Natasha Hausdorff is a barrister and a Conservative activist. She was recently a Pegasus Scholar and Fellow in the National Security Law Programme at Columbia Law School in New York.
The Home Secretary’s decision today to proscribe the whole of the Lebanon based Hezbollah terrorist organisation is significant and long-overdue, not least because of the organisation’s antisemitic ideology and targeting of Israeli civilians. Once affirmed by Parliament, the UK’s approach to Hezbollah will be brought into line with that of the United States, Canada, Japan, Israel and the Netherlands.
Since July 2008, the so-called ‘military wing’ of Hezbollah has been on the list of proscribed organisations that are “concerned in terrorism”, pursuant to Section 3 and Schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or otherwise invite support for a proscribed organisation. However, until now, an arbitrary distinction between supposed political and military ‘wings’ left certain support for the group lawful in the UK.
Hezbollah has perpetrated atrocities around the world, from Buenos Aires to Bulgaria. Its terror activity has included hostage taking, airline hijacking, and bombing, including blowing up a US Marine barracks killing more than 300 US and French servicemen in Lebanon. The group has also assassinated diplomats and policy makers in the Middle East, the US and Asia. The original proscription in the UK coincided with the discovery that Hezbollah had been targeting British soldiers in Iraq. Acting as an Iranian proxy, it has killed thousands of innocents and continues its butchery in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, promoting Iran’s regime of terror in the region.
While some terror organisations feign non-violence, Hezbollah itself has never gone in for such a masquerade. The organisation makes no such distinction between its military and political affairs, because terror is its fundamental ideology and raison d’etre. Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General, explained in clear terms: “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…every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, is in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority”.
This sentiment has been echoed by other top officials, including Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s current Secretary General, and Ibrahim Mussawi, its spokesman. And this unity of purpose is considered to be an essential component of the group’s perceived success; Qassem stressed to a Lebanese paper in 2000 the importance of “one leadership, with one administration”.
It is bizarre that we in the UK have sought to maintain a distinction which is at odds with the pretty straightforward position articulated by Hezbollah leaders. The artificial division between ‘wings’ has also been a dangerous one. Exploitation of the loophole created by this approach has allowed Hezbollah flags to be flown with impunity on the streets of London. The organisation has one flag, which displays an image of a Kalachnikov rifle, combined with a Heckler & Koch G3 assault rifle, clenched in a raised fist. Individuals displaying the Hezbollah flag at the annual ‘Al Quds Day’ march in London have been shielded from prosecution under Section 13 of the Terrorism Act, under which it is an offence to carry or display an article “in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion [of being] a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation”.
That the current legislation allows open support for this terrorist organisation on our streets has been raised repeatedly with the police and the Home Office by concerned community organisations. It would seem that these efforts have finally paid off. Undoubtably, full proscription ought also to affect the future approach of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. This move sends a clear message that we will no longer tolerate incitement and celebration of terror on the streets of the UK.
The news of full proscription is also to be welcomed as an indication of a toughened stance towards Iran, Hezbollah’s patron and financier. The Foreign Secretary seems to be taking a stronger line on Iran due to the continued imprisonment of British Iranian dual national, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. In light of Iranian support for terror organisations across the Middle East, tougher action on Iran is to be supported and encouraged. Rejection of the untenable distinction between ‘wings’ of Hezbollah will also enable law enforcement agencies to crack down on financial support for one of the best funded terror organisations in the world.
Concerns have been mooted over full proscription in view of Hezbollah’s participation in the Lebanese government. It has been argued that the UK’s relationship with Lebanon may be unduly complicated by such a determination. That argument remains unconvincing in light of the relationship which the US, Canada and the Arab League maintain with Lebanon while being clear in their own acknowledgment that Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation in its entirety.
Indeed, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Tom Tugendhat, has further indicated that proscription of the ‘political wing’ would not conflict with the UK’s duty to speak to ministers in the Lebanese government. Notably, such MPs as Joan Ryan, Mike Gapes and Ian Austin, all of whom left Labour last week, have also previously called for the group to be banned in its entirety.
The Government and the Home Secretary should be congratulated on the decision to finally end the charade and proscribe Hezbollah in full. With Parliament’s approval, this will be a significant step forward in the proper approach to combatting terrorism and to keeping this heinous organisation from inciting hatred on the streets of the United Kingdom.