US highlights threat of Iran-backed terrorism

On Tuesday, the US issued multi-million dollar rewards for information on two Hezbollah leaders and one Hamas leader, while Washington moved to block assets of several other members of Hezbollah with ties to Iraq.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – On Tuesday, the US issued multi-million dollar rewards for information on two Hezbollah leaders and one Hamas leader, while Washington designated four Hezbollah figures working in Iraq as global terrorists.

Those actions are a further part of the Trump administration’s effort to pressure and isolate Iran, or as Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Nathan Sales, explained to reporters, these measures “are one more step in our campaign to build the toughest sanctions regime ever imposed on Iran.”

Tehran spends nearly one billion dollars a year on terrorist activities, Sales explained. The bulk of those funds—some $700 million—goes to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

With Iran’s backing, “Hezbollah has built a fearsome arsenal,” he said.

Hezbollah has “stockpiled more than 100,000 rockets and missiles inside Lebanon.” And it “hides its missile factories in population centers,” the ambassador continued, in effect, using those civilians as “human shields.”

Sales noted that Lebanese Prime Minister-designate, Saad Hariri, had earlier on Tuesday publicly denounced Hezbollah for blocking the formation of a new government in Beirut.

In addition, Iran has recently restored ties with Hamas following an earlier split over Syria’s civil war, as Sunnis and Shia first took up opposite sides in that conflict. The US is “deeply concerned” about the growing relationship between the two, Sales said.

Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, Michael Evanoff, explained to reporters the new rewards that the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice Program,” administered by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, has announced.

They include up to $5 million for “information leading to the identification or location” of Lebanese Hezbollah leaders, Khalil Harb and Haytham Ali Tabatabai, and Hamas leader, Salih al-Aruri.

The information on these figures provided by the State and Treasury Departments offers a glimpse of the “terrorist internationale” that Iran has long been building to project its influence in the region.

Khalil Harb rose through Hezbollah’s ranks as a military commander in Lebanon in the 1980s to supervise, in 2000, Hezbollah operations “inside Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, and Turkey,” according to an earlier statement from the Treasury Department.

Subsequently, Harb became Hezbollah’s chief of military liaison with Palestinian groups and Iran. After 2011, when Yemen became embroiled in a bloody civil war, Harb became centrally involved in the political and financial side of Hezbollah’s activities there, transferring large amounts of money to its Houthi allies.

Tabatabai is a “key Hezbollah military leader who has commanded Hezbollah’s special forces in both Syria and Yemen,” a State Department poster explains.

Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Nathan Sales, at a State Department briefing on November 13, 2018. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Nathan Sales, at a State Department briefing on November 13, 2018. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

Salah al-Aruri, a Palestinian who has been in and out of Israeli prison, is now deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau. He is also a founder of its military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Aruri currently lives in Lebanon, where he is working with Qasim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC-QF). His activities include funding and directing Hamas terrorism in the West Bank.

Aruri has also been “a major player” in Hamas’ relations with Iran, Sales explained, and he is now “playing an important role in the reconciliation” between the two parties.

Also on Tuesday, the Treasury Department issued a statement denouncing Hezbollah as “a terrorist proxy for the Iranian regime that seeks to undermine Iraqi sovereignty and destabilize the Middle East.”

Treasury announced that it had named “four Hezbollah-affiliated individuals who lead and coordinate” Hezbollah’s “operational, intelligence, and financial activities in Iraq” as Specifically Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs.)

The designations reflect Trump administration concerns—and the real danger—that as the US imposes tough sanctions on Iran, Tehran will exploit Iraqi institutions and companies to circumvent the punitive US measures.

Among the four individuals named on Tuesday is Shibl al-Zaydi, an Iraqi who “has served as a financial coordinator between the IRGC-QF and sectarian armed groups in Iraq,” the Treasury Department explained.

Clearly, the Treasury Department is referring to some Shia militias, but chose to use the obfuscating language of “sectarian armed groups.”

Zaydi has also “facilitated Iraqi investments” on behalf of Qasim Soleimani and engaged in oil smuggling on Iran’s behalf, Treasury explained.

Yusuf Hashim, a Lebanese national, “oversees all Hezbollah-related operational activities in Iraq” and manages “Hezbollah’s relations with sectarian armed groups in Iraq.” That includes coordinating “the deployment of fighters to Syria.”

Adnan Kawtharani “facilitates business transactions for Hezbollah inside Iraq.” He also serves as “the right-hand man for his brother,” Mohammed, a senior Hezbollah figure, previously sanctioned for his activities “on behalf of Hezbollah leadership to promote the group’s interests in Iraq.”

The Treasury designated Mohammed Kawtharani in 2013, explaining that he was active in “Hezbollah’s efforts to provide training, funding, political, and logistical support to Iraq Shia insurgent groups,” including sending “fighters to Syria to support the Assad regime.”

Muhammad Farhat is the fourth figure designated on Tuesday. He was a spy for Iran—“tasked with collecting security and intelligence information in Iraq” and providing reports to the Iranian and Hezbollah leadership, the Treasury Department said.

Editing by Nadia Riva