US sanctions target Hezbollah's financial network

The U.S. Treasury Department has added new sanctions against six individuals and seven entities that are part of Hezbollah’s financial network. From Bloomberg:

Hezbollah, which the U.S. says has financed terrorism in Syria and Yemen, depends on its ally Iran for more than $700 million a year, said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity…

The move is tied to President Donald Trump’s position on Iran — the administration has moved to ratchet up pressure on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program without abrogating the accord with the U.S. and five other world powers.

The Associated Press has a bit more on the targets of the sanctions, all of whom are connected to Hezbollah financier Adham Tabaja and his engineering company:

The sanctions aim to squeeze Hezbollah financier Adham Tabaja, who is already designated by the U.S. as a global terrorist, by freezing out a network of companies in Lebanon, Ghana, Liberia and elsewhere. The Trump administration said companies and their executives act on Tabaja’s behalf, forming “conduits” of funding for the Lebanon-based militant group…

Trump officials said more sanctions would be coming against Hezbollah, the results of an investigation into the group that President Donald Trump ordered last summer. They said there were “dozens” more financial networks linked to Hezbollah that could be targeted. The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The first wave of penalties target Al-Inmaa Engineering Contracting, a company run by Tabaja and based in Hezbollah’s stronghold south of Beirut. The construction company is mostly active in predominantly Shiite areas in Lebanon such as Beirut’s southern suburbs and the southern market town of Nabatiyeh.

In a press release published on Treasury’s website, Secretary Steve Mnuchin says, “Hizballah is a terrorist organization responsible for the death of hundreds of Americans.” He continues, “It is also Iran’s primary proxy used to undermine legitimate Arab governments across the Middle East. The Administration is determined to expose and disrupt Hizballah’s networks, including those across the Middle East and West Africa, used to fund their illicit operations.”

Just last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran had stopped harassing US Navy vessels operating in the Persian Gulf as of about five months ago. For the two years before that, there were a number of incidents in which Iranian “fast boats” came within a few hundred yards of US Navy ships, in one case forcing a US ship to change course. In another incident, a US ship fired warning shots into the water. From the WSJ:

The Iranian military has halted the routine harassment by its armed “fast boats” of U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. military said, a turnabout that officials welcomed but were at a loss to explain.

The boats for at least two years would dart toward the U.S. vessels as they passed through the Persian Gulf, risking miscalculation, but haven’t done so for five months, U.S. military officials said.

The officials said they hoped the respite would continue. “I hope it’s because we have messaged our readiness…and that it isn’t tolerable or how professional militaries operate,” Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, told reporters traveling with him in the Middle East this week. Iranian officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.

There’s no direct connection between the behavior of Iranian ships and the Hezbollah sanctions, but the two events do suggest Iran may be reassessing its willingness to take risks at this moment in time. That could partly be a result of their own internal problems or it could be some dawning sense that there is a new sheriff in town. The overall picture is of the Trump administration stepping up the pressure and the Iranian regime taking a step back from its usual level of belligerence.

This clip shows four Iranian boats harassing a Navy destroyer in August 2016: