Saudi Arabia’s state news wire announced sanctions last Thursday on twelve Hezbollah officials for alleged involvement in the group’s regional activities, particularly its military intervention on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. The Saudi measures represent a partial step towards Riyadh bringing its terror sanctions list in line with Washington’s and come amidst a broader Saudi effort to pressure Iran’s most important proxy group. However, the measures also call attention to some glaring shortcomings in the kingdom’s counterterrorism efforts.
The vast majority of individuals designated last week by Riyadh were already sanctioned by the U.S. government.
Adham Tabaja, Hussein Ali Faour, Qasim Hajij, and their businesses – a real estate firm and auto-repair center – were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in June. According to a 2011 CNN report, Muhammad Yusuf Mansour served time in an Egyptian prison for leading a Hezbollah cell and planning attacks there. In 2013, Treasury sanctioned him and Mohammed Kawtharani, alleging that Kawtharani headed Hezbollah’s Iraq activities and was responsible for several attacks on U.S. soldiers.
Treasury sanctioned Ali Mousa Daqduq in 2012 after he was freed from Iraqi prison despite protests from Washington, which blamed him for killing American forces in Iraq. Four other individuals sanctioned by Riyadh last week were also designated by the Treasury in July on charges of providing operational or financial support to Hezbollah’s military efforts in Syria.
The new sanctions follow several other Saudi steps this year to target Hezbollah leaders. In May, Saudi Arabia sanctioned two Hezbollah commanders whom the U.S. had also sanctioned in 2013. In August, Saudi Arabia also announced it had captured the military commander of Hezbollah’s Saudi branch and mastermind of the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 American military personnel.
Yet the credibility of Saudi Arabia’s recent anti-Hezbollah sanctions could be undermined if the kingdom continues to drag its feet on other counterterrorism measures.
For example, Saudi Arabia has been providing safe haven and failing to pursue legal action against two Yemenis on U.S. sanctions lists accused of providing significant material or financial support to al-Qaeda.
Moreover, last week’s announcement indicated that the new Saudi sanctions were based on a royal order used in March 2014 to designate Hezbollah’s branch “in the kingdom,” but not the group’s Lebanese core or other regional branches. Also excluded were other terrorist groups that primarily target Israeli civilians, such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Saudi Arabia’s latest Hezbollah sanctions are a step in the right direction, but the kingdom continues to give other terror groups a free pass.
David Andrew Weinberg is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.Follow him on Twitter @DavidAWeinberg