The United Kingdom on Monday moved to outlaw the Lebanese organization Hezbollah and recognize it in its entirety as a terror group, the British government said in a statement.
The powerful Iran-backed Shiite terror group is part of a new government announced recently in Lebanon. While the cabinet is headed by Saad Hariri, the Western-backed Sunni politician who has held the job since 2016, Hezbollah made significant gains at the expense of the largest Sunni party and now controls three government ministries.
Hezbollah has a decades-long history of conflict with Israel, including the bloody Second Lebanon War in 2006, and its leader Hassan Nasrallah regularly threatens to target Israel with thousands of advanced missiles that can reach all major Israeli cities.
Hezbollah’s military wing had already been banned in Britain as a terror group, but its political wing was not.
“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 Sajid Javid said Monday. “Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety.
“My priority as Home Secretary is to protect the British people,” he added. “As part of this, we identify and ban any terrorist organization which threatens our safety and security, whatever their motivations or ideology which is why I am taking action against several organizations today.”
The move was welcomed by Israel’s foreign minister, who called for the United Nations to follow suit.
“I would like to praise the British government on the decision to recognize the entire Hezbollah organization as a terrorist organization,” Israel Katz wrote on Twitter.
“In my upcoming meeting with the UN secretary-general in New York next week I will stress that the UN institutions should take a similar resolution.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also commended the move and said it showed that “international unity to confront Iran’s regime continues to grow.”
“This Iran-sponsored terrorist group has American blood on its hands & continues to plot & carry out attacks in the Mideast, Europe & around the world,” he tweeted.
A draft order will be laid in parliament on Monday, and, if approved, will go into force on Friday. It blacklists Hezbollah along with Ansar ul Islam and Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), two groups that are active in northwestern Africa.
“We are staunch supporters of a stable and prosperous Lebanon,” said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. “We cannot however be complacent when it comes to terrorism – it is clear the distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political wings does not exist, and by proscribing Hezbollah 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 UK’s national security.
“This does not change our ongoing commitment to Lebanon, with whom we have a broad and strong relationship,” Hunt added.
The leader of the British Labour opposition party has famously referred to Hezbollah and the Palestinian terror group Hamas as his “friends.” He has since apologized for the remark.
A ban on Hebzollah would outlaw the flying of its banners at events such as the annual Iranian-inspired Quds Day rallies in London.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri earlier this month indicated that his new government would allow Hezbollah to keep its weapons, which, since its war against Israel in 2006, it has frequently used since to threaten Israel.
Hariri said that Lebanese citizens have the right to “resist Israeli occupation and repel its aggression,” in reference to the terror group’s right to keep its weapons.
Under UN Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah, Lebanon committed to disarming the Iran-backed terror group.
US President Donald Trump’s administration and others have expressed concerns about Hezbollah holding three cabinet posts and called on the new government to ensure that group is not supported by the ministries’ resources.
Hezbollah was formed in 1982 under the guidance of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to combat Israel. It has been Iran’s most successful investment abroad, serving as the Islamic Republic’s arm at Israel’s doorstep.
The group dominates the political and military landscape of Lebanon and possesses tens of thousands of trained fighters, as well as an array of sophisticated armaments. Its intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad also expanded its influence and reach in the region.
At home, Hezbollah remains the unrivaled armed force, also making significant political gains along with allies in the last parliamentary elections. This positioned the group to secure three ministerial posts in the new government, including the powerful Health Ministry, which has one of the country’s largest budgets.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, welcomed the British move and said he would “continue to lead the fight to have Hezbollah recognized as a terror organization by the Security Council and recruit the international community against a group that is an arm for Iran’s aggression.”