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Security, Political Messages behind Hezbollah’s Threat to Lebanese Banks

Security, Political Messages behind Hezbollah’s Threat to Lebanese Banks

Tuesday, 15 October, 2019 - 06:15
A general view shows a street hosting banks and financial institutions, known as Banks street, in Beirut Central District, Lebanon June 2, 2017. (Reuters)

Hezbollah’s threats to take to the streets to confront Lebanese bank measures hold security and political messages to local and foreign powers.

The Iran-backed party had threatened to stage protests against banks that adhere to US sanctions against its leaders and economic institutions.

The threat had alarmed observers, who expressed their concern that Iran may seize control of Lebanon’s financial stability in order to draw Washington’s attention and lure it to the negotiations table.

The pro-Hezbollah local Lebanese daily, al-Akhbar, revealed that the party leadership has outlined several steps, including street protests to confront the banks.

The party will not stand idly by as the banks and other institutions adhere to American sanctions, it reported.

The daily said the party had taken the decision to confront the banks, but it has yet to decide on the way to do so.

While the party fell short on announcing the date for such rallies, a banking source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Hezbollah threat jeopardizes security and “gives its supporters the green light to attack and storm banks.”

“There are no fears on the financial sector and people’s deposits in the banks where liquidity is available,” it added. “However, any street protest would create concern and confusion among the people.”

“Banks play no role in the sanctions,” he stressed, saying people should instead protest against officials who have driven Lebanon to the abyss.

Economic expert Dr. Sami Nader told Asharq Al-Awsat that Hezbollah’s message is primarily aimed against the US, saying that it can target two Lebanese institutions that Washington deems a red line: The Lebanese army and banking sector.

Hezbollah previously attempted to target Army Commander General Joseph Aoun when it brought up the case of Amer al-Fakhoury, a Lebanese who had collaborated with Israel, he explained.

The party failed in its efforts and therefore, now set its sights on the banking sector, he noted.

Nader wondered whether Lebanese banks should refuse to abide by the US sanctions and suffer the same fate as the Jammal Trust Bank that liquidated itself last month.

The political aspect of Hezbollah’s threats is related to the ongoing US conflict with Iran.

Coordinator of the March 14 General Secretariat, former deputy Fares Souaid told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that the party follows Iranian instructions.

He said Tehran wants to attract the attention of the US and the world by creating tensions and destabilizing the Arab world.

He said that Iran started with the “war on tankers, then attacked Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia and is now trying to manipulate Lebanon’s monetary stability.”

“Washington is aware that the banks are the backbone of Lebanon’s financial and economic stability and there are concerns that Iran would fulfill its pledge to target the banks. However, the US will not come to the rescue of the banking sector,” he warned.

“We take these threats seriously and realize that the US is not concerned with saving the sector,” he continued, while questioning the government’s silence over the issue.

“Lebanon is now hostage to Iran’s wishes with the approval of some government forces, especially the Free Patriotic Movement, headed by Gebran Bassil,” Souaid said.

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