The U.S. Treasury placed two Hezbollah members of Lebanon's parliament on its sanctions blacklist on Tuesday - the first time Washington has taken aim at the Iran-allied group's elected politicians.
It's the first time that the US has targeted lawmakers now seated in Lebanon's parliament.
That was echoed by the US State Department later on Tuesday, which said that "any distinction between Hezbollah's political and military wings is artificial".
The U.S. designated lawmakers Amin Sherri and Mohammad Raad as well as Hezbollah security official Wafiq Safa under a U.S. executive order, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.
The US Department of the Treasury said they designated the Hezbollah political and security figures for "leveraging their privileged positions to facilitate Hezbollah's malign agenda and do Iran's bidding".
Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil meanwhile tweeted that the U.S. sanctions "concern all of the Lebanese even if they are directed at Hezbollah" and are "unjustified". "There is no justification whatsoever for escalating these sanctions", he tweeted.
Pompeo said the United States pressure on Iran and Hezbollah was having an effect on the Lebanese group's operations.
"Their documented behavior shows they are actually not politicians but thug enforcers who systematically intimidate others in the Lebanese government and private sector and have done so with impunity for many years", the official said.
Hezbollah was established in 1982 during Lebanon's civil war, and is now a major political player in the country. Today, it is among the most effective armed groups in the region, extending Iran's influence to Israel's doorstep.
Hezbollah supporters in Beirut shout wave Lebanese, Hezbollah and Iranian flags during a rally to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic revolution in February.
The Treasury Department alleges that Sherri has used his influence to pressure financial institutions to help Hezbollah limit the impact of USA sanctions. Sherri threatened Lebanese bank officials and their family members after the bank froze the accounts of a Hezbollah member already sanctioned by the US, according to a statement issued by the department. In an unusual move, it also released photos of the individuals, including one in which Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani has his arm around Sherri's shoulder. "For example, in March 2019, for the first time ever, Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah made a public appeal for financial support".
The official said Ra'd, also a member of parliament, is a "key Hezbollah decision-maker".
The newest sanctions brought to 50 the number of Hezbollah individuals and entities blacklisted by the Treasury since 2017. Safa, the Treasury said, maintains the group's ties to financiers and allegedly helps arrange the smuggling of weapons and drugs.