Britain expands Hizbullah asset-freezing measures

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Members of Lebanon's Hizbullah take part in a military parade. [Photo circulated on social media]

Members of Lebanon's Hizbullah take part in a military parade. [Photo circulated on social media]

The British government recently expanded its asset-freezing measures against Lebanon's Hizbullah in a move that further targets the group's pursestrings.

The move, effective January 17th, targets the entire party under the Terrorist Assets-Freezing Act of 2010, meaning its political wing will now be subject to asset-freezing measures, in addition to its military wing.

In a February 28th, 2019 ruling, Britain designated the whole of Hizbullah as a terrorist organisation, saying it was impossible to distinguish between the party's political and military wings.

It had previously subjected only Hizbullah's military wing to an assets freeze.

Britain's move is "a logical decision in light of the path the party is currently pursuing", said Future Movement official and former Tripoli MP Mustafa Allouch.

There should be no distinction between Hizbullah's military and political wings, he told Al-Mashareq.

Hizbullah has been and remains closely linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), he said, noting that whatever decisions apply to the IRGC should apply to the Lebanese militia as well.

Britain's move may adversely affect Lebanon's economy, which is already struggling, he said, but it is also a decision intended to dry up the militia's sources of funding.

The country "is reaping the bad fruit of Hizbullah's actions over the years in Lebanon and the world", Allouch said.

Drying up funding sources

Britain's decision comes amid an escalation between Iran and the West, which has seen "stepped up pressure to dry up the party's funding sources, as well as restrict its political activity", said al-Joumhouriya economic editor Tony Farah.

Hizbullah is a liability for Lebanon's economy and financial markets, he told Al-Mashareq, pointing out that the country's economy is heavily reliant on Gulf investment and tourism.

The UK Treasury's decision "comes in the context of increasing pressure on Hizbullah and paves the way for EU countries to take a similar decision down the road", said Lebanese journalist and political analyst Tony Abi Najm.

It will severely affect the party's ability to act politically and financially, and will pave the way for subsequent punitive measures, he told Al-Mashareq.

It will subject Hizbullah to further pressure, which could bring it to a crisis point and force both the party and Iran to make concessions, he added.

The UK's move is in line with "steps taken by the US", he said, which extend from the imposition of sanctions on Hizbullah and Iran to the killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

Hizbullah is facing pressure to back down, he added, "because its continued pursuit of these policies exposes Lebanon as a whole to further sanctions".

Foreign support needed

"Today we are in a financial, economic and social dead end," said Lebanon's new Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Wednesday (January 22nd) after his newly unveiled cabinet held its first meeting.

Diab, a 61-year-old academic and the successor to Saad al-Hariri, was thrown in at the deep end for his first experience on the political stage and admitted that the situation he inherited was desperate, AFP reported.

"We are facing a catastrophe," he said.

Western sanctions on Hizbullah are stacking up and economists have said the new government might struggle to secure sorely-needed aid.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appealed for the new government to enact serious reforms to tackle the twin challenges of a collapsing economy and angry street protests.

"Only a government that is capable of and committed to undertaking real and tangible reforms will restore investor confidence and unlock international assistance for Lebanon," he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would "do everything, during this deep crisis that they are going through, to help".

Lebanon "needs outside assistance if it wants to overcome its crisis", Farah said.

The country needs to develop a plan, with the IMF as a partner, to save its economy, he said.

What is required is "a long-term rescue plan spanning at least five years that includes the state's general financial plan and the recapitalisation of banks and the private sector to get them back on their feet in order to attract investment".

This should be accompanied by reforms stipulated by the international community as a condition to help Lebanon out of its crisis, Farah said.

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Britain is the biggest supporter of terrorism.