Terror listings increase isolation of Hezbollah

“Hezbollah itself has publicly denied a distinction between its military and political wings,” a note from the British Treasury said. 
Wednesday 22/01/2020
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah delivers a televised speech in Beirut, January 5. (DPA)
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah delivers a televised speech in Beirut, January 5. (DPA)

LONDON - Three days after the British government confirmed it would go after Hezbollah’s domestic assets, Honduras announced it would designate the Iran-backed group as a terrorist organisation in what appears to be a mounting international campaign against Hezbollah.

The British UK Treasury on January 17 said it placed the entirety of Lebanon’s Hezbollah organisation on the UK terror list following an announcement last March by the UK government that it could “no longer… distinguish between their already banned military wing and their political party.”

The announcement empowers British intelligence and law enforcement to investigate any individual or organisation believed to be raising funds for Hezbollah.

Last year, the US Treasury Department targeted two individuals and three European companies with alleged ties to Hezbollah’s international financial network, including one company in the United Kingdom -- BSQRD Limited, which is linked to Wael Bazzi, the son of Hezbollah financier Mohammad Bazzi.

“Hezbollah itself has publicly denied a distinction between its military and political wings,” a note from the British Treasury said.

“The group in its entirety is assessed to be concerned in terrorism and was proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UK in March 2019. This listing includes the Military Wing, the Jihad Council and all units reporting to it, including the External Security Organisation,” the British Treasury added.

There have been increasing calls in Europe to end the policy of differentiating between Hezbollah’s political and military wings, particularly given that it is a distinction that Hezbollah itself has disavowed.

In December, the German parliament approved a motion urging the government to ban all Hezbollah’s activities on German soil, specifically citing its “terrorist activities.”

The motion was backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, its Social Democrat coalition partners and the opposition Free Democrats. Although the motion was not binding, it indicates a growing appetite within Europe to isolate Hezbollah.

“The lower house calls on the government to ban Hezbollah and not tolerate any activity by its representatives in Germany,” the motion said, explicitly calling for an end to the differentiation between the group’s political and military wings.

“Sweden should follow the UK’s example and classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation,” Swedish MP Lars Adaktusson wrote in Sweden’s Goteborgs-Posten newspaper last year.

“Despite being represented in Lebanon’s parliament and government, Hezbollah as an organisation has not only been involved in foreign terrorist acts but also bloody battles in Syria and serious destabilisation efforts across the Middle East,” Adaktusson said.

A few days after the British announcement, the Honduran government said it would add Hezbollah, in its entirety, to its national terrorism list, part of a campaign in Central and South America to isolate the group.

Honduras joined Argentina and Paraguay, which formally designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group last year. Officials in Colombia and Guatemala indicated they intended to follow suit.

“We applaud the announcements of Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala to designate Iran-backed Hezbollah a terrorist organisation,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter after a counterterrorism conference in Bogota, Columbia. “It [Hezbollah] and other transnational terrorist groups remain active in the region. The US continues to rally international support to counter these threats.”

Pompeo met with Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaido on the sidelines of the Third Western Hemisphere Counterterrorism Ministerial where he complained of Caracas’s support for Hezbollah. Washington recognises Guaido as president of Venezuela over Nicolas Maduro following the 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis.

“We all know… that the Iranian regime’s top terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, has found a home in Venezuela under Maduro,” Pompeo said. “This is unacceptable.”

Guaido sought to burnish his own legitimacy by highlighting the Maduro government’s links to terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Colombian rebel groups.

“After today’s event,” Guaido said, “I think the world has it very clear that there is a dictatorship that finances terrorism.”

“We’re concerned that Maduro has extended safe harbour to a number of terrorist groups… as well as supporters and sympathisers of Hezbollah,” Ambassador Nathan Sales, coordinator for counterterrorism at the US State Department, told the Miami Herald before the conference.

“The threat is still very much with us. We know that Hezbollah operatives and facilitators and finance leaders are active in the tri-border region (between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay),” Sales said.

“We’ve seen Hezbollah presence across the hemisphere. That’s one of the reasons why the United States wanted to partner with our hemispheric colleagues... to remind them, to remind the world, that Iran-backed terrorism is a problem here at home, too,” he added.

After listing the Central and South American countries that moved to target Hezbollah, Pompeo called on other countries to follow suit.

“I hope that other nations will take similar steps to crack down on this group and other terrorist organisations by levying designations, cutting off terrorist financing and bringing charges against suspected operatives,” Pompeo said.