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Hizballah says new US measures will not hit militant operations

$12 million dollars are offered for information on two Hizballah operatives [US State Department]

Date of publication: 12 October, 2017

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Hizballah brushes off multimillion-dollar bounty placed on leaders by the Trump administration.
Lebanese Shia militant group Hizballah on Wednesday dismissed a multimillion dollar reward offered by the Trump administration in return for information on two of its key operatives, describing it as an ongoing attempt to “demonise” the group.

The tougher US measures, including a plan to further tighten sanctions imposed on Hizballah, are part of a larger effort to ramp up pressure on Iran, which has expanded its influence across the region through the Lebanese militant group and other proxies.

US and Israeli officials have expressed mounting concern about the expanding footprint of Hizballah and other Iranian-backed forces in war-torn Syria, and are looking for ways to pressure Tehran.

US President Donald Trump is threatening to scuttle the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, a process he could initiate in the coming days.

“The US and Israel are concerned about Iran consolidating its position in Syria. With no reliable sign that either party is willing to do anything decisive about that, they’re left with options such as sanctions, arrest warrants and the like,” said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

The US is the mother of terrorism
-Hizballah MP

'Demonising Hizballah'

A Hizballah official told The Associated Press in Beirut on Wednesday that the US measures will not affect the group.

He was reacting to the State Department’s announcement on Tuesday of a total of $12 million for information leading to the location, arrest or conviction of two senior commanders.

“It is part of the continuous efforts to demonise Hizballah. They are false accusations that will not have any effect on the operational activities of Hizballah,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with party regulations.

The rewards are the first offered by the United States for Hizballah leaders in a decade, and come amid heightened US-Iran tensions following Trump’s election.

Trump has called the nuclear deal one of America’s “worst and most one-sided transactions” ever. He is expected to decline certifying Iran’s compliance this week, referring the matter to Congress. He also is expected to target Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard with new sanctions.

On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned of a tough response if Trump presses ahead with his threats to scuttle the nuclear deal.

Iran “will never renegotiate” the agreement brokered under the Obama administration, Zarif said.

The State Department on Tuesday offered up to $7 million for information on Talal Hamiyah, who it claims leads Hizballah’s “international terrorism branch.”

Another $5 million is being offered for information on Fuad Shukr, a member of Hizballah who runs the group’s military forces in southern Lebanon, where the group is based. The State Department said he played a key role in Hizballah’s recent military operations in Syria.

The Hizballah official dismissed the accusations, saying the United States is “the last state” to designate people on terror lists, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups and states “that have a long history in financing and supporting terrorism.”

Later on Wednesday, MP Hussein Musawi – a member of Hizballah's Loyalty to the Resistance Parliamentary bloc – said the “US is the mother of terrorism.”

He continued: “The plan’s aim is to encourage Muslims to kill each other and to make peace with the criminal Zionists.”

All efforts to distort Hizballah’s image and show a different image about Iran will fail, he added in a statement.

“Remaining silent about this [American] interference may take Lebanon downhill toward collapse. This is what the enemies of Lebanon want.”

The Lebanese state is coming under increased pressure to rein in the group

Lebanon under pressure

Hizballah has sent thousands of its fighters to shore up President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria’s ongoing civil war and also has been fighting the Islamic State group both inside Syria and along the Lebanese-Syrian border.

The Lebanese state is coming under increased pressure to rein in the group. Ambassador Nathan Sales, the US State Department Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, said on Tuesday that the Lebanese government “needs to recognise (Hizballah) as a terrorist organisation.”

At a congressional hearing on Iran Wednesday morning, Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, continued the Republicans’ tough rhetoric against Hizballah, describing its current capabilities and arsenal as a “powder keg.”

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman went a step further, saying on Tuesday that Hizballah controls Lebanon’s army. The US has given the Lebanese military more than $1 billion in security assistance over the past decade, viewing it as a counterbalance to Hizballah and a partner in fighting al-Qaeda, Islamic State and other extremists.

The Hizballah official said the US measures, including sanctions targeting Hizballah figures and institutions, would have a limited effect on the group while harming the Lebanese economy.

Itani, the analyst, also said it is highly unlikely the sanctions would affect Hizballah.

Hizballah “has been a US-designated terrorist organisation for a long time, and its people are smart enough to see this for what it likely is: a ‘Plan B’ for a power that is not willing to take on the risks of Plan A, which would be direct confrontation,” he said.

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