Since the Iranian Revolution in 1978, Iran has been the leading state sponsor of terrorism. Working through the Quds Force, a unit that conducts, among others, covert intelligence gathering and special operations around the world, the Iranian government has been assisting Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shia militias in Iraq and Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Hamas in Gaza. The Quds Force, which is part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has been financing, advising, training, or leading the above terrorist groups (Hezbollah, alone, has been getting $700 million per year).
Now, the Trump administration has announced its new strategy to counter Iranian-backed terrorism. In a recent interview, Nathan A. Sales, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism, stated that the U.S. government will continue to sanction individuals and organisations in the Iranian terrorism-chain.
Over 150 Hezbollah-affiliated entities and individuals have been financially sanctioned. Moreover, last year, in an unprecedented move, the U.S. government labelled the IRGC as a Special Designated Global Terrorist. The State Department, further, designated more Hezbollah and Hamas leaders as terrorists.
Sales called for the cooperation of the private sector to ensure the effectiveness of the sanctions. He said, “If you’re doing business with Iran, you’re funding terrorism.”
Another prong of the Trump Administration’s strategy is financial sanctions targeting specific players in the Iranian government and intelligence apparatus. The Treasury Department has come up with a list of individuals found to have been important facilitators of terrorist operations. The four Iranians, who have also been labelled as Special Designated Global Terrorists and will receive the sanctions, are:
- Shibl Al-Zayd, because he has served as a financial coordinator between Iraqi Shia militias and the Quds Force; because he smuggled oil for Iran; and because he acted as the investment mediator for Major General Qasem Soleimani, the commanding officer of the Quds Force.
- Yusuf Hashim, because he is the coordinator of Hezbollah operations in Iraq.
- Muhamad Farhat, because he trained and advised Iraqi Shia militias for Hezbollah; and because he collected military and political intelligence on Iraq.
- Adnan Kawtharani, because he acted as a business facilitator for Hezbollah in Iraq and helped fund the terrorist organisation.
“The goal of the measures I’ve described today is very simple: to force a change in the Iranian regime’s behavior. We will make clear to Iran-backed terrorists and to their masters in Tehran that there are costs — increasingly heavy ones — to their support for terrorist barbarism. We are prepared to impose those costs on the regime and its proxies wherever they may be,” added Sales.
One, however, has to wonder about the sanctions’ effectiveness. Other than their psychological impact, both on the U.S. population and the individuals, how potent they are in curtailing terrorism? If the affected individuals operate in a financial and political realm outside the reach of sanctions — there is more than one European or International bank who would turn a blind eye for a hefty fee — then the financial sanctions are just for the press; of course, they inconvenience their targets. But is it enough?