UK moves to designate Hezbollah as terrorist group

"We are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party," said UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Monday 25/02/2019
Britain's Home Secretary Sajid Javid leaves after attending the weekly cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London on February 19, 2019. (AFP)
Blacklist. Britain's Home Secretary Sajid Javid leaves after attending the weekly cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London on February 19, 2019. (AFP)

LONDON - The UK government said it would ban Hezbollah in its entirety, adding the Lebanese group to its list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

“Hezbollah is continuing in its attempts to destabilise the fragile situation in the Middle East, and we are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party,” UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid said on February 25.

“Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety.”

The home secretary’s move is yet to be formally approved by parliament, raising the prospect that it could be opposed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his party. Corbyn once infamously referred to members of Hezbollah as “friends.”

The Iran-backed group is already deemed a terrorist organisation by the United States, although the UK,  like the European Union,l has sought to differentiate between the political and military wings of the group.

The government had put forward a draft order in parliament to proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety, along with two other groups, Ansar al-Islam (known to operate in Burkina Faso) and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimin (known to operate in the Sahel region of Africa). The order will come into effect on March 1 but is “subject to Parliament’s approval.”

If the government’s move is approved and Hezbollah is formally designated as a terrorist organisation, being a member or inviting support for the Iran-backed group would become a criminal offence with a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The order would also ban Hezbollah flags being displayed publicly, a common occurrence during Shia celebrations in the UK.

“My priority as home secretary is to protect the British people. As part of this, we identify and ban any terrorist organisation which threatens our safety and security, whatever their motivations or ideology, which is why I am taking action against several organisations today,” Javid added.

The move has been backed by UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who said that the policy of seeking to distinguish between Hezbollah’s different wings was not working.

“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 destabilising activities in the region are totally unacceptable and detrimental to the UK’s national security,” he said.

“This does not change our ongoing commitment to Lebanon, with whom we have a broad and strong relationship,” he added.

The UK decisiosn follg similar moves in Europe, including 60 members of the EU parliament signing a petition calling on the European Union’s Foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini to officially designate the group as a terrorist organisation in its entirety.

The European Union designated Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist group in 2012 following an attack on an Israeli bus in Bulgaria which resulted in the deaths of five Israelis and their Bulgarian Muslim bus driver.

The UK’s decision to designate the group as a terrorist organisation in its entirety could galvanise critics of the group to take stronger action in the European Union.