Sanctioning Nasrallah

The Hezbollah leader will not lose sleep over the latest US/Gulf move against him 

By Abdel Bari Atwan

The US State Department’s decision to impose sanctions on Hezbollah Secetary-General Hassan Nasrallah, his deputy Naim Qasem and other members of the party’s leadership did not come as a surprise – especially after the big political victory it achieved at the Lebanese parliamentary elections. More painful is the fact that it was taken in conjunction and collaboration with the so-called Terrorist Financing and Targeting Centre (TFTC) consisting of the six Gulf Cooperation (GCC) states, and that they announced their full commitment to implementing the decision immediately.

This is the third time that the US administration has announced sanctions against Nasrallah. The first was in 1995 on the pretext of obstructing the Middle East peace process, then again in 2012 for intervening in Syria, and now on the charge of destabilizing the region.

But it is the first time that Qasem has been added to the roll of honour of US sanctions. He and most of the other figures sanctioned are leaders of the party’s political wing, meaning the US and its Gulf allies no longer differentiate between its military and political roles and deem the party in its entirety to be a terrorist organization. USTreasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that explicitly, declaring “our nations collectively rejected the false distinction between a so-called ‘political wing’ and Hezbollah’s global terrorist plotting.”

It is ironic that this decision should come two days after the US celebrated the relocation of its embassy in Israel to occupied Jerusalem while Israeli snipers were killing nearly 60 defenceless civilians on the Gaza Strip border, amid rising tension between the US and Hezbollah’s main backer Iran following the former’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement.

Nasrallah is most unlikely to lose any sleep over these sanctions and their effect on his accounts in American and Gulf banks. It is known that he has no bank accounts, either inside or outside Lebanon, nor does he use credit cards or cheque books, and his monthly salary amounts to a mere $1,300, as he revealed in a recent interview with the al-Mayadeen TV channel. He does not own luxury yachts and private jets, and does not spend his summer holidays on the French Riviera and his winter ones in the Maldives or Seychelles. He remains among his followers in Beirut’s southern suburbs, or in the majestic mountains of southern Lebanon overlooking Palestine, breathing the fresh air and awaiting the day of ultimate liberation.

What is worrying, however, is the six Gulf states’ pledge to implement these sanctions. This could cause much trouble for tens of thousands of Lebanese working in the Gulf, who stand to be targeted on the grounds that they belong to Hezbollah, have some financial or other connection to the party or its members or are merely sympathisers. There is no rule of law in these countries and in most of them a fair trial is inconceivable. People can be arrested in minutes and deported within days even if they are accused of a traffic offense, or merely on a whim.

Nasrallah and his colleagues are being targeted because they defeated the Israelis twice. First by forcing their occupation forces to withdraw unilaterally from Lebanon in 2000, and again in July 2006 when they resisted and rolled back their aggression. Had they intervened in Syria under the American banner, the billions would have come pouring down on them like rain, but they opted to stand in the trench of resistance, and to foil the US-Israeli scheme to dismember Syria as was done to Libya, Yemen and Iraq.

We can be confident that the impact of these sanctions on Hezbollah will be minimal to non-existent. They were to be expected, and more could yet follow, in the climate of war that is being generated by the US, Israel and their old-new Arab allies. We have no doubt that Nasrallah and his colleagues will not flinch. It is no exaggeration to say that it is those who imposed these sanctions who are feeling increasingly fearful and fretful at present.