A semi-official Iranian news agency issued a report threatening Lebanon’s banking sector if it complied with a U.S. sanctions law targeting Hezbollah just hours before a bomb exploded outside a Beirut bank on Sunday, NOW Media news reported on Monday.
“In the wake of the US sanctions law against Hezbollah…and after the financial confrontation moved from the international arena to the Lebanese one…the confrontation between Hezbollah and the bank has become almost inevitable,” read the report by Fars News Agency, titled “The Financial Aggression Against Hezbollah: The Banking Army of Lahhad” (referring to a former Israeli-backed group in Lebanon).
“Some people are completely mistaken when they think that since Hezbollah is busy in Syria, it will rush to calm down the situation at the expense of its own people,” it continued. Hezbollah considers the U.S. sanctions law as a measure not only against the group, but Lebanon’s Shiite community, according to Fars.
“The crisis today requires banking prudence or…else we may, in the end, be before a new May 7,” the report threatened, referring to May 7, 2008, when Hezbollah fighters took over West Beirut in response to the Lebanese government’s decision to shut down Hezbollah’s telecommunications network and remove Hezbollah sympathizer Wafic Shkeir from his post as security chief at Beirut’s international airport. The report also warned that accommodating the American law “will leave many of the accomplices of the US [campaign] against the Shiite community in Lebanon, including Sunnis and Christians who support [Washington], with the same fate as that of the accomplices of Israel.”
Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh announced last Wednesday that about 100 Hezbollah-linked banking accounts had been frozen in accordance with the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2015. The bill calls for the imposition of tougher sanctions on any financial institution proved to have knowingly done business with Hezbollah. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said upon the passage of the legislation that it “intensifies pressure against the Hezbollah terrorist organization and provides the Administration additional tools with which to target Hezbollah’s financial lifeblood.” The House and Senate both voted for the bipartisan law unanimously.
Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in the aftermath of the bank bombing that the legislation “left Lebanese banks with a binary choice – serving Hezbollah or maintaining access to the global economy – and they wisely chose the latter. Unsurprisingly, the banks’ moves provoked Hezbollah’s ire.”
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