U.S. Steps Up Rhetoric against Hizbullah
The United States has stepped up its rhetoric against Hizbullah, slapping rewards on two commanders and urging allies to blacklist the group.
U.S. President Donald Trump is due to unveil a new strategy to counter Iran later this week, but in the meantime senior officials singled out Tehran's ally in Syria and Lebanon.
Washington and the Lebanese movement have been foes since 1983, when the group was blamed by for deadly suicide bombings against its embassy and a U.S. barracks in Beirut.
Since then Hizbullah has become a powerful military force in the region and been implicated in several international attacks -- but also a fixture in Lebanese politics.
Some U.S. allies impose sanctions on Hizbullah's "military wing" while tolerating the group's role as a political party representing many Lebanese Shiites in government.
But U.S. counterterrorism chief Nicholas Rasmussen and ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism Nathan Sales said that Washington would never accept this distinction.
"Countering Hizbullah is a top priority for the Trump administration," Sales told reporters, announcing the rewards for two alleged top-level Hizbullah operatives.
Sales said the State Department would pay $7 million for information that leads to Talal Hamiyah, alleged head of Hizbullah's "External Security Organization."
A further $5 million is on offer for leads on Fuad Shukr, "a senior military commander" of Hizbullah in Lebanon.
U.S. officials believe Shukr was born in 1962, either in Beirut or the Bekaa Valley.
Talal Hamiyah's U.S. Treasury terror blacklist designation lists four possible dates of birth between November 1952 and March 1960, and three potential Lebanese birthplaces.
It describes his unit as the ESO as "the Hizbullah element responsible for the planning, coordination, and execution of terrorist attacks outside of Lebanon."
"These are the first Hizbullah-related rewards under the Rewards for Justice Program in a decade," Sales said.
"The United States and our allies will aggressively target its terrorism infrastructure and financial support networks," he vowed, hailing support from U.S. friends.
But he warned that "more work needs to be done."
"Some countries have chosen to designate only Hizbullah’s military wing, leaving its so-called 'political wing' untouched. But that is a false distinction," he said.
"Make no mistake: Hizbullah has no political wing. It is a single organization, a terrorist organization, and it is rotten to its core," he argued.
The officials' comments will be seen as setting the tone ahead of Trump's announcement of his new Iran strategy, which will be aimed at rolling back Tehran's influence.
Hizbullah -- an influential force in Lebanon and key ally to Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime -- will be a target.
U.S. Arab friends such as Saudi Arabia are pushing for a tougher line on Tehran, and close ally Israel is always alert to Hizbullah's presence across its northern border.