A multimillion-dollar reward offered by the Trump administration in return for information leading to the arrest of two senior operatives of Hezbollah is part of ongoing US efforts to "demonize" the group, a party official said Oct. 11.
The new US measures, including recent sanctions, will not affect Hezbollah's operational activities, the official added.
He was reacting to the US State Department's announcement Oct. 10 of an up to $7 million reward for information on Talal Hamiyah, who it says leads Hezbollah's "international terrorism branch" and who the US claim has been linked to attacks, hijackings and kidnappings targeting US citizens.
Another $5 million is being offered for information on Fu'ad Shukr, a member of Hezbollah who runs the group's military forces in southern Lebanon. The State Department said he played a key role in Hezbollah's recent military operations in Syria.
US State Department wanted poster from RewardsForJustice.net/
The total of $12 million for information leading to the location, arrest or conviction of the two comes as part of tougher US action against Iran, Hezbollah's patron.
Shukr and Hamiyah are believed to have worked alongside Mustafa Badreddine running the party's military operations after the death of Imad Mughniyeh. Badreddine, one of the founders of Hezbollah in 1982, took a leading role in the group's military wing after the death of his brother-in-law, Mughniyeh, in Syria in February 2008.
Badreddine was indicted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as a key suspect in the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others in 2005, but was himself killed in Syria in 2016. Media reports speculated that internal Hezbollah power struggles had led party leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah himself to order Badreddine's death, although a party spokesman denied the claims in March of this year.
Sheikh Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.
The rewards are the first offered by the United States for Hezbollah leaders in a decade, and come against the backdrop of heightened US-Iran tensions resulting from President Donald Trump's threats to scuttle the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
An avowed critic of the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, Trump has called it one of America's "worst and most one-sided transactions" ever. US officials have said he is looking for ways to pressure Tehran. Under the new policy, the White House is focusing on the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah – two Iran-backed entities that have long elicited scorn from much of the West.
The Hezbollah official dismissed the accusations, saying the US should be "the last state" to designate people on terror lists and accusing it of supporting terrorist organizations and sponsoring states and regimes "that have a long history in financing and supporting terrorism."
"It is part of the continuous efforts to demonize Hezbollah. They are false accusations that will not have any effect on the operational activities of Hezbollah," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with party regulations.
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Photo from CounterExtremism.com
Later Oct. 11, MP Hussein Musawi – a member of Hezbollah's Loyalty to the Resistance Parliamentary bloc – said the "US is the mother of terrorism." He continued: "The plan's aim is to encourage Muslims to kill each other and to make peace with the criminal Zionists."
All efforts to distort Hezbollah's image and show a different image about Iran will fail, he added in a statement. "Remaining silent about this [American] interference may take Lebanon downhill toward collapse. This is what the enemies of Lebanon want."
Musawi went on, saying: "We advise those concerned not to take any American dictates, by maintaining the policy of constructive dialogue between all political forces and components."
Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to shore up President Bashar Assad's forces in the country's ongoing civil war. The group has been fighting ISIS inside Syria and along the Lebanese-Syrian border.