Lebanon faces 'imminent' sanctions from US, warns Bahaa Hariri

Son of former Lebanese PM says US has indicated it will move against Hezbollah

The eldest son of Lebanon's slain former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, Bahaa, is seen at home after his father's funeral in Beirut 16 February 2005. Frenzied crowds of Lebanese mourners bid farewell to 60-year-old Hariri at a politically charged funeral that underscored the seething tensions with Syria over his murder. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH BARRAK (Photo by JOSEPH BARRAK / AFP)
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The new government in Lebanon faces imminent sanctions from the US administration for its links to terror groups, Bahaa Hariri has disclosed predicting it will create an “earthquake” in Lebanese politics.

The eldest son of the former prime minister said the influence of Hezbollah on the country and its direct association with terrorism both in Lebanon and elsewhere meant that Washington will very soon impose tough restrictions on officials.

"Sanctions are going to cause an earthquake," Mr Hariri told The National in an extensive interview. "We're waiting to see who are the people who will be sanctioned but this will send a very clear indication that the US is establishing a very hardline position against Hezbollah." It is possible that the move could bring an end to the new government of Mustapha Adib that was formed in the protests following the Beirut port explosion in early August which killed 200 people and caused billions in damage.

However the visit by French president Emmanuel Macron last week in which he met a Hezbollah MP as he attempted to resolve Lebanon's economic and political crisis was implicitly condemned by the businessman. "It's up to the French to decide if it's a mistake but for me, my position is very clear on Hezbollah, they have a military arm and are a terrorist organisation," said the eldest son of the former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri who was assassinated by the terror group in 2005.

FILE - In this file photo dated Thursday Aug.6, 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron waves as he visits Beirut, Lebanon.  Frenchman Alain Cocq who suffers from a long-term and incurable degenerative illness had planned to show what he expects will be a painful end to his life, but Facebook said Saturday Sept. 5, 2020, it has blocked his live broadcasts and President Macron has said that French law forbade him for granting Cocq's request for a medically-assisted death. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, FILE)
French President Emmanuel Macron was received warmly when he visited Beirut in the aftermath of the blast on August 4. AP

The Lebanese people were also very clear that they wanted a new politics that did not involve Hezbollah’s influence. “There is anger, frustration and disbelief that this is happening to them, that they are completely divorced from the political structure.”

Mr Hariri, 54, said an American official had privately told that even though Hezbollah might have been elected into power “so were the fascists”.

“For civil society cannot prevail if you have fascist people in power who don't care about lives,” he said. He stated that the terror group had only gained political power through violence. “When you have the bullets then you have pressure you can exert.”

He believed that Hezbollah’s main backers in Iran were also beginning to regard the group as a problem. “The Iranian leadership have a lot to think about as Hezbollah for them is becoming a liability it’s not an asset.”

Like other moderate Lebanese, Mr Hariri is increasingly frustrated with many European countries for failing to designate Hezbollah’s political wing as a terror group. Only Britain and Germany have done so which denies the group the ability to raise funds for its terrorist wing and political ambitions. With a few smaller European nations following suit Mr Hariri believes that major countries such as Spain and Italy will soon proscribe Hezbollah and the French will be forced to as well. “We have suffered a lot in Lebanon and others have to understand that warlords are not builders of nations.”

While Mr Hariri, whose brother Saad has twice been Lebanon's prime minister, has kept out of politics he indicated to The National that he had an important political announcement to make "very soon" but added "I have no intention to be the Prime Minister, ever".

With an estimated fortune of more than $2 billion the property magnate has invested millions in his home country that he has not visited for ten years.

With so much anger amongst the people at Lebanon’s dire political and economic state, Mr Hariri believes it is at a crossroads where given the right impetus it could regain its previous prosperity with major constitutional reform.

I see Lebanon as a major tourist destination, a banking and financial centre

First it needed reconstruction aid from the IMF and World Bank to turn the corner and then substantial political reform. “You need to take Hezbollah and the warlords out of our structure and whoever supports them in the public sector, including the judiciary, army and security services. The government must then have special powers for a small period of time to bring in constitutional reform and resolve the sectarian issues by separating religion from the legislative executive branch.”

If Lebanon could resolve its decades-long political deadlock then it would face a bright future in which the four pillars of Lebanon’s economy – banking, tourism, education and catering - could flourish. “I see Lebanon as a major tourist destination, a banking and financial centre. It could also become an education centre because we have amazing universities and an eating capital with our great food and produce. What we need is to brand it successfully in the Arab world and the international community.”

Mr Hariri also welcomed the UAE’s treatment of its large Lebanese population which the Gulf State had “embraced” and said it would lead to further business opportunities. “We can form partnerships with the UAE in tourist projects, the banking sector and the food and education sector. All those four pillars that we have all have massive potential.”