Analysis: We must ban Hezbollah in its entirety

LFI chair Joan Ryan will tomorrow lead a debate in the House of Commons calling on the government to proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety.

The terror group’s military wing has been banned in the UK since 2001, but its so-called political wing is still legal.

As Ms Ryan will argue in the debate, this is a totally artificial distinction which its own leadership has consistently and emphatically rejected.

Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation, driven by an antisemitic ideology, which seeks the destruction of Israel.

But while the Jewish state is its principal target, it also acts as Iran’s proxy army throughout the Middle East, most notably in Syria where it has helped to prop up the murderous Assad regime.

In 2010, the Obama administration described Hezbollah as “the most technically capable terrorist group in the world”.

Since the 1980s, it has been implicated in terrorist attacks in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East which have struck at western, Jewish and Israeli targets.

In 1983, for instance, Hezbollah was responsible for the murder of 241 American and 58 French peacekeepers in Beirut. Three years later, it attacked Jewish communal targets in Paris which saw 13 people die. In 1992 it killed 29 people when it bombed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. It hit the Argentinian capital again two years later, murdering 85 people in an attack on the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association. More recently, it attacked a bus of Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas, killing six.

Hezbollah’s political leaders incite, encourage and promote terrorism. The organisation’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, has, for instance, praised Palestinian suicide bombings, saying that “those who love death” will triumph over those who fear it. “Martyrdom operations,” he has claimed, are “legitimate, honourable, legal, humanitarian and ethical”.

Hezbollah’s ideology is rooted in a deep-seated, antisemitism, of which its leaders proudly boast.  “If [Jews] all gather in Israel,” Nasrallah had declared, “it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

“If we searched the world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice I do not say the Israeli,” he said on another occasion.

Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, has said that “the history of Jews has proven that, regardless of the Zionist proposal, they are people who are evil in their ideas”.

Hezbollah’s leaders, propaganda and media peddle antisemitic tropes and conspiracies theories. It was, for instance, Hezbollah’s official TV station, Al-Manar TV, which invented and pumped out the lie that 4,000 Jews and Israelis didn’t turn up for the work at the World Trade Centre on 9/11. The group also denies the Holocaust, with Nasrallah suggesting that “the Jews invented the legend of the Nazi atrocities”.

Hezbollah’s 1985 founding document made clear its desire to destroy Israel and its refusal to countenance any accommodation with it. “Our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated,” it stated. “We recognise no treaty with it, no cease-fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.”

Hezbollah thus opposed the Oslo peace process and has sought to provoke war with Israel on at least three occasions. Its kidnapping and murder of a number of Israeli soldiers on the northern border in 2006 led to the bloody Second Lebanon War, which resulted in many civilian deaths in Lebanon and Israel.

In defiance of UN Resolution 1701, which brought the conflict to an end, Hezbollah has spent the last decade restocking its arsenal and rebuilding its forces in Lebanon. It has trebled the size of its fighting force from 17,000 to 45,000 men and launched a massive arms procurement programme, amassing short, medium and long-range missiles and rockets, drones, precision-guided projectiles, anti-tank weaponry and ballistic missiles.

It now has an estimated 120,000-140,000 rockets and missiles – an arsenal larger than that of many states – thousands of which are capable of being fired 300-700km. By comparison, eleven years ago, on the eve of the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah had 10,000 short-range rockets and less than 1,000 medium and long-range rockets.

Narsrallah has warned Israelis that there will be “no red lines” in the next war, and that Hezbollah may target the nuclear reactor at Dimona and the ammonia storage facility in Haifa.

As Andrew Exum, an expert on the region and President Obama’s former deputy assistant secretary of defence for Middle East policy, wrote recently: “I shudder to think what the next conflict will look like.”

Hezbollah has also contributed mightily to the carnage which has been inflicted upon in Syria over the last seven years where it has supported Iran’s effort on behalf of the Assad regime. In 2016, it was estimated that more than a quarter of Hezbollah’s forces were engaged in fighting in the country.

Hezbollah has become Iran’s indispensable partner – “the Blackwater of Iran” as some have labelled it – helping to promote and further Tehran’s expansionist agenda throughout the Middle East: in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

While vast sums of cash flows from Tehran to Hezbollah, the organisation also pays for its nefarious activities by engaging in money laundering, arms sales and drugs smuggling. Two years ago, US and European law enforcement agencies made a series of arrests aimed at smashing what they described as “a global Hezbollah network responsible for the movement of large quantities of cocaine in the United States and Europe”.

What is most curious about the government’s repeated refusals to proscribe Hezbollah’s political wing is that the organisation does not itself recognise the distinction between its military and political activities which ministers appear so insistent upon.

Indeed, its founding document stated explicitly: “As to our military power, nobody can imagine its dimensions because we do not have a military agency separate from the other parts of our body. Each of us is a combat soldier when the call of jihad demands it.”

This message has been repeated regularly by Hezbollah’s leaders. In 2009, Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy general-secretary made clear that, in his words, “the same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel”. Nasrallah delivered a similar message in 2013, arguing: “However, jokingly I will say — though I disagree on such separation or division— that I suggest that our ministers in the upcoming Lebanese government be from the military wing of Hezbollah.”

A number of countries – including the Netherlands, Canada, the US, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council – have taken Hezbollah at its word and thus proscribed Hezbollah in its entirety.

Tomorrow, LFI MPs will lead the calls in parliament for the home secretary to use her powers under the 2000 Terrorism Act, end this farcical game of semantics and ban Hezbollah’s so-called political wing.

If you haven’t done so already, please contact your MP and ask them to attend the debate and vote to make this antisemitic terror group wholly illegal in the UK. You can do so here.