The United Kingdom last week decided to define all of the Hezbollah group in Lebanon as a terrorist organization, with penalties for being a member of the entity, and thereby ceased differentiating between the so-called “political” and “military” wings of Hezbollah. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called his British counterpart Theresa May and thanked her for the move, and added that “he expects additional countries to follow suit,” according to a press release from his office.
The decision, summarized in a news report on the UK government website, said that the order would make membership in or support of Hezbollah a criminal offense. While the “military” wing of Hezbollah has been proscribed as a terror group in the past, the latest decision includes the “political” side of Hezbollah as well.
The British report quoted Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt as saying, “We are staunch supporters of a stable and prosperous Lebanon. We cannot however be complacent when it comes to terrorism—it is clear the distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political wings does not exist, and by proscribing Hezbollah in all its forms, the government is sending a clear signal that its destabilizing activities in the region are totally unacceptable and detrimental to the UK’s national security.”
Netanyahu, whose country fought a war with Hezbollah in 2006 and remains under threat of the group’s thousands of missiles, called the British step “very important.” Speaking to the Israeli cabinet on Sunday in comments published by his office, Netanyahu said, “This is an important decision because Hezbollah is a terrorist organization in its own right, and it is also the main terrorist arm of Iran. I call on other countries, first of all in Europe but also around the world, to join this important move by Britain.”
A twitter post by British Member of Parliament Sajid Javid on Friday summarized the impact of the step. “From today, Hizballah is a banned terrorist organisation in the UK. Anyone who is a member or invites support for it is breaking the law. It is also illegal to display Hizballah flags in public—and new laws will make this a crime online.”
The British decision comes just weeks after a new Lebanese government was formed that includes Hezbollah members. The United States State Department highlighted this concern in a press statement on February 1. Spokesman Robert Palladino congratulated the leaders for forming the new government before noting that “nevertheless, we are concerned that Hezbollah, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, will continue to occupy ministerial positions and was allowed to name the Minister of Public Health. We call on the new government to ensure the resources and services of these ministries do not provide support to Hezbollah.”
The threat of Hezbollah isn’t static. The group was exposed late last year of trying to dig tunnels into Israel, with the Israelis saying the structures indicated the potential for a mass terror attack. In addition to threatening Israel, Hezbollah has also been a key player in Syria, backing the brutal regime against opposition forces in that country’s civil war.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 3, 2019)