Iran on Saturday condemned Britain’s decision to outlaw the political wing of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, describing it as “wrong and irresponsible.”
Britain said Monday it would seek to make membership of the Shiite terror group or inviting support for it a crime.
The decision followed outrage over the display of the Hezbollah flag, which features a Kalashnikov assault rifle, at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London.
“Iran considers Hezbollah a legitimate and legal force which plays an effective and undeniable role in helping its country’s political stability and safeguarding its security,” Iran’s foreign ministry said on its website.
“[It] considers the decision to place Hezbollah on a terrorism blacklist to be wrong and irresponsible and one which will not contribute to the stability and security of Lebanon.”
Hezbollah was established in 1982 during the Lebanese civil war and fought a 2006 war with Israel. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, regularly threatens to target Israel with thousands of advanced missiles that can reach all major Israeli cities.
The group is considered a terror organization by Israel, the US and the Arab League. The European Union and Australia only designate the group’s military wing as such.
Britain blacklisted Hezbollah’s military wing in 2008 but had until now made no move against its political wing.
However, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Monday that any distinction between its military and political wings “does not exist.”
The move came after the group was included as part of Lebanon’s new government. While the cabinet is headed by Saad Hariri, a 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.
“This [decision] does not change our ongoing commitment to Lebanon, with whom we have a broad and strong relationship,” Hunt said.
Tehran is a major supporter of Hezbollah and its “resistance” against the Islamic Republic’s arch foe, Israel.
Britain’s decision drew swift praise from both Israel and the United States.
The US-based international Jewish organization Anti-Defamation League also applauded the decision and called on other countries to follow suit.
The UK’s opposition Labour Party questioned the country’s proscription of Hezbollah as a terror group, suggesting it was driven by political motives.
Labour, whose leader Jeremy Corbyn once referred to Hezbollah as his “friends,” said Tuesday the Home Office had not provided evidence to justify its change in stance on the Iran-backed organization’s political wing.
“Decisions on the proscription of organizations as terror groups are supposed to be made on the advice of civil servants based on clear evidence that those organizations fall foul of the proscription criteria set out in legislation,” Labour said in a statement.