Bahrain asks Gulf states to put Hezbollah on terror list

Manama, rival of Tehran, asks GCC nations to debate Iran’s spying, Lebanese group’s activities, at upcoming meeting

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Hezbollah fighters hold party flags during a parade in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon (AP/Hussein Malla/File)
Hezbollah fighters hold party flags during a parade in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon (AP/Hussein Malla/File)

Bahrain will ask the six countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to consider placing Hezbollah on their terrorism list at a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday.

The Arab Gulf states have long been wary of Iranian influence in the region, and have accused Tehran of spying and meddling in internal politics. Iran’s activities in the GCC countries will also be on Sunday’s agenda, at Bahrain’s request, the Kuwaiti daily Alrai reported Thursday.

The GCC consists of the Arab states Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Bahrain, which currently holds the GCC’s rotating presidency, has been markedly vocal in its condemnation of the Lebanese Shiite group. In March, Bahrain’s parliament approved a bill designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization and asked the country’s foreign ministry to follow suit.

Legislators in Bahrain’s capital Manama also called on other Persian Gulf nations to declare the Lebanese militia a terrorist group, according to Israel Radio.

Whereas Bahrain’s government and royal family are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, the Bahraini population is majority Shi’ite, like Iran and its proxy Hezbollah.

A former MP said the resolution came as a result of Bahrain’s suspicions that Hezbollah spurred political unrest that has wracked the country for the past two years, according to CNN Arabic.

On Monday, a day after its foreign minister called Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah a terrorist, Bahrain barred political groups in the country from making contact with Hezbollah.

“Political associations are banned from making any kind of contact with the Lebanese Hezbollah organization, for it (is) a terrorist organization,” said Justice Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ali al-Khalifa, according to official Bahraini news agency BNA.

Once lauded in the Arab world as a heroic resistance movement that stood up to Israel, Hezbollah has seen its popularity plummet in the region because of its staunch support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

According to Salman Shaikh of the Brookings Institution think tank, Hezbollah has 5,000 troops fighting alongside Assad’s forces in Syria, with another 5,000 preparing to join them.

For months, Hezbollah denied its fighters were assisting Assad in the military crackdown against the rebels. A steady trickle of dead Hezbollah fighters were buried hastily in covert funerals.

On Saturday, Nasrallah admitted to the group’s involvement in Syria during a televised speech, after mounting Hezbollah casualties during ongoing fighting in the Syrian border city of Qusair became impossible to conceal.

“The support of the Lebanese and the Arabs that Hezbollah had in the war with Israel was its major strength,” said Fawaz A. Gerges, the director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics. “It’s quite the opposite in Syria, as Nasrallah struggles to convince the Lebanese Shiite community that provides the group with legitimacy of the necessity to intervene in Syria.”

“The longer Hezbollah’s presence on Syria’s killing fields will be, the more vulnerable Hezbollah will become in any future confrontation with Israel,” he added.

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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