WASHINGTON - The U.S. government announced new sanctions Tuesday on three senior officials of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah for its role in undermining Lebanon's financial system and assisting Iran's agenda in the country.
The targeted Hezbollah officials are Amin Sherri, Muhammad Hasan Ra'd and Wafiq Safa. Sherri and Ra'd are members of the Lebanese parliament, while Safa is known to be a major Hezbollah facilitator.
This is the first time that the U.S. Department of the Treasury has targeted members of the Lebanese parliament who are affiliated with Hezbollah, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization.
"They have assisted the Iranian regime in its efforts to undermine Lebanese sovereignty," U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said during a press conference Tuesday.
"These officials have exploited their positions to smuggle illicit goods into Lebanon, undermining Lebanese financial institutions to assist Hezbollah and to evade U.S. sanctions against Hezbollah facilitators and financiers," she added.
Ortagus said targeting the three officials was part of the U.S.' efforts to counter Hezbollah's "corrupting influence in Lebanon."
Hezbollah is backed by the Iranian government. The group has a growing influence over Lebanon's political and military establishments. The Shiite terror group is in control of the country's parliament after winning the majority of seats in the country's 2018 elections.
Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said sanctioning Hezbollah-linked officials is a significant move, as Iran and Hezbollah have infiltrated the Lebanese political system.
"This is a way of demonstrating that the United States understands not only that philosophy and ideology (are) guiding these groups, but it also sends a message that (Hezbollah) can no longer use political elements as a face or a veneer for the party," he told VOA.
U.S. officials said Hezbollah's presence in the Lebanese parliament has benefited the group and its benefactor, Iran.
"Hezbollah uses its operatives in Lebanon's parliament to manipulate institutions in support of the terrorist group's financial and security interests, and to bolster Iran's malign activities," Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Some experts believe that Iran's influence in Lebanon could be reduced through U.S. sanctions.
"This is a strong signal to Tehran that their efforts will not go unabated anymore, in terms of how the U.S. recognizes Hezbollah's general control over the Lebanese state and the influence that they wield," Smyth said.
However, Alex Vatanka, an analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington, doubts the effectiveness of such measures.
"Sanctioning elected politicians who came to power through democratic means will not only muddle the cause but may also bring more complexity to the intentions made upon blacklisting these Lebanese officials," he said.
"The usefulness of this tool has not (been) proven yet," Vatanka told VOA. "I think it will have a minimal effect on the course of politics in Lebanon and its next election, nor will it change Tehran's policies or its trajectory for the region."
Hezbollah has been increasingly targeted by U.S. sanctions in recent months. Since May 2018 when the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. has imposed a number of sanctions against Tehran, including the designation of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization in April of this year.