U.K. to Ban Hezbollah's Political Wing, Classify It as Terrorist Group

British Interior Minister Sajid Javid says authorities no longer able to distinguish between the group's military wing and political party ■ Israel applauds decision and urges EU to follow in their footsteps

Party members carry Hezbollah flags as they stand in front of a replica of the Dome of the Rock during a rally marking Al-Quds day in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon June 23, 2017.
Aziz Taher/Reuters

Britain said on Monday it would ban Hezbollah, adding the Lebanese Shi'ite group in its entirety to its list of banned terrorist organizations.

London had already proscribed Hezbollah's external security unit and its military wing in 2001 and 2008 respectively, but now wants to outlaw its political arm too.  

"Hezbollah is continuing in its attempts to destabilize the fragile situation in the Middle East – and we are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party," Home Secretary (interior minister) Sajid Javid said. 

>>Read more: No revolution in Lebanon's future | Analysis 

"Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety." 

The Iran-backed Shi'ite group is already deemed a terrorist organization by the United States which last week expressed concern about its growing role in Lebanon's government. 

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt supported the move while reaffirming the U.K.'s commitment to Lebanon. "We are staunch supporters of a stable and prosperous Lebanon. We cannot however be complacent when it comes to terrorism," Hunt said. 

Hunt also mentioned the difficulties distinguishing the militant group from the political wing, adding: "By proscribing Hezballah in all its forms, the government is sending a clear signal that its destabilizing activities in the region are totally unacceptable and detrimental to the U.K.’s national security."

Israel lauded Britain's decision and urged the European Union likewise to class the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi'ite militia and political movement in its entirety as a terrorist organization. "All who truly wish to combat terror must reject the fake distinction between 'military' & 'political' wings," Israeli Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a tweet thanking his British counterpart, Javid. "Now is the time for the #EU to follow suit!" 

The country's Labour Party had advised members to try and block the ban, with a leaflet sent to lawmakers in January suggesting that the ban "could be a move against dialogue and meaningful peace negotiations in the Middle East."

Hezbollah's lawmakers said that was a "violation of sovereignty." Set up in 1982 by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, it last fought a major war with Israel, its lifelong enemy, in 2006. 

The British ban, which will come into force on Friday subject to parliament's approval, means anyone who is a member of Hezbollah or invites support will be committing a criminal offence with a potential sentence of up to 10 years in jail. 

The group controls three of 30 ministries in Lebanon's government, the largest number it has ever held, and has seen its regional clout expand too with fighters in various Middle East conflicts including neighbouring Syria. 

Ansaroul Islam, a militant group active in Burkina Faso, and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimin (JNIM), an Islamic group based in North Africa, were also included on the list of organizations set to be banned.