US and Qatar impose joint sanctions on Lebanon’s Hezbollah

Treasury Department announces new sanctions on seven people and one entity funding the Iranian-backed group

A Hezbollah flag and a poster depicting its leader Hassan Nasrallah on a street near the southern Lebanese city of Sidon. Reuters
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The US and Qatari governments have imposed sanctions on a Hezbollah financial network based in the Arabian Peninsula.

The actions, announced by the US Treasury Department on Wednesday, mark a rare bilateral US-Qatar move against Hezbollah and target seven people and one entity affiliated with a network that is financing the Lebanese group.

The measures have been placed on citizens of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as well as a Palestinian, the Treasury Department said.

“Hezbollah seeks to abuse the international financial system by developing global networks of financiers to fill its coffers and support its terrorist activity,” Andrea Gacki, the director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.

“The cross-border nature of this Hezbollah financial network underscores the importance of our continued co-operation with international partners, such as the government of Qatar, to protect the US and international financial systems from terrorist abuse,” the statement added.

Under the sanctions, Ali Reda Hassan Al Banai, Ali Reda Al Qassabi Lari and Abd Al Muayyid Al Banai were made Specially Designated Global Terrorists “for having materially assisted, sponsored or provided financial, material or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Hezbollah.”

Mr Al Banai and Mr Lari are “long-standing supporters of Hezbollah and have secretly sent tens of millions of dollars to the terrorist organisation through the formal financial system and cash couriers,” the statement read.

Both men regularly travelled to meet Hezbollah officials in Lebanon and Iran, the statement said.

Four other men named by the Treasury Department were also identified as Specially Designated Global Terrorists for helping Mr Al Banai.

Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, saw the announcement as a sign of increased US pressure on Hezbollah under the administration of President Joe Biden.

“This is the second round of US sanctions against Hezbollah's transnational financial network in two weeks and will lead many to deduce that the Biden administration is purposely increasing its pressure on the group and its Iranian sponsor,” Mr Maksad told The National.

On September 17, the US placed sanctions on a Kuwait-based network accused of aiding Hezbollah.

Mr Maksad said the co-ordination with Qatar adds more significance this time, given Doha’s closer relations with Iran among the GCC countries.

“Qatar has historically taken a softer line on Iran, positioning itself as a potential mediator between Tehran and Washington. Its role in uncovering this network is noteworthy, indicating it may be moving closer to the US and GCC consensus on this issue,” Mr Maksad said.

The Hezbollah network spans the Gulf region, with donors based in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Its financial and commercial activities also include investments in Turkey.

The sanctions have also been placed on Qatar-based Al Dar Properties “for being owned, controlled, or directed by, directly or indirectly” by one of the seven men named by Treasury.

Also on Wednesday, Bahrain's government announced the freezing of assets of sanctioned people based in its territory.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the importance of co-ordination in the US-Qatar sanctions.

“This represents one of the most significant joint actions we have taken with a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partner to date and underscores our extensive bilateral co-operation on countering terrorism finance,” Mr Blinken said.

The US urged international action to restrict Hezbollah’s activities.

“There is growing international recognition of Hezbollah’s true nature, with 14 countries in Europe and South and Central America taking significant steps to designate, restrict or ban Hezbollah in the past several years. We urge other governments to follow suit,” Mr Blinken said.

Washington first designated Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organisation in 1997 and the GCC placed the group on its list of terrorist organisations in 2016.

Updated: September 30, 2021, 4:35 AM