Lebanon, which already was battling economic crisis due to political instability, is now in deep waters due to an economic onslaught by Hezbollah, trying to take over its banking sector. Hezbollah is the country’s Shia Islamist political party and a militant group, which is supported by Iran. If the armed group, designated as a terrorist organization by the western world and some Gulf nations, gains control of the country’s central bank, it would paralyze the nation’s financial system and would ease out channels of money laundering and terrorist funding.
According to the recent reports, the militant group is trying to place its allies into the central bank in order to evade US sanctions. A Lebanese financier, who spoke to the National, on the condition of anonymity, said, “For almost three decades the monetary authorities have been forced into an accommodation with Hezbollah while maintaining their relative independence. It is something else for Hezbollah to put its hand on the system.”
Last year, US intensified sanctions against the Iran-backed armed group, and institutions supporting it (directly or indirectly) to snap its source of income. To cripple the organization, Trump administration targeted lawmakers for the first time as well as a local bank, which it believed, had ties to the group.
One person, who has saved the bank from the clutches of the militant group so far is Riad Salameh, governor of Banque du Liban (BDL), the nation’s central bank, since 1993. Mr. Salameh ensured the strict implementation of US sanctions over the group, which dried up its monetary flows.
Now, Hezbollah is trying to install its people infill the top spot vacancies in the central bank (vice-governor BDL) and Banking Control Commission, which controls Lebanon’s 142 banks.
Hezbollah, whose Arabic translation means “Party of God,” was established by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard after the invasion of Lebanon by Israeli forces in 1982. The group is supported by Lebanon’s Shiite community, which not only runs institutions such as hospitals, clinics, and schools but also finances its missile programs. Hezbollah’s leadership claims to hold tens of thousands of missiles, which could destroy Israel. The influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon can be assessed from the fact that even after the country’s 15-year long civil war, which ended in 1990, this was the only militant group allowed to keep its arms.
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