Countries around the world are finally abandoning the arbitrary differentiation between the Iranian terrorist proxy Hezbollah’s so-called military and political wings, recognizing that Hezbollah is, in its entirety, a terrorist organization.
This comes 25 years after President Bill Clinton, on Jan. 23, 1995, officially designated the full group as a terrorist organization, and following years of Hezbollah itself repeatedly admitting that the political-military distinction is artificial.
Already this year, numerous countries have recognized this truth. Since February 2019, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Paraguay, Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia have moved to eliminate exemptions in their terrorist designations that shield Hezbollah’s so-called political branch from sanctions and prosecution. The United States has long called on nations to take these actions, and the moves were rightly applauded by the administration and senior members of Congress from both parties.
Indeed, more countries and intergovernmental organizations should take this important step and recognize the truth: There is only one Hezbollah, and it is a terrorist organization in its entirety.
Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.
Hezbollah continues to raise money, procure weapons and plot attacks across Europe and the world.
The group has a long history of carrying out terror abroad, including in Germany, France, Bulgaria, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Argentina, Panama and Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah operatives have also been caught preparing attacks in Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Cyprus, Egypt, Peru and Thailand. Hezbollah weapons caches have also been discovered in the Gulf, Europe, Asia and Africa, and Hezbollah cells in Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In 2019, a Hezbollah member was sentenced in New York for scouting targets to attack. In 2015, Cyprus arrested a Hezbollah operative for smuggling ammonium nitrate explosives. In 2012, the terrorist organization bombed a bus in Bulgaria that killed six and wounded over 30. These are only a few examples.
Hezbollah’s illicit activities in Europe also support the group’s global terrorist operations.
In 2018, fifteen Hezbollah members were charged in Paris for laundering millions from South American cocaine sold in Europe through luxury goods bought in the European Union (EU) and resold in Lebanon. The proceeds were then used to purchase weaponry for the war in Syria.
In 2014, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Lebanese electronic company Stars Group Holding for procuring sophisticated military equipment from European companies for Hezbollah to use in Syria.
According to U.S. National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen, “We’ve known all along that Hezbollah looks to lay infrastructure around the world, to give itself options, to develop a playbook, to give themselves an off-the-shelf capability.”
There is only one Hezbollah.
As much evidence as there is that Hezbollah conducts terrorism, there is just as much evidence that Hezbollah’s political and military factions operate as one.
There is a long history of Hezbollah’s politicians engaging directly in terrorist activities.
In 2009, Hezbollah politician Hassan Hodroj was caught in the U.S. seeking procurement of weaponry on the black market to support Hezbollah’s global operations.
According to a CIA report, before Hassan Nasrallah assumed the office of Secretary-General, he was “directly involved in many Hezbollah terrorist operations, including hostage taking, airline hijackings, and attacks against Lebanese rivals.”
Hezbollah members themselves have made clear that its political activity is not distinct from its terrorist activity.
Hezbollah Chief Hassan Nasrallah mocked the European Union’s (EU) 2013 decision to ban Hezbollah’s military wing but not its so-called political wing, joking, “I propose that our ministers in the next government be from the military wing of Hezbollah.”
Hezbollah MP and Lebanese Minister of Sports and Youth Mohammed Fneish proudly admits to having been a founding member of the terrorist group, at a time before Hezbollah even had political ambitions. Fneish once said, “Our entry into parliament is one form of Resistance, a political form, because naturally we men of the Resistance need political backing, and armed Resistance needs political assistance.”
Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s second in command, said clearly: “Hezbollah has a single leadership…The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.” He added: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other.”
Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, and all of its component factions are geared toward this end.
There is growing recognition of Hezbollah’s true nature.
Well before the recent designations mentioned above, a number of countries followed America’s lead in designating Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.
Canada and the Netherlands later followed suit, following a 2004 Dutch intelligence report that found that “Hezbollah’s political and terrorist wings are controlled by one coordinating council.”
In 2016, the entire Arab League as well as members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE—designated Hezbollah in its entirety.
GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani stated he was compelled to act because Hezbollah posed a direct threat to “Arab national security” given the group’s involvement in “terrorist attacks, smuggling weapons and explosives, stirring up sedition and incitement to chaos and violence.”
The EU must recognize this reality.
The 28-nation EU still operates under the false distinction it set in 2013 between Hezbollah’s military and political wings. The policy enables the EU to permit certain Hezbollah officials to operate unimpeded, and only prosecute and sanction those they define as primarily associated with the group’s military wing. Meanwhile, they maintain regular diplomatic relations with other Hezbollah officials who serve in Lebanon’s government.
The EU enacted this policy following the U.K. model in 2008, which only singled out and sanctioned Hezbollah’s military wing. This policy of soft designation was thought to be a compromise, given European hesitancy to upset Iran but following years of pressure from the United States and Israel to address the Hezbollah threat and act in the face of the terrorist group’s 2012 bus bombing in Bulgaria.
In February 2019, the United Kingdom broke from this policy to adopt a new definition of Hezbollah that recognizes the entirety of the group as a terrorist organization, arguing:
“There have long been calls in this country to proscribe the whole of [Hezbollah], and it has been argued that the distinction between the political and military wings is an artificial one. Indeed, the group itself has laughed off the suggestion that there is such a distinction. The Government have continued to call on Hezbollah to end its status as an armed group, in line with our commitment to strengthening Lebanon’s stability, security and prosperity. However, it has not listened, and indeed its behaviour has escalated. In the light of Hezbollah’s increasingly destabilising behaviour in the region over recent years and the links between its political and military wings, we have concluded that the distinction between the two is now untenable. We assess that the group in its entirety is concerned in terrorism, and we now believe that it is right to proscribe the entire organisation.”
On January 17, Britain moved to officially enforce the new definition by expanding sanctions and freeze the assets of Hezbollah’s political branch.
The U.S. must maintain the pressure.
The EU’s efforts to distinguish between Hezbollah’s political and military wings have failed to produce any positive results—Hezbollah continues to engage in terrorist activities as it grows its political influence in Lebanon and elsewhere.
The Iranian terrorist proxy is responsible for terror attacks and plots worldwide, and has now hand-selected the premiere of the next government of Lebanon. As Dr. Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote in 2018, “The group’s militants and politicians all fly the same flag featuring a machine gun front and center.”
Fortunately, the full list of those that have designated Hezbollah in entirety is growing, and now includes the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Arab League, GCC and Israel. Germany, Austria and Brazil are currently considering enacting similar motions.
The EU must follow their example. If not, Hezbollah will continue to operate with ease, and continue to threaten EU, U.S. and international interests. The time for action is now.
The United States has continued to push for this important step on a bipartisan basis.
In October 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.Res. 359, urging “the European Union to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization and increase pressure on it and its members.” In 2019, members of Congress also sent letters to Europe, pressing them on this same issue. Echoing this sentiment, President Trump in January 2018 said, “[Our allies] should designate Hezbollah—in its entirety—as a terrorist organization.”
Congress and the administration must continue to press the EU and the international community to fully designate Hezbollah and address the dangerous threat that the terrorist organization poses as it continues to grow and operate around the world.
Type: Near-East-Report Near East Report NERWinter2019-2020