On the Press Release Sanctions against Hezbollah

I have never doubted that Hezbollah and/or Iran could be behind the attack in Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria. Certainly, it is one of the few attacks blamed on one or the other in the last year that exhibited the competence we expect from Hezbollah.

That said, I’ve been struck by the vary careful insistence on the part of both Dianne Feinstein and John Brennan that they have seen no proof to link Hezbollah or Iran to the attack.

Israeli intelligence sources claiming to protect the very secret intelligence they are leaking have offered this claim as evidence.

Israeli intelligence has evidence of many telephone calls between Lebanon and Burgas in the two months before the bombing, according to a senior government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information is classified, with the volume intensifying in the three days leading up to it.

But they are no more prepared to expose the details of their counterintelligence work publicly than the attackers are to claim responsibility. “We know the sources in Lebanon,” though not the identity of those on the other end in Bulgaria, the official said. “They shouldn’t know that we know the numbers in Lebanon.”

Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that it was otherwise sourced to press reports, this laughable press conference announcing the What’s-Old-Is-New sanctions against Hezbollah on Friday made no mention of the new claim; it discussed the ties between Hezbollah and Burgas this way:

And we are working to assess the facts and with our partners to discover who was responsible. And although the investigation continues, and we are not in a position to make a statement about responsibility, the attack does resemble Hezbollah’s plotting earlier this year.

They didn’t mention the calls–or even the A1 cutout report of the calls–at all.

Which is notable given that at least four journalists at the press conference asked what was new behind the sanctions on Hezbollah. Josh Rogin summarizes the absurdity of imposing sanctions on a group that is already under sanctions that have the same effect.

The Cable asked both officials if designating Hezbollah for sanctions, which freezes the group’s U.S.-based assets and bars Americans from doing business with Hezbollah, has any added concrete effect if done twice. They said the added effect is in the court of public opinion.

“It will put the group in a more difficult situation, and, I think, will make them think long and hard before they continue this campaign in which the Syrian people are being brutalized. So we do see very concrete benefits coming from this designation,” said Benjamin. “Whether they will be in the area of financial sanctions or not remains to be seen, but in terms of casting a bright light on what the group is doing, I think that’s vitally important.”

So the Treasury Department doesn’t have to actually do anything to enforce the new designation it wasn’t doing already, and Hezbollah doesn’t feel any additional direct pain.

In any case, this is what we’ve come to. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen admits that these sanctions are about exposing a purportedly new role from a terrorist organization that has pretty much played the role of supporting Syria for decades.

But the purpose of our designations, whether it’s the Hezbollah action today or any of our other designations under our authorities, is not solely focused on the immediate financial impact, but as Ambassador Benjamin just expressed, to expose the activity of the party that is being designated for the conduct that has led to the designation.

And yet–even as Adam Entous refuted the government’s claims based on WSJ’s reporting–the government refuses to offer no more than press reports.

I really can’t give you any greater detail than what we’ve put forward in the press release and in my statement this afternoon about the activities of Hezbollah in Syria.


This is not a matter of idle speculation or press reports.


I was just going to say, look, we’re obviously very sensitive here to issues of sources and methods and we’re not going to divulge anything that shouldn’t be divulged.


I think we have put out as much detail as we are able to put out with respect to Hezbollah’s activity in Syria.

Our war by vacuous press release, all justified in the guise of protecting sources and methods, is rapidly losing all credibility.

It feels like the Iraq War campaign again.

11 replies
  1. JTM says:

    This couldn’t have anything to do with Florida in November, could it?

    Nah. That would be seriously uncool.

  2. chetnolian says:

    Would it be wrong of me to point out how connected this all is? I suggest the quoted comment of Josh Rogin on existing sanctions is incomplete. Of course it is not just Americans but anyone who has the temerity or need to do business in America who is prevented from dealing with Hezbollah. Not that I object to sanctions against Hezbollah, but it’s true though isn’t it?

  3. emptywheel says:

    @chetnolian: No, not wrong at all.

    Remember, I agree with you that we’re big bullies–and I expect it is either going to begin changing or we’ll see a lot more hot war over currency and money flows.

    But this is also a tribute to the fact that we keep trying to get the EU to call Hezb terrorists and EU continues to refuse.

    We get to push our demands only so far. What we pulled w/Libya has already lost us cooperation on Syria. It remains to be seen whether, going forward, we’ll see Europe balking.

    Incidentally (as I suspect you may know), a bunch of African countries are refusing to do business in the dollar. Which, given the natural resources there, and the way CHina’s already kicking our ass in soft power there, is rather interesting. It’ll make it harder for us to profit off the elites looting their countries in Africa.

  4. BSbafflesbrains says:

    @emptywheel: ALL political decision making and policy seem to be based on the old “What is good for GM is good for the Country” meme of forty + years ago. Didn’t GM go bankrupt? Just sayin.

  5. joanneleon says:

    It does feel like the Iraq war again, both in the immediate events and in the long, slow drumroll.

  6. chetnolian says:

    @emptywheel: The problem is that terrorism is a tactic not a person.Europe is perhaps too understanding that whatever Hezbollah does, they may have a point.

    Europe is a single term for some very different countries which does mean a tendency to be a bit more nuanced as to who we call terrorists. Now what should we call flying an unmanned plane into a foreign country with which you are not at war and zapping passing villagers? And yes I fear the UK may be implicated too, for which I feel profound shame.

    In the field of unreasoning violence, no-one is without sin.

  7. joanneleon says:

    Thing is, Israel doesn’t have a history of a long, slow drumroll before going to war but we do or at least we did before the Iraq war and the decision for that had been made years prior to the actual invasion.

    I’ve read a number of articles/interviews from the past few days saying that when Israel actually plans to attack, they don’t advertise it, it just happens like a blue streak and for that reason they found this to be odd, still more of a bluff. But numerous articles that I read today sound much more serious than usual, some even saying that the decision has been made to attack Iran.

  8. Frank33 says:


    Thing is, Israel doesn’t have a history of a long, slow drumroll before going to war

    We might recall the Israel-Hezbollah War in 2006. Yes, the neo-cons thought this would be a piece of cake, but it was a bitter pill.

    It is very difficult to keep things secret these days, especially war planning. Plus, Israel and its military was quite arrogant. Israel lost this war.

    From the onset of the conflict to its last operations, Hezbollah commanders successfully penetrated Israel’s strategic and tactical decision-making cycle across a spectrum of intelligence, military and political operations, with the result that Hezbollah scored a decisive and complete victory in its war with Israel…

    “Israel lost the war in the first three days,” one US military expert said. “If you have that kind of surprise and you have that kind of firepower, you had better win. Otherwise, you’re in for the long haul.”

  9. Arbusto says:

    My remembrance is Hezbollah is Lebanon based and pretty well limited to and content to stay a Middle East actor. I wonder why the CIA/Mossad are pushing the Bulgaria connection and who’ll buy it?

  10. Kathleen says:

    EW “It feels like the Iraq war again” Did the spin ever stop?

    Must have been taking lessons from Donald ” to expose the activity of the party that is being designated for the conduct that has led to the designation”

    Donald Rumsfeld: “As we know there known knowns
    These are the things we know we know
    We also know there are known unknowns
    That is to say we know there are some things
    we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns.
    The ones we know we don’t know”

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