The time has come for Britain to take a tougher stand against Hezbollah, writes Joan Ryan MP ahead of her parliamentary debate on proscribing the organisation
Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation, driven by an antisemitic ideology, which seeks the destruction of Israel.
It has wreaked death and destruction throughout the Middle East, aiding and abetting the Assad regime’s butchery in Syria and helping to drive Iran’s expansionism throughout the region. Our government, however, chooses to proscribe only Hezbollah’s military wing, allowing its so-called ‘political wing’ to remain legal in Britain.
This artificial distinction helps explain why – barely a month after the brutal terrorist attacks at London Bridge – people were able to march through the streets waving Hezbollah flags.
Tomorrow, I am leading a debate in the chamber of the House of Commons, urging the government to ban Hezbollah in its entirety.
In 2010, the Barack Obama administration in Washington labelled Hezbollah ‘the most technically capable terrorist group in the world’. Over the past three decades, it has been implicated in a string of deadly attacks against Israeli, Jewish and western targets both in the Middle East and beyond. It has murdered international peacekeepers in Lebanon, attacked Jewish communal organisations in Paris and Buenos Aires, and slaughtered Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. Hezbollah’s leaders defend and encourage suicide bombings – or ‘martyrdom operations’ as they prefer to call them – labelling them ‘legitimate, honourable, legal, humanitarian and ethical’.
At the heart of Hezbollah’s ideology is a deep-seated hatred of Jews. ‘If [Jews] all gather in Israel,’ its secretary general Hassan Nasrallah has suggested, ‘it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.’
Hezbollah’s leaders and its media peddle classic antisemitic tropes and lies. They refer to Jews in the basest of terms, labelling them ‘apes and pigs’, make spurious claims about Jewish conspiracies and world domination, and practice Holocaust denial, suggesting that ‘the Jews invented the legend of the Nazi atrocities’.
Hezbollah’s hatred of Jews is a noxious mix which, in the words of one writer, fuses ‘Arab nationalist-based anti-Zionism, anti-Jewish rhetoric from the Koran, and, most disturbingly, the antique anti-Semitic beliefs and conspiracy theories of European fascism’. Hezbollah is hellbent on the destruction of Israel and opposes any moves towards peace or normalising relations between the Jewish state and the Arab world.
In its 1985 founding manifesto Hezbollah says of Israel: ‘Our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognise no treaty with it, no ceasefire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.’
Following wars with Israel in 1993, 1996 and 2006, Hezbollah is now amassing an ever-larger arsenal of weaponry. 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 hitting civilian targets across Israel.
But while Israel is Hezbollah’s primary target, it has also acted as Iran’s proxy army in other conflicts throughout the Middle East, including in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. In 2016, it was estimated that more than a quarter of Hezbollah’s forces were engaged in fighting on behalf of the murderous Assad regime. Hezbollah funds this vast enterprise not only from its paymasters in Tehran, but also through money laundering, arms sales and drugs smuggling.
The 2000 Terrorism Act allows the home secretary to proscribe an organisation which ‘commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism (including the unlawful glorification of terrorism); or is otherwise concerned in terrorism.’
Hezbollah more than fulfills these criteria. Crucially, however, its own leaders do not recognise the distinction between a political and military wing which our government chooses to make. In fact, they have consistently and explicitly refuted it.
In 2012, for instance, Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy general secretary, stated: ‘We do not have a military wing and a political one; we do not have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other … Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, are in the service of the resistance and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.’
Hezbollah’s political affairs official, Ammar Moussawi, as well as Nasrallah himself have all rejected the notion that its political and military wings are somehow separate.
It is a distinction that, with good reason, many other countries and organisations throughout the world do not therefore recognise. These include the Netherlands, Canada, the United States, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Tomorrow, parliament has the opportunity to tell the government that Britain should join them. Please encourage your member of parliament to attend and vote in the debate, by clicking here.
Joan Ryan MP is chair of Labour Friends of Israel. She tweets at @joanryanEnfield
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