Hezbollah and real victims of US sanctions

U.S. President Donald Trump surprised nobody when he announced that he would refrain from certifying the Iran nuclear deal. The decertification of the deal comes as an additional blow to Obama’s legacy, which Trump adamantly believes have placed the United States and its true allies in a disadvantageous position and subsequently empowered its traditional nemeses, chiefly North Korea and Iran amongst them.

While Trump’s decision has left the Iran deal in limbo, it has yet to reinstate or impose new sanctions on Iran, a task which is now left to Congress with 60 days on its hands to weigh in on the matter.

Ultimately, the crux of the matter, as Trump has declared, is far removed from Iran’s violation of any clause in the nuclear deal, but rather rests on its destabilizing factor in the region, be it through its development of a ballistic missile program or by aggressive and active intrusion in the domestic affairs of its neighboring countries, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Lebanon.

Consequently, to address these two transgressions, Trump has set forth action items that include firmer measures on Iran’s executive military arm, the infamous Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which commands an assortment of paramilitary groups scattered around the region and perhaps beyond.

These measures, which range from the military to the financial, theoretically aim to limit and ultimately cripple the capabilities of the IRGC and its affiliates to carry out their military functions.

Accordingly, while Iran may possibly escape the adverse effects of the U.S. sanctions, Lebanon and its limping economy will not be as lucky, since the U.S. Congress is weeks away from updating its pre-existing sanctions on Hezbollah, which can only place more pressure on Lebanon and its archaic political and financial institutions.

The amendments to the existing Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, passed during the permissive Obama administration, comes after Hezbollah successfully circumvented these financial measures.

Hezbollah’s co-option, however, was not simple as it included an implicit warning at first, followed by an unclaimed explosion at a bank’s ATM, which made it clear to Lebanese banks that compliance with these U.S. sanctions would equally place them on Hezbollah’s black list.

Soon after that, and despite the Lebanese Central Bank’s full cooperation with the U.S. treasury’s directive, Hezbollah regained its ability to funnel money in and out of the county, further embarrassing the Lebanese state, which ironically housed two card-carrying members of Hezbollah in its cabinet.

One seldom reviews the local Lebanese media without being bombarded by forecasts and speculations warning the public of an impending economic crisis, one which seems more ominous as the Trump administration gears up for a confrontation.

As projected, the new bipartisan bill in Congress, and those that will likely follow, will only serve to place additional restrictions and regulations on the movement of money, which in turn will further inhibit the Lebanese banking system, which for the past century has used the banking secrecy laws at its disposal to attract investors.

HSBC, which was already in the process of scaling down its worldwide operations, saw no reason to remain operative in Lebanon and consequently sold its portfolios to BLOM bank; a move which would prevent HSBC, which was earlier fined for money laundering, from getting implicated with any shady financial dealings that can be traced to Iran and its affiliates.

As it stands, the Lebanese at large are hostages to a number of grave threats, primarily amongst them Hezbollah’s reckless rabblerousing in the region, second a corrupt and irresponsible ruling establishment that has only been successful in imposing new taxes yet failing to devise a sustainable public budget capable of long-term economic development, and lastly a Syrian refugee problem which can only become worse with the lack of local governmental measures and a Syrian crisis with an unforeseeable future.

In a congressional hearing just last week, members of the Subcommittee hearing on Iranian-backed militias asked the specialists testifying, if they believed "Iran sees some of its proxies as colonies, especially in Iraq?". The three experts all confirmed that Iran does not in fact approach its proxies as such, each offering a set of reasons to justify their reply.

Ironically, Iran consciously chooses not to implement a colonialist policy for the mere fact that such an approach requires Iran to invest in the country in question, either by boosting its economy or by shielding it from any economic and military harm.

The manner in which Hezbollah and its handlers, the IRGC, have dealt with Lebanon thus far attests to the fact that it seldom cares for its international standing or its economic future, as long as this venue allows them to pursue their role as the executive arms of Iran on the Mediterranean.

Be that as it may, the U.S. Congress needs to look no further, nor consult the many experts at their disposal to realize that financial sanctions on Lebanon might indeed inconvenience Hezbollah, but the ultimate victim of these measures will certainly be the weakened Lebanese, who over the years have been domesticated into fallaciously believing that Hezbollah and the package that comes with it is a regional problem that they have no power to address.