Hezbollah in Britain

Hezbollah in Britain

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators carry the yellow flag of Hezbollah in London – © Photo: Getty Images.

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A rumour is circulating in the British press to the effect that the UK is about to designate Hezbollah, lock, stock and barrel, as a terrorist organization.  It would not be before time. The UK first proscribed Hezbollah’s terrorist wing in 2001, and added the military wing in 2008 after the organization targeted British soldiers in Iraq, but it has reserved judgment on the organization as a whole because of its political activities.  Any such distinction, which the EU has copied from the UK, is illusory. Hezbollah is a unified organization, and its jihadist purpose is basic to its existence.  Even Hezbollah’s own leaders reject the distinction.  Deputy secretary-general Naim Qassem has declared unequivocally: “We have one leadership, with one administration.”  Speaking in 2012, he added: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one…Every element of Hezbollah…is in the service of the resistance.”

A glance at Hezbollah’s organization confirms this.  It has a unified command structure consisting of five sub-councils, or assemblies.  Above them sits the Shura Council, which controls the leadership of Hezbollah and all its operations, and comprises nine members, seven of whom are Lebanese and the other two Iranian.

Iran’s involvement at the very top of today’s Hezbollah is no surprise.  In the 1970s Lebanon, torn apart by civil conflict, was under the occupation of the Shia-aligned Syrian government.  Around 1980 – the exact date is disputed – Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomenei, still basking in the glory of his 1979 Islamic Revolution, decided to strengthen his grip on Shi’ite Islam by consolidating a number of Lebanon’s militant Shia Muslim groups.  He formed and funded a body calling itself Hezbollah, or “the Party of God”.  Its forces were trained and organized by a contingent of 1,500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Hezbollah declared that its purpose, in line with Khomeini’s, was to oppose Western influences in general and Israel’s existence in particular.  Very shortly Hezbollah was acting as Iran’s proxy in perpetrating a campaign of terror against their two perceived enemies. A wave of kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations were carried out across the world.  These include the detonation in 1983 of an explosive-filled van in front of the US embassy in Beirut, killing 58 Americans and Lebanese, and the bombing of the US Marine and French Drakkar barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 American and 58 French peacekeepers.

In 1992 Hezbollah operatives boasted of their involvement in the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina killing 29 people, and two years later claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Argentina and the subsequent death of 85 people.  The atrocities continued:  21 people, including 12 Jews, killed in an airplane attack in Panama in 1994; the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing inside Saudi Arabia killing 19 US servicemen; the 2005 assassination of one-time Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri; the 2012 Burgas bus bombing in Bulgaria killing 6. For the past seven years Iran has recruited thousands of Hezbollah fighters to help keep Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in power and restore his lost territories to him.

It is no surprise, therefore, that Hezbollah in its entirety has been designated a terrorist body by the Arab League, as well as by a swathe of other nations including Canada, the Netherlands, the USA, Israel and all the Gulf states that form the Gulf Cooperation Council.

During its 38 bloodthirsty years of existence Hezbollah has managed to achieve a certain acceptability in Shia Muslim sections of Lebanese society. In the election that followed Israel’s withdrawal in May 2000 from the buffer zone it had established along the border, Hezbollah, in alliance with Amal, took all 23 South Lebanon seats out of a total 128 parliamentary seats. Since then Hezbollah has participated in Lebanon’s parliamentary process, and has been able to claim a proportion of cabinet posts in each government. As a result it has achieved substantial power within Lebanon’s body politic to a point where it has been dubbed “a state within a state”.

It is this political aspect of Hezbollah’s activities that has turned the heads of certain Western politicians, some of whom may not be entirely out of sympathy with Hezbollah’s aim of removing the state of Israel from the Middle East.  Not so Sajid Javid, Britain’s newly appointed Home Secretary, the first Muslim to achieve one of the UK’s major offices of state.  His rumoured decision to proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety has come about because of the outrage expressed by many at the sight of the Hezbollah flag being paraded through the streets of London in this year’s Al-Quds Day march.

Back in 1979 Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeni, designated the last Friday of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan to be International Al-Quds Day.  Muslims were urged to use it to demonstrate their support for the Palestinians, and their opposition to Israel.  For more than a decade London has witnessed an annual mass demonstration to mark the occasion.  In the past few years, since it became clear that thousands of Hezbollah troops have been fighting alongside Iran to support Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in his no-holds-barred efforts, including the use of chemical weapons, to cling to power, the sight of Hezbollah supporters waving its flag in the UK’s capital has become increasingly unacceptable.

Shortly after Javid’s predecessor as Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was appointed in 2016 she said that if people reported seeing the Hezbollah flag displayed in London, action would be taken.  In the event, this was found to be not legally possible, since only the military wing of the organization had been proscribed by the UK.  She never got round to remedying the situation.

“Sajid is a very different beast to the Home Secretary he has just replaced,” a government source told the UK’s Jewish Chronicle.  Deeds, not mere words, will prove the point.


Neville Teller

Neville Teller

was born in London and is a graduate of Oxford University.He has been commenting on the Middle East scene for over thirty years.He is Middle East correspondent for the Eurasia Review and his articles also appear regularly in other publications and in his blog “A Mid-East Journal”.His books include “One Man’s Israel” (2008), “One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine” (2011) and “The Search for Détente” (2014).A past chairman of the Society of Authors’ Broadcasting Committee, he is a veteran radio and audio dramatist and abridger.In the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2006 he was awarded the MBE for services to broadcasting and drama.
Neville Teller

Mashreq-Worldwide Relations

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