By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
In a speech broadcast on Friday, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah scoffed at the recent US sanctions stating that these sanctions will not impact his group whatsoever due to the fact that Hezbollah receives full financial and arms support from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
He pointed out that “We do not have any business projects or investments via banks…” Nasrallah added that “We are open about the fact that Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, come from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” and he emphasized that his group “will not be affected” by any fresh sanctions.
Speaking in a speech to mark 40 days after the death of a high level Hezbollah commander Mustafah Bedreddine in the Syrian capital Damascus, Nasrallah stated that: “As long as Iran has money, we have money… Just as we receive the rockets that we use to threaten Israel, we are receiving our money. No law will prevent us from receiving it…”
First public confirmation
It has been long known to political observers that the Islamic Republic played a key role in giving birth to the Lebanese Shiite militant group in 1982. For over three decades, Iran’s financial, military, intelligence, logistical, and advisory assistances to Hezbollah have been well known. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite force, the Quds force, transformed Hezbollah to be one of Iran’s most important and powerful regional and international proxies.
Nevertheless, what highlights the significance of Nasrallah’s speech is the fact that this is the first time in which he is announcing and publicly confirming that his group is receiving full monetary and arms support from the Iranian government.
The United States has long listed Hezbollah as a global terrorist group (since 1995) and accused it in several attacks such as the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, that killed 241 US marines, the April 1983 US embassy bombing, and the 1984 US embassy annex bombing.
On Dec. 18, 2015, the US president signed the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act. The US Congress voted to impose fresh sanctions on Hezbollah by targeting those banks that are “knowingly facilitating a significant transaction or transactions for” Hezbollah and those financial institutions that “knowingly facilitating a significant transaction or transactions of a person identified on the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked persons.”
Nasrallah pointed out in his recent speech: “We totally reject this [United States] law until the Day of Judgment … Even if the law is applied, we as a party and an organizational and jihadist movement, will not be hurt or affected,” He added: “We have no money in Lebanese banks, neither in the past nor now … We don’t transfer our money through the Lebanese banking system.”
How this plays out in Washington
On the other hand, since Hezbollah is receiving full funding and arms support from Iran, according to Nasrallah, the US is now seemingly playing a critical role in assisting and facilitating the ways through which Hezbollah receives this significant aid from the Iranian government.
The Obama administration and Hassan Rowhani’s government were two key players in getting the nuclear agreement signed. When the nuclear terms started being implemented, the Obama administration began immediately transferring billions of dollars to Iran’s Central Bank. One of the payments included 1.7 billion dollars transferred, in January 2015.
Two of the major primary beneficiaries of these sanctions reliefs and flow of money are Hezbollah and the IRGC. Iran also immediately increased its military budget by $1.5 billion from $15.6 billion to $17.1 billion. Iran also began witnessing the flow of money due to the lifting of international sanctions.
Nasrallah’s speech also indicates that the US money transfer to Iran’s bank and the sanctions reliefs appear to have empowered and emboldened both the Iranian government and the Hezbollah leader.
Previously, when sanctions were imposed on Iran, Tehran had to reduce Hezbollah and its TV’s (Al-Manar channel) funding from the approximately $200 million a year. However, thanks to Washington, the money that Iran is receiving from the US or the market is again going on its way to Hezbollah, the major benefactor.
President Obama had given hope to world powers that engaging with Iran and the nuclear deal with Tehran would more likely force the Iranian government to moderate its behavior. Obama pointed out in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep that as a result of the nuclear agreement Iran would start “different decisions that are less offensive to its neighbors; that it tones down the rhetoric in terms of its virulent opposition…”
Hezbollah’s confirmation of receiving money and arms from Iran is intriguing. Almost all signs indicate that the continuation of sanctions relief, and US transfer of billions of dollars to Iran militarily and financially assisting and ending up in the hands of Iran’s primary proxy, Hezbollah as well as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the Quds force.