Joan Ryan MP: If Hezbollah doesn't recognise a distinction between its military and political wings - neither should the UK gov't
Labour MP and Chair of Labour Friends of Israel Joan Ryan calls on the UK government to extend the ban on Hezbollah to include its political wing.
In 2001, the British government used its new powers under the Terrorism Act to proscribe Hezbollah’s military wing.
While that ban was somewhat extended seven years later, the terror group’s political wing remains legal in the UK.
It is an artificial distinction – indeed, not one that Hezbollah’s leaders themselves even recognise – and it is time that we did away with it.
My debate in parliament tomorrow is designed to pressurise ministers to ban Hezbollah in its entirety.
Hezbollah’s involvement in terrorism, its deeply antisemitic ideology and its hatred of Israel are well established.
For over three decades, Hezbollah has committed terrible atrocities aimed at western, Israeli and Jewish targets all around the world. It has carried out attacks in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. It has murdered peacekeeping troops in Beirut, Jews in Buenos Aires and Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.
Its leaders have a long record of encouraging, promoting and glorifying terrorism, including suicide bombings in Israel, which it deems “legitimate, honourable, legal, humanitarian and ethical”.
Hezbollah’s activities are driven by antisemitism and an unyielding desire to destroy Israel. “If [Jews] all gather in Israel,” its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, has declared, “it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”
At the same time, Hezbollah’s 1985 founding document made clear its absolute refusal to countenance any accommodation with Israel. “Our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated,” it stated. “We recognise no treaty with it, no cease-fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.”
True to its word, Hezbollah has provoked bloody conflicts with Israel in 1993, 1996 and 2006 (when its kidnap and murder of Israeli troops on the northern border led to the Second Lebanon War).
In defiance of UN Resolution 1701, which brought the war to an end, Hezbollah has spent the last decade restocking its arsenal and rebuilding its forces in Lebanon. It has trebled the size of its fighting force from 17,000 to 45,000 men and launched a massive arms procurement programme. It now has an estimated 120,000-140,000 rockets and missiles – an arsenal larger than that of many states.
While the world’s only Jewish state remains Hezbollah’s primary target, its role as Iran’s proxy army – aiding its expansionist, destabilising plans – in the region should also not be forgotten. Hezbollah has dispatched fighters and advisers to Yemen, Iraq and, of course, Syria where over one in four of its troops were fighting on behalf of the murderous Assad regime in 2016.
What is most curious about the government’s repeated refusals to proscribe Hezbollah’s political wing is that the organisation does not itself recognise the distinction between its military and political activities which ministers appear so insistent upon.
Indeed, its founding document stated explicitly: “As to our military power, nobody can imagine its dimensions because we do not have a military agency separate from the other parts of our body. Each of us is a combat soldier when the call of jihad demands its.”
This message has been repeated regularly by Hezbollah’s leaders. In 2009, Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy general secretary made clear that, in his words, “the same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel”.
Nasrallah delivered a similar message in 2013, arguing: “However, jokingly I will say — though I disagree on such separation or division— that I suggest that our ministers in the upcoming Lebanese government be from the military wing of Hezbollah.” He had even mockingly suggested that the “the story of military wing and political wing is the work of the British”.
A number of countries – including the Netherlands, Canada, the US, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council – have taken Hezbollah at its word and thus proscribed Hezbollah in its entirety.
Tomorrow, LFI MPs will lead the calls in parliament for the home secretary to use her powers and ban Hezbollah’s so-called political wing.
It is time to end this dangerous game of semantics.
Joan Ryan is the Labour Member of Parliament for Enfield North and is the chair of Labour Friends of Israel