"For decades, Hezbollah has threatened the stability and security of Lebanon and the region by using terrorism against innocent civilians, unnecessarily exposing Lebanon to economic and financial risks, and undermining the country's sovereignty. and its democratic institutions, "writes Billingslea in his column, which OLJ has chosen to publish widely. "Hezbollah must no longer be allowed to deprive the Lebanese people of a democratic future devoid of corruption and foreign interference. That is why on August 29, the Treasury Department sanctioned the Jammal Trust Bank which is based in Lebanon, classifying it as an entity specifically designated as a global terrorist for the financial services it gives to Hezbollah, "said the head of the Treasury. American.
Jammal Trust, which has been operating in Lebanon for several decades, is officially described by Washington as a "terrorist" organization for providing financial services to the Hezbollah Executive Council and the Iran-based Martyrs Foundation.
In his speech, Billingslea also denounced the complicity of Hezbollah MP Amine Cherri, who had been beaten, as well as the leader of his bloc, Mohammad Raad, in July of similar sanctions.
"By working with Amine Cherri, the bankers of Jammal Trust Bank and other Hezbollah terrorists are a blot on the financial reputation of Lebanon and should be excluded from all banking circles," said the official.
Contacted by the OLJ, Mr. Cherri refused to comment "for the sake," he says, "to preserve the banking sector and its stability, especially since this issue is extremely sensitive."
The words of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury are part of the strategy followed by the US administration since the tug of war between the United States and Iran has become tough and the sanctions against Iran, Hezbollah and their allies in the region have grown.
During his visit to Beirut last March, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had already announced the color by inviting the Lebanese to cut the umbilical cord with the Shiite party which, he said, "puts Lebanon and its people in danger ".
It is in similar terms that the US President, Donald Trump, addressed the people of Iran last March, on the occasion of the feast of Norouz (the new year of the Persian calendar), inviting him to disassociate himself of the "dictatorial regime" in place, thus making a clear distinction between "those who aspire to freedom and prosperity", and the Iranian theocratic regime.
Financial expert and chairman of the "In Defense of Christians" foundation, Toufic Baaklini, a Libano-American close to the American administration, believes that Billingslea's words "perfectly reflect" the new American strategy towards Iran and its acolytes in the region. "The message to the Lebanese is this: wake up and finally realize that it is the whole country, all communities combined, that is paying the price for Hezbollah's behavior," he said.
Mr. Billingslea has deliberately sought to issue a conciliatory message to the savers of the Jammal Trust Bank, a sign of the policy of dissociation, which the US administration places within the Shia community.
"We are confident that the Bank of Lebanon will take the necessary steps to freeze, close and liquidate Jammal Trust Bank, while settling its large debt to its innocent account holders, many of whom Hezbollah claims to represent. Hezbollah wants to push the Lebanese people to believe that the party is the protector of the country. But we have seen the opposite, "said the deputy secretary of the Treasury in a reference to independent Shiites.
For Baaklini, the pressure will continue relentlessly. "The United States does not and will not make a community distinction on sanctions. These target and will continue to target any individual or society that helps or supports, logistically and financially, "the Shiite party. "However," he says, "the range can expand to include political allies in the future, regardless of their community affiliation. "
According to Hanine Ghaddar, a researcher at the Washington Institute, the Jammal Trust Bank was "at the top of the list of targeted banks and had received several warnings previously." "This new measure against her," she says, "is a strong message to other banking institutions that may suffer the same fate if they do not comply with the regulations. "
Create a schism
On the side of Hezbollah, we opt for mutism. Contacted, party spokesman Mohammad Afif declined to comment on Billingslea's remarks. A journalist close to the party, Fayçal Abdel Sater, however, responded by saying that the words of the US official "clearly aim at creating a schism between the Lebanese he seeks to mount against each other, and between Hezbollah and its base popular. What he does not know is that the Hezbollah public will not be affected by this climate, "he says.
In the circles of the Amal movement, caution is required. A member of Nabih Berry's parliamentary bloc, Yassine Jaber, weighs his words and tries to reassure without too much conviction. "This is a declared war of sanctions that is not surprising after the remarks made by Mr. Pompeo in Beirut," he said. It should be noted, however, that sanctions are not arbitrarily taken and that the impact will not be direct on the Lebanese banking sector. However, according to him, "there could be an indirect impact on the international banking system, which could develop a mistrust of Lebanese banks".
For Farès Souhaid, former MP and virulent critic of Hezbollah, "the border that the US administration tries to draw between, on the one hand, the banking sectarian, the institutions and the interests of the Lebanese people, and, on the other hand, Hezbollah has been virtual since the presidential compromise and integration (of the Shiite party) to a government that has failed to establish this distance between the two camps.
According to Mr. Souhaid, this dissociation is not really desired by the United States, even if they repeat to the envy that they do not want the rest of the Lebanese feeling the impact of the sanctions. "On the contrary, the US administration wants to create a shock and arouse a strong awakening among citizens as a whole so that they become aware of the adverse effects caused by the activities of Hezbollah financially, economically and even socially," concludes Mr. Souhaid.
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Philippe HAGE BOUTROS