13 September 2019 — 21st Century Wire
21st Century Wire
Nearly three years into the Trump administration, one thing is clear: as it struggles to wage any direct military or proxy wars, Washington has instead relied on economic warfare against its perceived enemies, and largely on behalf of the state of Israel. Rather than hamper its supposed enemies, this policy is actually driving sanctioned parties into closer alliances, and hastening the inevitable geopolitical realignment of the region and the world.
Through the U.S. Treasury Department and its own openly pro-Israel agents of influence, namely Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker, Israel has been able to attack and undermine all of its own geopolitical enemies and region rivals. The chief mechanism for achieving this is by directing the US government to label any person, politician or state agency – as a “terrorist,” or as a terrorist entity, thus allowing the US government to apply sanctions against any person or entity which Israel designates as its enemy, or even potential enemy. It’s also no secret that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has openly boasted that it convinced the Trump to withdrawal from the JCPOA Iran Nuclear Agreement of 2015, a policy move which triggered a seemingly endless raft of sanctions. As a result of this new runaway policy, the list of sanctioned persons and organisations by the Trump administration is the most in US history.
Firmly in its crosshairs are Lebanon’s well-established political and military wings of the Hezbollah organisation. However, there is a fundamental flaw in the western framing of Hezbollah. Firstly, it’s a historical fact that Hezbollah was born out of Israel’s illegal occupation of southern Lebanon. Had Israel not invaded and occupied this region and prosecuted its long and violent military campaign during and after the Lebanese Civil War, then it’s possible that the Hezbollah movement would never had formed in the way that it did. It was born out of Israel’s occupation. Indeed, Iran has been traditional supporter of the group, which has naturally drawn the ire of Washington and Tel Aviv, both of who view both Iran and Hezbollah as a joint obstacle to US-Israeli strategic security objectives in the Middle East.
In order to elevate Hezbollah to ‘most targeted status,’ US officials have had to repeatedly recycle fabricated claims that Hezbollah is acting as major global terrorist organisation. In the same breath, US officials, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will enthusiastically drift out the well-worn fable that ‘Iran is the world’s number state-sponsor of terror’. Earlier this year, the US also announced that henceforth, Iran’s leading military divisions, the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Quds Force, are now designated as a “terrorist organisation.” The cold irony here is that Hezbollah militias are presently fighting (and defeating) actual terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda and ISIS (terrorists created, as well as armed and financed by numerous western and gulf states, including the United States) in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. This poses a serious problem for western powers with neocolonial designs because militarily speaking, Hezbollah has upgraded itself from a largely national defense force, to a bona fide region player.
Since 2013, they have played a pivotal role in ejecting al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists from their enclaves in Syria, thus thwarting the regime change objectives of US, UK, France, NATO member states, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and also Israel too. Likewise for IRGC and Quds special forces and military advisors have been deployed in Iraq and Syria – invited by those governments – in order to help subdue the invading terrorist brigades. The same is true for Iranian-backed militias in Iraq like the Hash’d Shaabi (People’s Mobilization Units), predominantly Shia, and who were pivotal in Iraq’s ultimate victory over ISIS in 2017. This did not stop US officials from repeatedly threatening the Hash’d and demanding the Iraqi government disband the new 120,000 strong defense force. Veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn summed it up when he concluded that the greatest threat to building peace in Iraq was not ISIS, but rather, Trump’s determination to ‘pick a fight’ with Iran. Documentation on the number of casualties is still difficult to determine, but on the aggregate, between Hezbollah, Hash’d, Iranian forces, the losses sustained in the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda number in the tens of thousands – and likely far more than the combined US soldier death tolls in 18 year-long War on Terror in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. Regardless of general western ignorance of what has actually transpired in Syria since 2011, and in Iraq since 2014, the people who actually live in the Middle East know the severity of this largely foreign-backed terrorist usurpation.
Regardless of the facts on the ground, neoconservatives and war hawks in the Beltway are still happily pressing ahead with their policies. With Tel Aviv carefully leading from behind, Washington has successfully pressured many of its allies to obey its geopolitical dictates, with the UK, Argentina and Paraguay all falling into line this year by designating Hezbollah – both its political and military wings – as a terrorist organisation, as well as pressuring Brazil to follow suit.
Of deeper concern for Washington though, is that Hezbollah is defending Lebanon’s borders from what is undoubtedly the region’s most prolific aggressor – Israel. In just the last few weeks, Israel has attacked no less than 4 of its neighbours, including unprovoked military strikes against Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and of against Palestinians living under illegal Israeli occupation in Gaza. Hezbollah also poses another threat to Israeli hegemony in the region because of its unflagging support for resistance against Israel’s violent occupation and ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian people. Similarly, the Islamic Republic of Iran also supports the Palestinian resistance cause, which is also a predicate for Israel’s various and sundry fabricated claims about a ‘secret Iranian nuclear arsenal,’ and imagined conspiracy that ‘Iran is occupying Syria’ – all of which are designed to garner leverage in Washington whereby US officials can view Hezbollah an accomplice to “Iran’s threat world peace.” This is the sort of geopolitical gymnastics which Israel is attempting to perform on a daily basis in order to justify the longest-running, most brutal and inhumane apartheid regimes in modern history – being waged against Palestinians and Arabs in the Middle East.
This week, the US announced it will increase its sanctions against Hamas (placing them in the same frame as ISIS), one of Palestine’s largest political bodies, and which was elected by Palestinians to govern Gaza. How Hamas threatens US security is anyone’s guess. This move, announced by Mnuchin himself, is clearly designed for the benefit of Israel, as it further isolates and cuts-off any significant international support for Palestine. Like with Hezbollah, Hamas is an elected political party in government – now reduced to a “terrorist” organisation. Along with its militia wing, it is resisting an illegal occupation by Israeli forces according to numerous UN Resolutions. These are all inconvenient facts which are casually brushes aside by most American political and mainstream media pundits, because they do not suit the object the exercise – to deplatform and ultimately dehumanise any local resistance to what is now widely regarded as a post-WWII neocolonial debacle.
Targeting Hezbollah’s Political Allies
Still, Washington insists on basing its international relations on numerous fabricated claims about Iran and Hezbollah, much of which has been drafted by Israel’s J Street lobbyists and the Prime Minister’s office in Tel Aviv. Now the Trump administration is taking this method a step further by threatening to sanction any political allies of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
After his visit last April to Lebanon, Secretary Pompeo told delegations that the US would sanction political “individuals” linked to Hezbollah in order to counter their ‘military and political growth,’ with the idea that this will somehow deter Iran too. Al Jazeera also reported on that visit:
“Hanin Ghaddar, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Al Jazeera that, according to her sources, Pompeo warned President Michel Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Speaker Nabih Berri of the Amal movement, with personal sanctions.”
With military options practically off the table, sanctions are one of the only remaining option for Washington and Tel Aviv to try and undermine Hezbollah. But will it work? Washington often claims its only levying sanctions in order to extract concessions, or to “encourage good behaviour,” only its record in extracting any concessions from its enemies as a result of punitive sanctions ranges from poor to nonexistent.
Unfortunately, this lagging counter-move by Washington may be a day late and dollar short – because like it or not, Hezbollah is now a political force in Lebanese politics who along with its allies, have a working majority in the Lebanese Parliament, as well as holding key ministerial and cabinet positions.
Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker says that the US is “reviewing” its list of sanctions targets in Lebanon, based on a desire to expand sanctions in the country against individuals who are “aiding and assisting Hezbollah.”
While this has often been proposed in the past, in keeping with US hostility toward Hezbollah, it is wildly problematic, given Hezbollah exists within Lebanon as a perfectly legitimate political party operating within a major coalition.
Hezbollah is, after all, part of the March 8 Alliance, which controls the majority of the seats in parliament. If this allies-of-Hezbollah position is applied politically, it would necessarily mean US sanctions on the entire elected coalition government.
That wouldn’t necessarily be out of keeping with US stated positions, as they’ve threatened Lebanon ahead of virtually every election in recent memory not to vote for the Hezbollah bloc. It would, however, derail recent US interest in trying to build up its influence with the Lebanese government, and alienate the country’s Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Christians in equal measures.
The reality is that his policy of unrestrained, headlong US sanctions have only driven Washington’s perceived enemies closer together, by providing targeted individuals, organisations and states with the impetus to form even tighter cooperative alliances. This is no more evident than with the US-led collective punishment and economic embargo of Syria, Iran, and also Iraq too (something which will not disappear from the Iraqi collective memory for the foreseeable future). As a result, the arch of resistance to the last 50 years of US-Israeli dominance over the region has grown significantly, stretching from the Mediterranean to Persia, and buttressed by committed support from world powers like Russia and China. There can be little debate as to the provenance of such a historic realignment. It is a direct result of ham-fisted and perennially deficient US and Israeli policy in the region and globally, and it’s only pushed the world towards instability and war, and never towards stability and peace. One might expect the self-described realists in Washington to understand this fait accompli – that targeted parties will simply act in their own self-interest in the face of such an arbitrary and blunt policy instrument.
In short, by allowing Israel to commandeer its US Treasury Department, Washington continues to look increasingly desperate, and unable to marshal any meaningful support for what many are increasingly regarding as an incoherent foreign policy. What this US administration has yet to realise is that America’s only actual power in the wider world was its ability to be perceived as an honest broker of international affairs. That, unfortunately, died with Iraq.
Trump’s sanctions tirade is only accelerating the inevitable. The longer they carry on the charade, the closer the rest of the world will move towards a new multi-polar order. Whether the world can then find any stability in a multi-polar framework will depend largely on the behaviour of America and its allies, more than anyone else’s.
Author Patrick Henningsen is an American writer and global affairs analyst and founder of independent news and analysis site 21st Century Wire, and is host of the SUNDAY WIRE weekly radio show broadcast globally over the Alternate Current Radio Network (ACR). He has written for a number of international publications and has done extensive on-the-ground reporting in the Middle East including work in Syria and Iraq.