British Parliament Debates Outright Ban on Hezbollah
UK parliamentarians debated an outright ban on the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah on Thursday, with several speakers questioning the British government’s ongoing distinction between the group’s military operations and its so-called “political wing.”
Introducing the debate, Joan Ryan MP – who also serves as chair of Labour Party Friends of Israel (LFI) – slammed what she described as an “artificial distinction,” adding that it was “time to end this dangerous game of semantics.”
Thursday’s two-hour parliamentary exchange came amid renewed concern that the British government’s policy continues to legitimize Hezbollah — an Iranian Shi’a proxy that retains approximately 150,000 missiles aimed at Israel, and which has played a key role in the defense of President Bashar-al Assad’s dictatorship in Syria. Speaking at the UN in New York on Thursday, Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon reported that 9,000 Hezbollah fighters remain in Syria under Iranian command.
Several articles in the British and international press this week have made the case for a complete ban on Hezbollah. Writing in The Spectator magazine, Lord Richard Dannatt, the former chief of the British Army’s General Staff, asserted that Britain must take firm action against Hezbollah’s rising influence “to prevent renewed conflict in the region.”
“Placing much more severe conditions on the dispatch of international aid to Lebanon — much of which winds up in [Hezbollah’s] hands – would be a useful start,” Dannatt stated.
In an article for The Daily Telegraph, Ron Prosor, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN and the UK, argued that Hezbollah’s “military wing carries out the murder and the violence. The political wing funds and supports this work.”
“By declaring the political wing of Hezbollah a terrorist organization, Parliament will enable law enforcement agencies to act upon intelligence relating to all organs of the organization, no matter what guise they adopt on any particular day,” Prosor continued.
The UK’s opposition Labour Party came out against a full ban in advance of the parliamentary debate. A briefing distributed to the party’s MPs stated that “full proscription (of Hezbollah) could be a move against dialogue and meaningful peace negotiations in the Middle East.” The party’s position is likely to anger UK Jewish leaders, who point out that a total ban would mean the outlawing of displays of Hezbollah’s flag at demonstrations and rallies.
In an article for The Hill, Matthew Levitt — director of the counterterrorism program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy — warned readers to “expect nothing new” from the British parliament’s deliberations.
Levitt highlighted the role of Abdallah Safieddine — Hezbollah’s representative in Tehran, and one of the organization’s top financial operators — in financing Hezbollah attacks against British and US soldiers in Iraq. “The only way to ‘dry up’ the financial and material support for Hezbollah that still flows from the UK and elsewhere in Europe is to designate the group in its entirety,” he wrote.
Hezbollah’s finances are meanwhile also the subject of a renewed push by the US government. On a two-day visit to Lebanon this week, the US Treasury’s Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea told the Lebanese government that it must cut Hezbollah out of the country’s financial sector.
Billingslea “urged Lebanon to take every possible measure to ensure (Hezbollah) is not part of the financial sector.” He also “stressed the importance of countering Iranian malign activity in Lebanon,” a statement from the US Embassy in Beirut said.