It's the event that has gotten under Lebanese merchants' skin: Mamdouh L. is a businessman whose dealings include a chain of electronics stores. Thanks to his seniority and reputation, he was able to arrange for himself a monopoly on providing equipment and spare parts for dozens of television channels operating in Beirut. It's he who purchases equipment, sends technicians, is responsible for the proper operating of broadcasts, and manages the training center. At the end of the month, he stuffs his bank accounts with impressive sums. He lives like a king in an expansive villa, keeps a fleet of cars and a retinue of servants, and his children learn in the US's most expensive universities.
But a fortnight ago, an economic-political storm landed on Mamdouh. Assistant Secretary for the Department of the Treasury of the United States Daniel Glaser, responsible for intelligence, went to Beirut with a "blacklist" of senior Hezbollah officials and insisted that the governor of the Central Bank close the accounts of 100 commanders in Hezbollah's military wing, political wing, ministers identified with the organization, and members of parliament.
When it comes to criminal organizations that work on the lines of an international mafia, Glaser said, we do not differentiate between combatants and propagandists. For us, the political wing gives orders, and the military wing is the architect of their enactment.
It is interesting that Washington did not bother to call Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Congress's decision to define the organization as a criminal empire fed by a regular, monthly flow of money from Tehran and as the recipient of side incomes in the amount of hundreds of millions of dollars from arms smuggling, drug trafficking, and money laundering in Europe, South America, and Africa.
Now Mamdouh L. is up to his neck in it. As a Shi'ite, his heart is with the growing activity in Dahiyeh in Beirut, but his head is with his fortune. He's signed a long-term contract with the Hezbollah channels Al-Manar and Al-Mayadeen. The authorities have informed him that his name is currently on probation, off the intelligence service's blacklist. But if he continues to work with Nasrallah's broadcasting studios, his electronics store will go out of business, and he himself will be in the crosshairs. On the other hand, if he tries to get away, he'll get into trouble with the Revolutionary Guards and with Hezbollah's military wing. He might find a bomb under his Mercedes one morning.
Hezbollah's economic activity stands at around 40 percent of Lebanon's economy. With the US administration pressuring on the one hand and Saudi Arabia stopping its annual infusion of cash on the other, its financial system has starting working under the table. Hezbollah ministers are being paid unofficially, and members of parliament are receiving their salaries in cash. Like a drowning man who threatens to drag down his rescuer.
But Glaser won't be anyone's fool. Before he left Beirut, he left the managers of the banks and the stock exchange instructions to report any unusual activity: anybody suddenly closing all his accounts, anybody opening new accounts in straw men's names, and anybody who suddenly withdraws large amounts.
Because of Hezbollah's long arms, Lebanon hasn't managed to select a president for the past five years. Tourists, an important revenue industry, are deterred. If we add the flow of refugees from Syria, which creates a sharp increase in unemployment, Lebanon is beginning to choke. The administration in Washington made sure to purposefully impose sanctions before Ramadan began last week. This impedes the opening of the "merciful tables" for the needy, stops charitable donations, and neutralizes the bonuses for the families of fighters in Syria.