Sanctions On Iran Are Hitting Hezbollah

Sanctions On Iran Are Hitting Hezbollah

That is the top headline, upper right corner front page, of today’s Washington Post, a quite long article by Liz Sly and Suzan Haidamous.  WaPo has been much criticized by Trump and his supporters for alleged “fake news” critical of his leaving the Iran nuclear deal while Iran was compliant and not only reimposing the sanctions put on by Obama to get Iran to the negotiating table for that deal, but adding more and yet more leading to a military escalation that may have peaked.  So, now maybe WaPo is rewarding Trump for saying he does not want a war with Iran (I approve of that) by headlining this story that has long been pushed by his fans as a justification for all this sanctions imposing on Iran.  Maybe Iran has been well behaved on the nuclear deal (while wickedly testing ballistic missiles, not part of the deal), but, ah ha! the sanctions will hurt its evil terrorist proxies like Hezbollah, and, wow, now we learn they are, whoopee!

It does look that indeed the heightened economic sanctions on Iran have reduced its financial support for Hezbollah, and I am not a big fan of that group.   One source quoted in the WaPo story put Iran as providing about 70 percent of Hezbollah’s funding, with it unclear by how much that has been reduced.  Hezbollah has publicly reported that it has had its funding reduced and has initiated lots of fundraisers to help offset that.  It claims not to have reduced its support of social services or paying “families of martyrs.”  It is unclear if it has had to pull back much from its involvement in the war in Syria, where the final round is probably now in place in Idlib province in the Northwest.

Some longer perspective is needed here.  I have long argued that why Israel opposed the Iran nuclear pact was that it did not want the economic sanctions Obama imposed to get Iran to the table ended, and that their prime motive for this was precisely that they did not want funding support for Hezbollah increased.  I argued in many posts here from way back that in fact Iran was not involved in a nuclear weapons program after about 2003, with Supreme Jurisprudent Khamenei having issued fatwas against nuclear weapons.  Israeli military intel realized Iran was not really much of a nuclear threat, certainly not in the short run, as did US military intel.  The nuclear deal was really to put the Iranian potential for such a program into a deeper box and assure those afraid of it, but it was not accepted in some places, especially in the US where Republicans just dismissed it, partly under Israeli encouragement.  But for the Israelis the problem was the ending of sanctions and their fear of Hezbollah, which seemed much more salient than the effectively inactive Iranian nuclear weapons program.  They knew all along they hysteria over that was just that, overblown hysteria.

So why has  Israel been so afraid of Hezbollah?  According to most sources it is because they were unable to defeat Hezbollah easily when they invaded Lebanon in 2006.  They also know that Hezbollah has something on the order of 25,000 missiles, these more serious than the scrubs that Hamas and Islamic Jihad periodically fire out of Gaza.  However it already has those so placing sanctions on Iran will not get rid of those.  But in any case they do not want Hezbollah getting even more or otherwise building up their military strength, which their experience in Syria fighting al-Qaeda related groups has only bolstered.

As it is, the US has since the 1980s designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization and placed sanctions on both it and Iran for its activities, those sanctions remaining on after 2015 when the sanctions to get it to the negotiating table were ended with the nuclear agreement.  And in the 1980s indeed it engaged in many terrorist activities, including against US forces, such as the attack on the US Marines barrack in Beirut in 1983 that killed hundreds.  But then in 1992 Hezbollah entered politics and began to have members holding cabinet positions, with its role in the government steadily increasing over time to where today it is the strongest political group in Lebanon, with the Shia population the largest ethnic group now in Lebanon, if not a majority out of its great diversity.

This fundamentally changed Hezbollah policy, all but ending its role as a terrorist group, if not ending its role as scaring the Israelis because they cannot defeat it when they invade Lebanon.  There was a major attack in Buenos Aires by a Hezbollah group in 1992 on the Israeli embassy and then another deadly attack there in 1994 on a Jewish aid society building.  But since then there have been no terror attacks unequivocally identified with the group.  Some have claimed they were tied to the suicide attack in 2005 that killed Prime Minister Hariri, but most identify that as a Syrian operation, with any Hezbollah involvement peripheral.  There was also a suicide attack on an Israeli tourist bus in Burgas, Bulgaris that killed 5, with some claiming that was a Hezbollah or perhaps Iranian operation, but that remains unsolved and Hezbollah and Iran have both denied any involvement.

Looking at a Wikipedia entry on “Hezbollah attacks on Israel,” this reports 16 rocket attacks between January 2007 and December 20, 2015 coming out of Lebanon into Israel.  While there has been some property damage and four injuries from these, nobody has been killed.  Furthermore, Hezbollah has denied being involved in any of these with most identified as coming from either al Qaeda related groups or various radical Palestinian groups, all of these Sunni.  The only ones nobody has claimed ar ethe final 5, four in 2014 and the last one in 2015, none of these causing any property damage or injuries and all denied by Hezbollah.

Offhand this leaves me as pretty unimpressed with how  wonderful this report is.  Does this justify the US withdrawing from the JCPOA and then imposing sanctions on Iran much stricter than were on before the nuclear negotiations.  I do not think so.

Barkley Rosser