Nurturing Hezbollah's paranoia
Escalating the war on terrorism another notch, the Trump administration is hoping that good old greed will convince people to offer information on Hezbollah that the United States could pursue Iran’s proxy militia in Lebanon and hit Tehran where it hurts.
It has been the administration’s policy to get tougher on Iran and US President Donald Trump began by pulling the United States out of the agreement limiting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. Trump said the nuclear deal agreed to under former US President Barack Obama did not go far enough, leaving too much room for Iran to manoeuvre. The agreement was signed by China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and the European Union along with Iran.
So now Trump is looking to see where Iran’s vulnerabilities are and how to use them to his advantage. Hitting at Hezbollah is a good a starting point because of the close relationship between Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. They both have been accused by Western and some Arab intelligence agencies of involvement in terrorist activities.
Hezbollah is believed to have carried out attacks in Europe and South America at the request of Iran or, more precisely, at the request of the IRGC, which is Iran’s parallel army,
The United States hopes that the pressures applied to the Lebanese Shia group will reverberate and touch Hezbollah’s mentors in Iran.
The dollar reward is sure to tempt some people and, were it not for the fear of reprisals, the offer of more than $1 million would be more than enough to make people step forward and denounce their former employers.
This is especially true in a country, such as Lebanon, in which everybody knows everybody. Assuming one would claim the money, he very well would not have the time to spend any of it.
Offering financial rewards when the sum is enticing would tempt many to turn on their colleagues and even on close family members. It also puts the organisation on the defensive because it knows that some people will be driven by the financial reward.
This is not the first time that the US government has offered rewards for information regarding people it deems criminals. Terrorists fall under that heading and Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States.
In addition to seeking the arrest of individual members of the organisation, the United States has been watching Hezbollah's finances, identifying sources of revenue, tracking bank transfers and blacklisting financial institutions suspected of cooperating with the militant Shia group. Millions of dollars have been seized over the years.
Historically, financial rewards have motivated some people to turn on family members. The problem the United States faces in Lebanon is that the Shia community is very tight. No one person could receive a large amount of cash without someone noticing. One of the alternatives would be not to spend a dime of any money received but then why risk everything and not be able to enjoy your earnings?
Another alternative would be to leave the country, which would also instantly draw attention, but there is nary a place on Earth where a person can hide indefinitely.
What the announced reward can accomplish for the United States is plant doubt in the Hezbollah organisation to impede its workflow. Is this meant to instigate unease in Hezbollah forcing some of the higher-ups in the chain of command to become extra paranoid?
We know that tired and paranoid people commit mistakes much more so than rested, sober people.
From a public relations perspective offering large sums of money shows the United States’ determination to see Hezbollah weakening. It might be meant also to weaken the Lebanese proxy after the decision to cancel sanctions waivers to buy Iranian oil is weakening Hezbollah's patron in Tehran.
But will Hezbollah try to help Iran by creating a new front with Israel even if it is at the expense of Lebanon?
The political branch is divided in this regard with some top people worried of retaliation by Israel and the effect it would have on the civilian population.
However, at the end of the day, they remain subservient to demands imposed by Iran.
Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.