Washington is worried that Lebanese government funds will be used in Hezbollah’s terror financing schemes now that the terror organization controls one of Lebanon’s largest ministries.
After months of wrangling, Lebanon finally has a government in place. Cause for celebration one might think, but not in the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing. That’s the department that keeps close tabs on the bad guys, how they obtain their money and where they spend it.
When news broke that Hezbollah acolyte Jamil Jabak would be the new health minster in Lebanon, alarm bells sounded in the office of Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes Marshall Billingslea. Immediately, the Trump administration warned Beirut not to allow public funds to fall into the hands of Hezbollah, a designated terror organization.
For the first time, Hezbollah now effectively controls a ministry with a considerable budget (the fourth largest in Lebanon). This alone is a victory over the U.S. as Washington had asked the Hariri government not to afford Hezbollah a place at the table at all. However, the wily Iranian-backed organization said, “It’s either this or you won’t be able to create a government at all.”
The fear in the U.S. is that Hezbollah will be able to abuse their new and privileged position to bypass American sanctions and ease the organization’s current financial woes. One anticipated action is that Hezbollah will pass ministry moneys to its wounded soldiers and families of its ”martyrs” as health payouts.
Alongside this, there is real concern that Hezbollah will begin purchasing Iranian- and Syrian-manufactured drugs rather than importing medicines from Western countries. Just months ago, an official in Iran’s Health Ministry said it’s their goal to gain access to the Lebanese market, including being the supplier of cancer medications.
The U.S. fears this is simply a ruse by Tehran to export its drugs internationally via Lebanon to avoid sanctions.
Understanding the concerns of the U.S. and others, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah took to the air to try to calm these fears, insisting Hezbollah will not do anything untoward (Arabic-language video).
Health Minister Jabak reportedly previously served as Nasrallah’s personal physician. He’s an internal medicine specialist with expertise in the heart and arterial passageways. He also works with pharmaceutical companies.
Jabak said he is not really a Hezbollah member, but someone who wants to improve Lebanon’s health system and reduce the costs of medicines.
“You have to remember Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese people,” Jabak said. “Any aid that reaches Lebanon whether it’s via the health ministry or anywhere else, is distributed to all Lebanese citizens, including those vetoed by the United States.”
That having been said, Jabak denied there’s a plan to import drugs from Iran.
This leaves Washington in a tricky situation. The Trump administration is extremely concerned about terror financing but knows that sanctions against the health ministry will impinge on all Lebanese. It seems Hezbollah, and of course Iran, have found a new way to improve their financial situation despite the best efforts of the U.S.