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U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Hezbollah Officials Accused of Supporting Iran
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration imposed sanctions on three senior Hezbollah officials in Lebanon on Tuesday, accusing them of having a “malign agenda” to support the Iranian government.
The sanctions were the first to directly target members of Lebanon’s Parliament and underscored the White House’s intention to ratchet up pressure on Iran by punishing groups with ties to its government.
The United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization even though members of the group have embedded into legitimate parts of the Lebanese government. Amin Sherri and Muhammad Hasan Ra’d, who are members of Parliament, and Wafiq Safa, a senior Hezbollah security official in Lebanon, were added to the Treasury Department’s sanctions list.
“Hezbollah uses its operatives in Lebanon’s Parliament to manipulate institutions in support of the terrorist group’s financial and security interests, and to bolster Iran’s malign activities,” Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
Tension between the United States and Iran has been rising as Iran violated a key provision of the 2015 international accord to restrict its nuclear program this month. Tehran has also warned that it would begin enriching its nuclear fuel to a purer level, potentially moving it closer to developing a nuclear weapon.
Since President Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord in 2018, the United States has renewed sanctions on Iranians and warned other countries not to do business with Iran. In June, the Trump administration issued a new sanctions order barring Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, and his office from access to the international financial system. The administration also levied sanctions on eight Iranian military commanders last month.
Senior administration officials said that the sanctions announced on Tuesday were meant to emphasize to the world that the United States saw no distinction between the political and military wings of Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran. They urged Lebanon’s leaders to sever ties with anyone affiliated with Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah threatens the economic stability and security of Lebanon and the wider region, all at a cost to the Lebanese people,” Ms. Mandelker said. “The United States will continue to support efforts of the Lebanese government to protect its institutions from exploitation by Iran and its terrorist proxies, and to secure a more peaceful and prosperous future for Lebanon.”
The new sanctions are sure to irritate Lebanon. When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Beirut in March, and denounced Hezbollah as a terrorist group, he faced resistance.
“For us, Hezbollah is a Lebanese party, not terrorists,” said Gebran Bassil, Lebanon’s foreign minister. “Its members of Parliament were elected by the Lebanese people, with high popular support.”
The Trump administration’s sanctions on Iran have affected Hezbollah’s finances — the group has had a harder time paying its members.
Mr. Pompeo noted in a statement on Tuesday that Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, made a plea for financial support for the first time ever this year.
The Trump administration has been frustrated that Europe continues to support the nuclear agreement and has threatened secondary sanctions against allies that continue to buy Iranian oil.
The broader use of sanctions by the United States has struck some critics of its approach as overreach.
“The notion of simply listing people and freezing their accounts without evidence of their specific financial support to Iran or specific terrorist activities, that is a reach,” said George A. Lopez, a professor at Notre Dame and an expert in economic sanctions. “But it is consistent with the use — some would say misuse — of sanctions by this administration. The emphasis is less on direct causal linkage and more guilt by association.”
The Trump administration has also considered imposing economic penalties against militias in Iraq that are supported by Iran. Similarly, however, the militias have members in Parliament, similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Iraqi government officially recognizes the militias, which are grouped under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces, and pays their salaries. The militias fought against the Islamic State, with the help of the Iranian military.
Administration officials said on Tuesday that more sanctions against Iran were in the pipeline.
In late June, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that sanctions targeting Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, were forthcoming. While they have yet to be announced, an administration official described Mr. Zarif as a figure of key interest and said that additional sanctions were being explored.
Speaking in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Mr. Trump said he was keeping a close eye on Iran’s enrichment activities.
“Well, we’re going to see what happens with Iran,” Mr. Trump said. “Iran is doing a lot of bad things right now, and they better be very careful.”