Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Both Before And After Lebanese Bank Bombing, Hizbullah Supporters Threatened Further Escalation That Would Impact Country's Future - E. B. Picali

by E. B. Picali

Hizbullah accused BLOM Bank of being so eager to implement the U.S. sanctions that it exceeded the U.S. requirements.


On June 12, 2016, shortly after 20:00, while Beirut residents were breaking their Ramadan fast, an eight-kilogram bomb went off outside the headquarters of BLOM Bank,[1] one of Lebanon's leading banks, wounding two people and damaging the building. In light of the intensive conflict in the last month between Hizbullah and Lebanon's banking sector – chiefly Lebanon's central bank and several other banks, including BLOM Bank – over the implementation of U.S. sanctions against Hizbullah,[2] suspicion immediately fell upon this organization. Lebanese media and politicians, as well as citizens on social media, claimed that the bombing was a message to BLOM Bank that it must stop implementing the U.S. sanctions, and some – including the Al-Mustaqbal daily[3] and bankers[4] – blamed Hizbullah for it. Many of the comments on social media were posted under the hashtag "Hizbullah is bombing the banks."[5] Criticism was also directed at Hizbullah's supporters, including the pro-Hizbullah Al-Akhbar daily, who were accused of inciting against the banks and against central bank governor Riad Salameh in the days prior to the bombing.

Indeed, the days before the bombing saw a harsh campaign, bordering on incitement, against Salameh and against Lebanese banks, especially BLOM Bank, by Lebanese pro-Hizbullah activists and by Al-Akhbar. The latter accused BLOM Bank of being so eager to implement the U.S. sanctions that it exceeded the U.S. requirements.

Hizbullah, for its part, did not condemn the bombing and in fact refrained from commenting on it at all. Al-Akhbar, on the other hand, denied that it was inciting against the banks and stated that Hizbullah was not responsible for the bombing. However, even after the bombing the daily continued to publish articles threatening "a further escalation [of the clash] between these banks and Hizbullah" which would impact the country's future as well as foreigners in Lebanon, including the UNIFIL forces stationed there.
In a June 24 speech, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah repeated the accusation that some Lebanese banks were being over-enthusiastic in implementing the sanctions and warned that this could harm Hizbullah members and supporters. 

In a June 16, 2016 interview on the Lebanese LBC channel, former Lebanese minister Wiam Wahhab, known as a Hizbullah supporter, said that in Lebanon it is Lebanese laws that should apply, not those of the U.S. Congress.

This report reviews the incitement against the banks by Hizbullah supporters and by Al-Akhbar both before the bombing and after it.

The BLOM Bank headquarters after the bombing (image: albawaba.com, June 16, 2016)

'Al-Akhbar' Article On Day Before Bombing: 'Hizbullah Supporters Demand Taking Punitive Measures Against The Banks' 

In the two days before the bombing, the pro-Hizbullah daily Al-Akhbar published articles stating that BLOM Bank was being "over-enthusiastic" in implementing the U.S. sanctions.[6] An article by Hassan 'Aliq published the day before the bombing, titled "Hizbullah to Banks and to [Central Bank Governor] Salameh: Stop Conspiring [against Us]," contained implicit threats against Salameh and against various banks, especially BLOM Bank. It said: "Whoever follows politics in our country can hear Hizbullah leaders saying loud and clear that the struggle against America's 'banking mandate' [over Lebanon] is no less important than the struggle against those who wish to harm the resistance and [disarm it of] its weapons. 'Aliq added, "Hizbullah's MPs, ministers and officials refuse to say [how the struggle should be waged], but the people's rage has its consequences. The public of Hizbullah's [supporters] has begun demanding to take punitive measures against the banks that want to implement the hostile American agenda... Some of the [pro-]resistance public is demanding that Hizbullah publish a black list of banks that harbor secret hostility towards the resistance, so that [people] can punish them for their actions [of closing the accounts of Hizbullah members and associates]. Some [people] propose to boycott [the banks] and withdraw deposits [from them], and call to pressure the banks that are conspiring [against Hizbullah]. Others propose more painful measures – from holding demonstrations and sit-ins in front of banks that wish to harm the [pro-]resistance public to holding protests that will keep the banks from opening [for business]... If Hizbullah is forced into an open conflict, there will be no choice but to [voice] these calls, which are [already] widespread on social media, as part of an organized [campaign]." 

Later in the article 'Aliq quotes sources in the Hizbullah-led March 8 Forces as saying that BLOM Bank is one of the banks that are  "going too far in implementing the racist sanctions, [even] exceeding the American requirements." According to these sources, "Hizbullah wants the banks and the central bank governor to stop conspiring [against it] and stop deceiving it." They stressed that Hizbullah is not demanding to take "harmful" measures against the banks, only "measures to protect the social and economic security of the Lebanese people."

'Aliq even called on Hizbullah "to do more than just deter those responsible for the banking sector," saying: "This sector, which is constantly amassing wealth, needs someone to stand up to it, in days of peace just like in days of war, and Hizbullah, which is part of the parliament and the government, must break its silence, starting today."[7] 
Threats Against Central Bank Governor, BLOM Bank Posted On Social Media In Days Before Bombing 

A campaign of verbal attacks and even threats against the Lebanese banking sector was also evident on social media in the days before the bombing, especially in the 24 hours that preceded it. Hizbullah supporters on Facebook and Twitter directed harsh words at central bank governor Riad Salameh and various banks, especially BLOM Bank. For example, on the evening before the bombing (June 11), the pro-Hizbullah "Dahiya" website posted on its Facebook page (Facebook.com/da7ye ) a photo of Salameh with the caption: "Your existence is an insult to the homeland."   

Another post on this Facebook page, from June 12, accused "some banks" of being more radical than the American law itself and blacklisting people not mentioned by the Americans.

Yet another post on this Facebook page, which was reposted on the website of the Kataeb party, said: "Beware the BLOM Bank, which bragged about closing [accounts] and restricting [them]!! #[This banks is] more Israeli than Israel."[8] 

The Al-Mustaqbal daily reported on a threatening tweet posted two days before the bombing by Pro-Hizbullah Journalist Ghassan Jawwad. He wrote: "Hizbullah will soon [say]: A curse upon you, upon America and upon the banks. Beware the anger of patient [men]!"[9] 
Hizbullah supporters on social media launched a "Riad Salameh Go Away" hashtag, which they appended to many messages against him. One of the posts featured a "list of shame" that included BLOM Bank, Salameh and the Association of Banks in Lebanon.[10] 

The "list of shame" of banks and bankers

'Al-Akhbar': Hizbullah Not Behind Bombing; We Are Not Inciting Against Banks But Voicing Legitimate Criticism, And Will Continue To Do So

Immediately after the bombing, the social networks were flooded with messages blaming Hizbullah for it and accusing Al-Akhbar of causing it through its incitement. The Al-Mustaqbal daily, affiliated with the March 14 Forces, as well as several Lebanese bankers, soon joined this criticism and accusations, while Hizbullah chose to remain silent, ignoring both the bombing and the allegations against it. 

Al-Akhbar, on the other hand, rushed to defend itself and Hizbullah. On June 13, 2016, the day after the bombing, the daily published two articles, one unsigned and the other by the chairman of its board of directors, Ibrahim Al-Amin, both of which denied the allegations against Hizbullah and the daily. The first article stated that Hizbullah was currently in conflict with several banks that had decided to implement the U.S. sanctions against it in order to "throttle" it and its institutions, but "some [other] element decided to enter the picture by carrying out a bombing against BLOM Bank, in order to implicate the resistance and thereby hobble it." The article suggested that ISIS or Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN) were behind the bombing, since ISIS fighters imprisoned in Lebanon had admitted to planning bombings against "non-military institutions and in crowded areas" in Beirut, and since the Lebanese Military Intelligence had indeed received information several days before the bombing that JN was planning terror attacks in a certain part of the capital. According to the article, this information had led to several foreign embassies, including the Canadian one, as well as the UN headquarters in Lebanon, to warn their staff to take precautions and stay away from that part of Beirut.[11]    

Al-Akhbar board of directors chairman Ibrahim Al-Amin wrote: "[Those who] jump to conclusions will naturally point the finger at Hizbullah,  [just] because Hizbullah accused the [BLOM] bank of excessive enthusiasm in complying with the American demands to implement the economic sanctions on the resistance, and of hastening to implement the American law... There will also be those who accuse other [elements] of being behind the attack, or of paving the way to it – like, for example, the accusations that Al-Akhbar incited against the banks, and particularly against BLOM bank, as part of its criticism of how the government and this bank dealt with the recent American law...

"A party like Hizbullah has no interest in doing something [that is, carrying out a terror attack] that would [only] justify the [American] law… Likewise, the organization knows very well that such operations will not stop the implementation of the American law... In this matter, Hizbullah, like the rest of the Lebanese, wants the truth exposed, more than anyone else... 

"With regard to the accusations of incitement by the press, particularly Al-Akhbar... ever since the daily was founded 10 years ago, we have paid the price for our criticism of the political class and of the destructive policy of the March 14 Forces. They have always accused us of conducting incitement against forces and individuals who were targets of terror attacks. Nevertheless, we do not think that we should stop our mission, that is, of criticizing a mistaken policy... 

"Al-Akhbar's criticism of the banks does not only stem from [these banks'] attempt to harm Hizbullah on the pretext of implementing the American law. [The paper] has always taken stands disliked by the banks, whether regarding their general policy from which they benefited, or by revealing corruption cases connected to their work. With regard to our criticism of how BLOM Bank is acting in the matter of implementing the American law, this is professional criticism, and includes anyone involved in measures that are ultimately aimed at hobbling the resistance. This criticism will continue, and it is completely uninfluenced by what happened. No attack here or there will stop the necessary argument about the banks' policy and actions concerning the American sanctions – otherwise we [in Al-Akhbar] will yet arrive at the accusation that the [banking] sector is behind the attack, with the aim of shutting people up."[12] 
Threats Against Banks, Governor, Al-Mustaqbal Stream, And Lebanese Government Continue Even After Bombing 

Even after the bombing, and after the accusations against Hizbullah, Al-Akhbar continued to publish articles supporting Hizbullah's demands and threatened a harsh response and dangerous escalation from it if it they were not met.

Al-Akhbar: BLOM Bank Capitulated, Hizbullah Demands That Banks Circumvent Sanctions 

The day after the bombing, the Association of Banks in Lebanon met, and later released an announcement condemning the attack on BLOM Bank that stated, inter alia: "The banks operate in a most professional manner and in the framework of the regulations that are common in global markets, and in Lebanon they are subject to the laws of the land and to the directives of the [central] bank of Lebanon, with the aim of preserving the interests of all Lebanese citizens." 

Al-Akhbar, which in several articles published prior to the bombing had said that BLOM Bank had been quite enthusiastic in its implementation of the sanctions, going beyond what was required by the governor, interpreted this announcement as capitulation on the part of BLOM and other banks, and as a withdrawal from their previous "enthusiasm" in implementing the sanctions, which, according to the paper, had been manifested in the closure of accounts whose owners were not included in the American sanctions list, of their own accord, without waiting for approval by the central bank, as noted in the governor's instructions."[13] 
At the same time, another Al-Akhbar article stated that even this capitulation on the part of the banks following the bombing – that is, their agreement to wait for the governor's approval before closing the accounts of people who are not on the sanctions list – was not going to satisfy Hizbullah. The organization, it said, was demanding that they circumvent sanctions on bank accounts whose owners actually are on the list. A June 16, 2016 article in the paper quoted sources in the Hizbullah-led March 8 Forces as saying, "Clearly, there is only one door leading to a solution [to the crisis]: The U.S. sanctions list is not sacred and the central bank governor and the banks must find the appropriate ways to circumvent it, where the national need requires it."[14] 
Even After Bombing, Al-Akhbar Threatens Al-Mustaqbal Stream And The Future Of The Country, Saying: There Will Be Further Escalation

On June 14, 2016, two days after the bombing, Al-Akhbar published another article that warned that "if some of the banks do not understand that they must be neutral" in the matter of the U.S. sanctions, then "we will witness a further escalation [of the clash] between these banks and Hizbullah, which considers itself bound to defend the economic security of its public. In this clash, the biggest loser will necessarily be the Lebanese banks."[15]

Al-Akhbar Article Warns Al-Mustaqbal Against Supporting Sanctions: It Will Have Repercussions for Lebanon's Future

Al-Akhbar's implied threats were also directed at the Al-Mustaqbal faction, Hizbullah's political rival. On June 17, 2016, Al-Akhbar columnist Hiyam Al-Kossayfi wrote about Al-Mustaqbal's "enthusiastic" support for the sanctions against Hizbullah, while warning of the repercussions this could have for the entire country: "Some people are reminded today of the events of 2005 [the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri], and of what came later, and also [of the events] of May 7 [2008, i.e., Hizbullah's armed takeover of parts of Lebanon],[16] and all the repercussions [of these events], including the bombings and assassinations..." Al-Kossayfi urged the Al-Mustaqbal faction not to delude itself that the U.S. law would harm Hizbullah's status in Lebanon, and warned it of the organization's possible reaction, which would not only affect the relations between Al-Mustaqbal and Hizbullah and "the internal struggle between those who defend the [U.S.] law and those who oppose it," but would impinge on "the future of Lebanon... the regime, and the role and status of the state."[17] 
Al-Akhbar Board Chairman: Hizbullah Is The Only Force That Can Fill The Vacuum If The State Collapses

In his article from June 13, Al-Akhbar board chairman Ibrahim Al-Amin even threatened that Hizbullah might take over most of Lebanon.  He speculated that the U.S. is plotting to undermine Lebanon's regime and bring about the collapse of the state, and declared that, in such a situation, Hizbullah – thanks to its military and economic abilities and its strong ties with Iran – would be the only force capable of undertaking the role of the state in large parts of the country. He wrote: "In the current state of affairs, Hizbullah may be the only force capable of best filling the vacuum that would result from the collapse of the state. This organization and the large public that supports it together form a financial force that can provide employment to nearly 1,000,000 Lebanese citizens. [I refer] not only to party members and the employees in [Hizbullah's] institutions, but to people who sell consumer products – from veils, automobiles, phones, milk and flour to weapons. Hizbullah also has close ties with Iran, and within a few months Iran can launch large-scale projects to supply electricity, water and public services to everyone living in Hizbullah's areas of influence.

"If the West thinks that the economic crisis will bring about the collapse of the [Lebanese] state and its institutions, Hizbullah is the only force that has the security and military capabilities to take over large parts of Lebanon. Thanks to its alliances [with other forces in the state,] its [area of]  influence will expand to include most of Lebanon, except for a few regions..." Asking, "What will be the fate of the banking sector itself?", Al-Amin answered that it will lose its independence and much of the wealth it has amassed.
Al-Amin concluded: "Some people need a pinch to the ear, not to the arm, in order to understand that they cannot plunge the entire country into madness... as happened after the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri. [These people] will find it difficult to force us to respect them, for they have decided to capitulate to an external [force] that has never brought us anything but trouble." 

Al-Akhbar Board Chairman Implicitly Threatens UNIFIL, Other Foreigners in Lebanon

In this article Al-Amin also directed implicit threats at UNIFIL and at other foreign nationals in the country. He asked: "[After Hizbullah takes over the country], what shall we do with some 14,000 foreigners living in Lebanon, including the soldiers and officers of UNIFIL, diplomatic staff, workers in the business, media and academic sectors, and the workers of international organizations and NGOs? What will the Western [intelligence] apparatuses operating in Lebanon do, not only against Hizbullah but also for their agents in Syria?..."[18] 
Hassan Nasrallah: We Will Not Let Our Public Be Harmed; Hizbullah's Funds Come From Iran

In a June 24, 2016 speech marking 40 days after the death of Hizbullah leader Mustafa Badr Al-Din, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah reiterated his organization's position on the U.S. sanctions, warning against their implementation and stating that they harm Lebanon's sovereignty and large sectors of the Lebanese public. He also repeated his claim that the sanctions would not harm Hizbullah, admitting for the first time that all of Hizbullah's funds come from Iran and adding that the money, just like the organization's missiles, does not come from the banks and therefore no law can prevent it from being transferred.

He stressed that Hizbullah's public is starting to suffer because some Lebanese banks, "more American than the Americans," have exceeded the American requirements by closing accounts of organizations and charities that do not even appear on the U.S. sanctions list, just because figures involved with them have family ties with Hizbullah members. Nasrallah said that this infuriates Hizbullah, and added: "We will not allow any measures that harm our members and our public." He stated that his organization was open to dialogue aimed at finding solutions and admitted that such talks were currently taking place between the sides, but that this did not imply  "any consent to the [U.S.] law on our part." He also accused unnamed "Lebanese figures" that they had visited Washington and incited the Americans to pass the sanctions law.[19] 
Three days after Nasrallah's speech, Al-Akhbar board chairman Ibrahim Al-Amin wrote in an article that former Lebanese prime minister and Al-Mustaqbal faction head Sa'd Al-Hariri had transferred to the Americans, "either directly of via his functionaries in state and private financial institutions," names of figures he wanted added to the sanctions list "on the grounds that they finance Hizbullah's activity."[20]   

Pro-Hizbullah Former Lebanese Minister Wiam Wahhab: Boycott Banks That Implement Sanctions, Switch To Euros

In a June 16, 2016 interview on the Lebanese LBC channel, former Lebanese minister Wiam Wahhab, known for his pro-Hizbullah positions, called on all supporters of the March 8 Forces to boycott the banks that implement that U.S. sanctions and start using euros instead of dollars. He also said that in Lebanon it is Lebanese laws that should apply, not those of the U.S. Congress.
For a MEMRI TV clip of excerpts from the interview, click below:

* E. B. Picali is a research fellow at MEMRI.

[1] Called the Lubnan wal-Mahjar Bank in Arabic.
[3] See articles from June 13, 14, 2016.
[4] See Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 14, 2106.
[5] Twitter.com/hashtag/%D8%AD%D8%B2%D8%A8_%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87_%D9%8A%D9%81%D8%AC%D8%B1_%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%81?src=hash.
[6] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 10, 11, 2016.
[7] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 11, 2016.
[8] Kataeb.org, June 12, 2016.
[9] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), June 14, 2016.
[10] See e.g., Facebook.com/Tansikeyah/photos, June 11, 2016.
[11] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 13, 2016.
[12] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 13, 2016.
[13] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 14, 2016.
[14] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 16, 2016.
[15] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 14, 2016.
[16] This refers to violent clashes that broke out on May 7, 2008, when Hizbullah took over large parts of Beirut, the Mount Lebanon region and the north of the country; paralyzed the airport and seaport; burned the studios of media networks affiliated with its political rivals, who were then in power; and besieged public institutions and government offices, as well as the homes of anti-Syrian Lebanese figures. At least 81 people were killed in these clashes and some 250 were wounded. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No.436, A Clean Sweep: Amal, Hizbullah Take Much of Beirut in Redux of Hamas' Gaza Takeover, May 9, 2008.
[17] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 17, 2016.
[18] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 18, 2016.
[19] Alahednews.com.lb, June 24, 2016.
[20] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 27, 2016.

E. B. Picali is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Source: http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/9283.htm

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