Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser for the Conservative Party until 2008. Follow Garvan on Twitter.
Let’s see, he thought to himself, just two doors along now, opposite the entrance to Paddington station, beside the newsagent’s Francis Urqhart used as a forwarding address in House of Cards. A quick glance at his phone: “Dough buzzer?” Dough? What could that mean. Bloody predictive text. He typed “dough” out on the phone’s keyboard -
DOUGH DUFFY SORRY FIFTH SOUTH SHIFT
That must be it! He tried the fifth buzzer.
“…Damascus Import-Export, Can I help you?”
“Uh, em,” he hesitated, “I’m looking for the Syrian Opthalmologists’ Benevolent Trust”
“…oh yes, that’s us too, come on in. We’re on the third floor.”
He pushed the door and stepped out of the rain to find himself in a narrow hallway covered in frayed old blue office carpet. A single fluorescent strip illuminated the chipped paint on the walls. The first floor looked unoccupied. Folded pizza delivery leaflets and offers of broadband service overflowed from the letter box. A broken sign on the second floor read “SSAGE.” Was this really the right place? Finally, up to the third floor.
Strangely reassured, he knocked. A bald, extremely fat man, lips like a fish, sporting a closely cropped beard let him in. Grey pinstriped suit, and no tie.
“You want to help the Syrian Opthalmologists’ Benevolent Trust?”
“Yes, I’ve a donation.”
“Good, come in” the fat bearded man ushered him into the room. Ttake a seat”, pointing to one of those wooden laid-back type chairs in which Ikea specialise. “Cash, I presume?”
“Yes, around 350,000 in dollars.” He began to open his rucksack to fish the wads out, but something occurred to me. “Just one quick question…”
“This will just be used for hu – ”
“ – humanitarian purposes?” interrupted the fat man, “Absolutely. We have put strict checks in place to ensure that only qualified ophthalmologists, trained at the best British institutions, receive the donations.”
Al Qaeda, security researchers have a habit of saying, is the “B-Team.” The A-Team is Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia organisation that boasts by far the most powerful of Lebanon’s militias. It’s so strong that it is thought to outgun the country’s official armed forces, while its arsenal of missiles gives Israeli planners of a strike against Iran’s nuclear centrifuges pause.
In its own propaganda it’s far from a sectarian faction. It claims instead to be a national organisation of resistance against Israel. Though those assertions began to appear threadbare to Lebanese, after it turned its fighters against Sunni militias during street battles that forced a change of government in 2008, it retained that aura both in the Arab world, and in the West. Its highest officials have continued to receive discreet visits from British and other Western diplomats, and it has remained off the European terrorist list.
Hizbullah has, however, a broader regional agenda. Though reports that it sent its men to help Tehran suppress the Green Revolution in 2009 have been hard to verify, it has been open in its support for Syria’s dictator. Last week its leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted of its attacks on rebels and promised “victory” in that struggle.
The Foreign Office announced last week that it would push for the organisation’s military wing to be placed on Europe’s list of organisations subject to sanctions. While this is a good start: “you mean it’s not on the list already?” is surely the only sensible reaction, it’s also largely pointless. Putting only its military wing on the list would do little to obstruct its operation.
“We differentiate,” an FCO spokesman explained, “between the military wing and the political wing.”
At best, this is a specious fiction. The two wings share the same leadership, the same command structure, and the same overall mission. Now if this were just a way to allow diplomats and intelligence agencies to engage in the kind of talks and intelligence gathering it is their job to do, this wouldn’t matter so much, but this fiction has a significant practical effect. It makes it entirely legal to recruit people to and raise funds for Hizbullah as a whole. (I’m sure they have put strict checks in place to ensure that only the political wing makes use of the donations, and none goes to help the British trained opthalmologist now moonlighting as dictator of Syria.)
Theresa May has a commendably tough record on terrorism. So tough, in fact, that she has found it difficult to suggest many useful additional measures that it would be possible to add following the murder in Woolwich. The Communications Data Bill would achieve nothing without an enormous government database to make sense of the information it would allow the authorities to gather. If the struggle against Islamist terrorism really depends on the success of a government IT project, then I’d better give up the booze and start growing a beard.
But there is something she could do that’s worthwhile on its own merits. She should follow the Dutch example, and proscribe Hizbullah in its entirety.