Berri has expelled some businessmen, including managers of investment operations, from his Amal Movement after reports questioning their financial activities regarding Lebanese and Iraqi entities.

Following Pompeo’s visit to Lebanon at the end of March, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah congratulated Lebanese officials with whom Pompeo met on what they said to him. The word in Washington is that the US administration was dissatisfied with official Lebanese positions presented in Beirut, which confirmed coordination between Lebanese officials and Hezbollah.

That attitude prompted observers to predict new US financial sanctions, which, they said, were links in the long chain of efforts to curb Iranian influence in the region.

Observers pointed out that the situation in Syria has been the focus of a discrete American effort. The United States is trying to encourage Moscow and Beijing to replace Iran in Syria. They mentioned that contracts have been signed by the Syrian government with a consortium of Chinese and Russian companies to build power plants. The Chinese and Russian sides were careful to exclude Iran from any part of the contract.

What is more significant, the observers said, is that the Syrian regime did not mind the exclusion of Iranian companies, insisting their involvement would exacerbate problems in Syria’s reconstruction.

US President Donald Trump is apparently confident in the effectiveness of sanctions against Iran. He probably expects to reap benefits during the 2020 presidential campaign by highlighting such foreign policy successes.

Political circles in Washington indicated, however, that even the US administration was surprised by the success of the sanctions against Iran, especially that Iran’s biggest economic partners, China and India, agreed to abide by the American measures. At the same time, Trump’s Democrat opponents could not find any loophole in the administration’s Iranian policy through which to attack the American president.

In parallel to talking about the efficiency of US sanctions to achieve what Washington wants from Iran and its proxies, talk about an Iranian response to these suffocating sanctions started to leak from the sub outlets of Iranian influence. The Iranian reaction has not yet reached the point of a military confrontation, the outcome of which no one can predict.

Nasrallah reiterated that he would not be the one to start a war with Israel and that he would retaliate only if Israel attacks Lebanon. In other words, the Israeli strikes in Syria do not constitute a cause for war by Hezbollah, even when Israeli missiles hit areas close to the border, as was the case recently when Israel bombed Iranian positions near Aleppo and in an area considered under Russian protection.

However, the real question that remains is whether Tehran is capable of engaging in a war against Israel either directly or through proxies.

Sources say the war option still stands but everyone knows that its cost would be very high, especially in Lebanon. That option could be taken if Iran feels that war can save it from the sanctions or if a war would obtain Iranian concessions required by the US administration and as long as the winds of the sanctions are favourable to Trump’s ship and in line with the interests of Moscow and Beijing.

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