The Obama administration on Friday added Iranian-backed Islamic militant group Hezbollah to the list of groups sanctioned for aiding President Bashar Assad's crackdown in Syria, a move aimed squarely at undermining Iran's influence in the region.
“With actions such as today's designation,” the Treasury Department said in a statement, “Treasury will continue to expose Iran's provision of support for the Government of Syria as well as its continued support of Hizballah's activities within Syria and throughout the region.”
Shiite Iran has remained one of Assad's few consistent allies in the 18-month uprising led mostly by disgruntled Sunnis. Lebanon-based Hezbollah, by contrast, has kept a lower profile to avoid antagonizing a Muslim community that's bitterly divided over the conflict in Syria.
Earlier this year, the head of Hezbollah's information bureau denounced accusations of the group's involvement in Syria as “laughable and silly.”
Such allegations are “fabrications that seek political and sectarian incitement against Hezbollah as part of a plot to create sedition in the region,” Hussein Rahal told the English-language Iranian news network Press TV in January. “Nobody can believe such fabrications.”
Friday's designation sheds a bright spotlight on Hezbollah's alleged role in Syria, describing in great detail what the Treasury Department describes as the group's “extensive” support for Assad's regime.
According to the Treasury Department, Hezbollah has been providing “training, advice and extensive logistical support” to the Assad regime since the start of the uprising. The group has “directly trained Syrian government personnel inside Syria and has facilitated the training of Syrian forces by Iran’s terrorist arm, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — Qods Force,” Treasury said, and “also has played a substantial role in efforts to expel Syrian opposition forces from areas within Syria.”
The department also singled out Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, accusing him of personally overseeing “Hizballah’s efforts to help the Syrian regime’s violent crackdown on the Syrian civilian population.”
“Hizballah’s extensive support to the Syrian government’s violent suppression of the Syrian people exposes the true nature of this terrorist organization and its destabilizing presence in the region,” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said in a statement. “Long after the Assad regime is gone, the people of Syria and the entire global community will remember that Hizballah, and its patron Iran, contributed to the regime’s murder of countless innocent Syrians.”
Hizballah is already on the State Department's list of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, which freezes members' assets under U.S. jurisdiction, prohibits U.S. companies and citizens from doing business with them and bars them from traveling to the United States.