Last week, Arabsat, the satellite operator majority-owned by Saudi Arabia, dropped Hezbollah’s television station from its broadcasts. Arabsat is the latest in a long list of satellite operators to drop the channel, Al-Manar, from its broadcasts.
The move comes just weeks after the kingdom imposed sanctions on 12 Hezbollah operatives accused of carrying out activities on behalf of the Lebanon-based group, and imposed sanctions on its “investment arms.” Saudi Arabia had already designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in March of last year.
In 2005, Al-Manar was being broadcast by more than a dozen satellite operators around the globe. But a coalition of organizations – including the Foundation for Defense of Democracies – concerned about terrorist-owned media’s incitement to violence, exposed Al-Manar as an outlet controlled and operated by Hezbollah, whose programs contained both subtle and overt incitement to violence. The coalition’s efforts lead 11 satellite operators to cease Al-Manar’s broadcasts and to the channel being banned in France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil, Canada, and Australia, among others.
In 2006, the US Treasury Department placed Al-Manar on its Specially Designated Global Terrorist list, citing its control by the Hezbollah terrorist network, which is itself funded by Iran. The press release noted that Al-Manar is a media arm of the Hezbollah terrorist network, has facilitated its activities, and has employed its members– one of whom engaged in pre-operational surveillance for the group.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, for example, has used the station as a platform to ask all Lebanese citizens to volunteer for the group’s military training. Nasrallah, along with Hezbollah’s Executive Council, managed and oversaw the channel’s budgets.
Treasury also noted that Al-Manar has provided support to Palestinian designated terrorist organizations, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, notably transferring tens of thousands of dollars for a PIJ-controlled charity. PIJ is listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US Government, and is also named on the European Union’s list of terrorist entities.
“Any entity maintained by a terrorist group whether masquerading as a charity, a business, or a media outlet is as culpable as the terrorist group itself,” said Stuart Levey, then-Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
In 2013, Bahrain blocked the website of Al-Manar television, in a move officials said was aimed at clamping down on terrorism in the island kingdom. While Arabsat is owned by all members of the Arab League, Saudi Arabia is the largest shareholder.
At the time, Bahrain accused Hezbollah of seeking to overthrow its government two years prior, and its foreign minister referred to Nasrallah as a “terrorist,” after he committed the organization’s fighters to back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Bahrain filed a confidential report with the UN Secretary General alleging that Bahraini opposition members were being trained in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon and Iran, and that they were using Al-Manar to mobilize the Bahraini opposition to overthrow the government. Bahrain thus became the first Arab country to designate Hezbollah a terrorist entity.
Last month, Arabsat also suspended services to Lebanon-based Al Mayadeen TV, which while not designated by Treasury as a terrorist organization, is also regarded as a mouthpiece of Hezbollah.
Arabsat removed Al-Manar and al Mayadeen after Nasrallah blamed the Saudi government for the stampede that killed at least 700, including many Iranian pilgrims, during this year’s hajj pilgrimage.
Today, Al-Manar is broadcast by only three satellite operators, including Egypt’s Nilesat, Russia’s Express, and Indonesia’s Indosat. It remains unclear, however, whether the ban will hold or whether Arabsat will be pressured to reinstate the channels.
The US Senate passed a bill in November aimed at cutting off Hezbollah’s financing. It also requires the administration to report on the activities of all satellite, broadcast, Internet, or other providers that knowingly provide material support to Al-Manar TV, and any successor affiliates. The House passed the bill today and it is expected to be signed by the president.