Pressure Mounts on Hezbollah

It is clear that US pressure on Hezbollah is increasing. The Americans want to dry up the party's resources, particularly those that the US Treasury accuse of illegal trade in drugs and arms in Latin America and Africa.

Last December, Lebanese businessman Kassim Tahideen, who is being tried in New York, pleaded guilty to laundering more than $1 billion with five of his partners to Hezbollah. If his plea agreement is approved by the US Justice Department, Tajideen will serve five years in prison and pay a $50 million criminal forfeiture.

This trend began when former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions designated Hezbollah as a transnational criminal group and announced that he had set up a special task force comprised of experts in international drug smuggling, terrorism, organized crime and money laundering to target these groups with more rigorous investigations and judicial procedures.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently claimed that Hezbollah maintains “active cells” in Venezuela, a risk his country intends to take down. Of course, the Venezuelan president hastened to deny these accusations, as did the Secretary General of Hezbollah.

In the context of these mounting pressures, the Israelis discovered tunnels extending from southern Lebanon into Israel. Israel also accused Iran of building missile factories in Lebanon.

This growing pressure suggests that the Trump Administration’s decision to resume targeting Iran and its proxies, especially Hezbollah, after it was largely suspended following President Obama's negotiations with Iran which led to the signing of the nuclear agreement that President Trump withdrew from, has come info effect.

The final and most significant event was the civil lawsuit brought on by American nationals who were injured, and by the families of American nations who were killed or injured in Hezbollah’s bombing attacks in Iraq. The lawsuit accuses 10 Lebanese banks of giving the terrorist group access to the US financial system through the SWIFT international payments system. The suit alleges that these banks were aware of such operations, which include money laundering and the circumventing US sanctions.

The plaintiff filed a case containing interesting details about Hezbollah’s network and businessmen and companies linked to the group in more than six hundred pages, and accused the ten Lebanese banks of dealing with these companies despite their prior knowledge of their relations with Hezbollah.

Without a doubt, these banks will attempt to defend themselves to avoid being accused of violating US laws by dealing with a group classified as a terrorist organisation. Perhaps they will also search for a settlement that satisfies the families that brought on the lawsuit because if Lebanese banks were to operate outside the US banking system or be subjected to any kind of sanctions by the US Department of Justice, it would spell  disaster, particularly as the banking sector is one of the most important pillars of the Lebanese economy.

The Lebanese should ask themselves: To what extent can the Trump's administration’s decision to confront Hezbollah affect the country and its economy? For those that bet on President Trump not being reelected for a second term, can they guarantee that the next president will not the tougher on Hezbollah and Iran? And what if Trump is elected for a second term? Who will be able to restrain his anti-Iranian policies? Lebanon cannot afford these costs.

Hezbollah media, its leaders and its secretary-general often boast that the party has become a regional power and that the Lebanese should look at the group from this perspective. They also boast that they do not use their great power against the Lebanese people in internal matters - of course, this excludes the events of May 7. It seems that the majority of the Lebanese are convinced by this theory, and have begun dealing with the group on the basis that Hezbollah have the final word in matters such as electing the president, imposing strange parliamentary electoral laws, or forming a government, and that these decisions cannot be made without the group’s approval.  Indeed it is a big problem for the world to see symbols of the Cedar revolution begging Hezbollah for a governmental positions, but the biggest problem would be if the world also adopted this theory and equated the Lebanese state with Hezbollah. What will the Lebanese do then?