Washington has succeeded in drastically slashing the financial resources of Hezbollah and will continue until the party’s finances run dry, Marshall Billingslea, assistant secretary for terrorist financing in the United States Department of the Treasury, told The Daily Star newspaper.
“These are the next wave of sanctions. What we are making very, very clear to Hezbollah is that they do not and will not operate unimpeded in any foreign location, including Iraq. This administration under U.S. President Donald Trump has imposed more financial sanctions on Hezbollah in one year than in U.S. administration in history,” Billingslea told The Daily Star in an interview over the phone.
Billingslea vowed that the pressure on Hezbollah would continue and expand.
“We will continue to pressure Hezbollah wherever they operate and we have noticed activities around the world such as South America, where we worked together in close cooperation with Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil to disrupt funding operations funded by Hezbollah,” he said.
Billingslea estimated that Iran funnels over $700 million in cash to Hezbollah annually, but expressed his strong belief that this amount would fall dramatically as a result of the tough U.S. sanctions on Iran.
The U.S. official heaped praise on Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, who cooperated closely with the U.S. Treasury in a concerted effort to clamp down on all sources of funding for terrorist groups, including Hezbollah.
“We have an excellent and very close relationship with Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. It is because of his professionalism and his team that we became highly confident that the Central Bank and many of the key Lebanese banks are taking all the necessary measures to protect the banking system of Lebanon from Hezbollah,” Billingslea said.
He added that the U.S. Treasury was counting on the cooperation of all Lebanese banks to prevent Hezbollah from penetrating the financial system in the country.
“As a whole, the Lebanese banks are doing a good job and taking the necessary steps to clamp down on terrorism financing and money laundering. There are problems that emerged from time to time but I won’t go into specifics. Generally speaking, the Central Bank and the major Lebanese banks are taking all the necessary steps,” Billingslea said.
He warned that Hezbollah was a “very sophisticated terrorist group” and that constant vigilance was essential.
“Hasan Nasrallah is owned and controlled by Iran and they [Iranians] funnel enormous [sums] of money [to] the party. The party receives at least $700 million a year from Iran in combination of cash and other mechanisms,” Billingslea said.
He added that on Nov. 5, the U.S. Treasury reimposed massive sanctions on Iranians, noting that Qasem Soleimani and the Iranian regime were already feeling the financial effects of Washington’s measures.
“They [Iranians] have to make a tough decision on how much money they are willing to give to Nasrallah instead of looking into their own affairs,” Billingslea said. He added that thanks to the U.S. sanctions, Iran had less money to spend on its “terrorist organizations.”
“The dominant funding for Hezbollah is still Iran. In addition to Iran, Hezbollah officials deal with narcotics and we are targeting their operations in the drug trade. There is also horrific activities such as trafficking in young girls in Gambia,” Billingslea said. He added that Washington had foiled many illicit operations by Hezbollah on almost every continent in recent years.
The official also commended the cooperation of the GCC countries that have added the names of Hezbollah officials to their terror lists. “I promise you that Hasan Nasrallah is feeling the effects of our actions,” he said.
Billingslea stressed that any Hezbollah official was a terrorist whether he was a minister or not.
But he declined to speculate what Washington’s position would be in case the Health Ministry was awarded to Hezbollah. “I won’t speculate on that but this [step] would be hugely problematic,” he said.