The Trump administration announced new sanctions on Tuesday targeting three senior officials of Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militia, saying the group had employed “Mafia-like behavior” in the country.
Though the three men whose assets were frozen are all Lebanese, the move was as much against Iran, Hezbollah's primary backer. In announcing the sanctions, a senior administration official said the three men — two of whom are prominent politicians — had been using their positions to facilitate Hezbollah’s “malign agenda and do Iran’s bidding.”
The Hezbollah officials are Amin Sherri, Muhammad Hasan Ra’d and Wafiq Safa.
The administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under White House rules, said Sherri, a member of parliament, had threatened violence against Lebanese bankers and their families to force their help in getting around U.S. sanctions on a Hezbollah financier.
The official said Ra’d, also a member of parliament, is a “key Hezbollah decision-maker.” Safa is the head of Hezbollah's security apparatus, and officials said he has facilitated the entry of illegal drugs and weapons into Lebanon.
Another official said the administration is taking a “gloves off” approach to Hezbollah.
“Their documented behavior shows they are actually not politicians but thug enforcers who systematically intimidate others in the Lebanese government and private sector and have done so with impunity for many years,” the official said.
Last month, the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and eight senior commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after Iran downed a U.S. surveillance drone.
At the time, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said President Trump had directed him to impose sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. But so far Zarif has not been explicitly hit with sanctions, and he occasionally visits the United States.
Asked why Zarif has not yet faced sanctions, officials said they were still exploring “avenues” for more sanctions against Iran and characterized Zarif as an object of “key interest.”