Beirut – The United States stepped up its measures against Lebanon’s Hezbollah group by offering multimillion-dollar rewards for the arrest of two of its officials.
Washington has offered up to $7 million for information leading to the detention of Talal Hamiyah, head of Hezbollah’s foreign operations, and up to $5 million for Fouad Shukr, a top Hezbollah military operative.
The new escalatory steps put further pressure on the Lebanese government, especially in the wake of recent warnings by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said: “The next war in the north will not only be the Lebanese front, but rather a united front made up of Syria and Lebanon.”
“The Lebanese army has lost its independence and has become an integral part of Hezbollah,” he added.
While no official stance was issued by Lebanon in response to the new US measures, Speaker Nabih Berri said on Wednesday that foreign threats affect all the Lebanese people, underlining the importance of preserving unity to face challenges ahead.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, sources from Hezbollah said the US rewards and the Israeli threats would not affect the “resistance work against Israeli and extremist groups.”
The sources noted that the new measures were part of a political media campaign with well-known objectives, which came in parallel with the new financial sanctions imposed on the group.
Director of Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs Sami Nader said that the new steps against Hezbollah would embarrass the Lebanese government, which would soon have to give an official stance on the matter.
Nader told Asharq Al-Awsat that the most dangerous part of the US escalatory steps was its call on its European allies to stop separating between Hezbollah’s military and political wings, an approach that European countries have used so far in their relation with Lebanon and its government.
Nathan Sales, the US counterterrorism coordinator, said in a press conference that the rewards were the first offered by the United States for Hezbollah operatives in a decade.
Hamiyah has been on the department’s foreign terrorist list since 2015 and Shukr was added in 2013. The United States named Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.
Nicholas Rasmussen, the head of the National Counter Terrorism Center, blamed the group for a list of attacks around the world, and said it maintains a presence in “nearly every corner of the globe.”
He added that US intelligence agencies warned that the group was seeking an ability to strike inside “the homeland.”