Alleged connections to the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah have landed a network of companies in Lebanon, China and the United Arab Emirates on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list. Senior US officials accused the companies of acquiring sophisticated military equipment for the terrorist organization.
According to the officials, Stars Group Holding of Beirut violated American export laws by procuring engines, navigation equipment, and communications electronics for Hezbollah from companies in Europe, Asia, Canada, and the US. The sanctions prohibit American entities from doing any business with the company, its subsidiaries and its senior leadership. It also mandates the freezing of any assets that the blacklisted entities have inside the US financial system.
The US, Canada and France have designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization while the EU and the UK only classify the group’s military wing as such. In addition to its terrorist operations, Hezbollah also has a political wing that controls a party in the Lebanese government. The Obama administration has accused the group of using drones both to spy on Israel and to support Syrian President Bashar Assad in his war against rebel forces.
Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said on Thursday that Hezbollah used its extensive network in order to exploit the international financial system and strengthen its terrorist activities worldwide. He added that the group’s efforts to represent itself as a national liberation movement only served to hide its global terrorist and criminal network.
In a statement released on Thursday, US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said that Hezbollah’s ability to utilize companies such as Stars Group Holdings as fronts for its illicit activities displayed the extent of the terrorist group’s international reach. She said that these criminal networks fueled Hezbollah’s violent political agenda, and urged Washington’s geopolitical partners to take action against the group.
In addition to the network of companies connected to Hezbollah, a senior member of the terrorist group also landed on the US sanctions list. The Hezbollah leader in question, Hanna Elias Khalifeh, alleged worked with Stars Group Holding in order to acquire equipment for the drones. The terrorist group has yet to release an official response about the sanctions.
American officials believe that the Hezbollah’s arsenal of drones was developed with the help from Iran, which is the terrorist group’s biggest patron and weapons supplier. The drones have proven to be particularly useful in Syria, where they can be used to track rebels moving through mountainous terrain near the border between Lebanon and Syria.
Washington has charged Hezbollah with running illicit businesses such as drug trafficking in order to fund its operations. The Lebanese group has repeatedly denied the charges. In 2011, the Treasury blacklisted Lebanese Canadian Bank, which was the eighth-largest bank in the country at the time, for allegedly aiding Hezbollah in laundering hundreds of millions of dollars gained through illicit drug operations. Following the sanctions, the bank was taken over by the Lebanese government and eventually liquidated.
Hezbollah, Iran and Russia have become strong supporters of Assad’s regime as the Syrian civil war has intensified over the last few years. US and Arab officials estimate the number of Hezbollah fighters in Syria to be in the thousands, and believe that the terrorist group has also sent several military advisors into the country.
Although Stars Group Holdings and its subsidiary companies landed on the US sanctions list due to their connections to Hezbollah, a terrorist group still maintains a vast network of criminal and terrorist activity. The sanctions represent another good step in the road toward eradicating Hezbollah, but there are plenty more left to take.
By Yitzchak Besser