The U.K. parliament is debating on whether to widen its ban on Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party and paramilitary movement, after calls to proscribe the group as a terrorist organization.
Hezbollah is an Iranian-backed Shia Islamist organization based in Lebanon. It has a political and a military wing. It emerged in the 1980s during the Israel occupation of Lebanon.
The group, popular among Shias in Lebanon, has been accused of carrying out attacks and is considered as a terrorist organization in its entirety by the Arab league and some Western countries, including the U.S. The organization is allied with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, accused of committing war crimes in the ongoing conflict. It has also been accused of sending weapons to war-torn Yemen where Iran-backed Houthi rebels are fighting against a Saudi coalition.
Hezbollah’s military wing has already been banned in the U.K., but Labour MP Joan Ryan, chair of Labour Friends of Israel, moved a motion that called for a complete ban on the group earlier this week.
“That this House believes that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization driven by an anti-Semitic ideology that seeks the destruction of Israel; notes that Hezbollah declares itself to be one organization without distinguishable political or military wings,” Ryan said during a debate in the house of Commons on Thursday (January 25).
“[It] is concerned that the military wing of that organization is proscribed, but its political wing is not; and calls on the Government to include Hezbollah in its entirety on the list of proscribed organizations.”
However, in a briefing obtained by The Jewish Chronicle, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott urged Labour to vote against the motion, ahead of the debate.
“There is a balance between making absolutely clear our abhorrence of using violence to achieve political ends and at the same time encouraging organisations down an effective democratic path,” the briefing reads.
“Full proscription could be a move against dialogue and meaningful peace negotiations in the Middle East.”
Some Labour MPs condemned the move, arguing that there should not be any distinction between the military and political wings of the Iran-backed group.
Jennifer Gerber, head of Labour Friends of Israel, said: “It is sadly unsurprising that the Labour frontbench would issue a statement on Hezbollah which fails to support banning the terror group in its entirety, and which makes no reference to its virulent anti-Semitism, its desire to annihilate Israel and its appalling role in propping up [President Bashar] Assad’s murderous regime in Syria.
“It is, moreover, utterly delusional to think that, having wreaked death and destruction throughout the region, Hezbollah can play any role in promoting peace. We would urge Labour’s leadership to listen to this afternoon’s debate and reconsider its position.”
Anti-terrorism expert David Otto believes that a total ban on the group could reduce the U.K.’s influence to “negotiate its position in the Middle East”. He believes parliament should consider what Hezbollah’s political party aims to achieve before applying an outright ban.
“Hezbollah has an objective of a liberation movement and a tactical means of a terrorist organization,” he told Newsweek.
“Banning Hezbollah in the U.K. in its entirety when the people of Lebanon are behind the movement will rule out a U.K. position as a peace broker.
“The long-term consideration for a peaceful dialogue should slightly favor not banning the political aspirations of the movement, but rather speed up the peace process so that its military wing will become obsolete. When you are not on the table to negotiate, you could be on the menu of war. It is not a decision of a simple either or position,” he continued.
Other analysts, however, believe that Hezbollah’s actions justify a complete ban.
David Ibsen, Executive Director for the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), rejected the idea of a distinction between the military and the political wings.
“There is no ‘military’ and ‘political’ wings of Hezbollah, it is one pernicious terrorist organisation founded and bankrolled by Iran. Hezbollah’s top officials brazenly acknowledge this fact,” he said in a statement quoted by Arab News.
“Thousands of Hezbollah fighters made the crucial difference in Syria for Bashar al-Assad and have trained Houthi rebels in Yemen on behalf of their Iranian benefactors.”
David Otto Institutional Representative of SECINDEF (Security Intelligence and Defense) Israel-USA International Consulting Counterterrorism in the United Kingdom and collaborating analyst of OCATRY (Observatory against the Terrorist Threat and the Jihadist Radicalization) David Otto is the Director of TGS Intelligence Consultants Ltd and the Preventing Radicalisation and Violent Extremism Programme – Step In Step Out (SISO) – based in the United Kingdom. He is also Senior Counter Terrorism Advisor for Global Risk International.