The British Treasury Department expanded its asset freeze against Hezbollah, the political party and militia in Lebanon that answers to Iran, to cover the entire organization on Friday. This is the latest step by the British government to correct a legal fiction many Western governments have operated with for many years—that there is a distinction between a “political wing” and a “military wing” of Hezbollah.
“Parts” of Hezbollah were added to the list of proscribed terrorist organizations in the United Kingdom in 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and in 2008 the “military wing” of the organization was banned. It took until February 2019 for London to add Hezbollah in its entirety to the proscribed list.
“It is clear the distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political wings does not exist,” said British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and by proscribing Hezbollah in all its forms, the government is sending a clear signal that its destabilising activities in the region are totally unacceptable and detrimental to the UK’s national security.”
The myth about Hezbollah’s current structure has its origins in a myth about the origins of the Party, and myths continue about this even as the idea of autonomous “wings” within Hezbollah is collapsing. The most persistent myth is that Hezbollah arose as an armed resistance movement to Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon in 1982. In reality, the group formed much earlier as part of the transnational Islamist movement loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s concept of absolute wilayat al-faqih that would seize power in Iran in 1979.
As was documented recently at European Eye on Radicalization, in discussing the death of Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the expeditionary Quds Force of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the IRGC—which protects the revolution domestically in Iran and tries to export it outside the country through terrorism and other means—came together in Lebanon in the mid-1970s. Part of IRGC moved to Iran after the revolution was completed in February 1979, and part remained in Lebanon becoming known as Hezbollah.
In short, Hezbollah is an integrated, organic component of the Iranian revolutionary government—a component of its state security apparatus.
EER has written previously about Iran/Hezbollah’s propaganda campaigns in Britain, and it was been discovered last week that attempts continue to further Tehran’s information warfare in the country. The broadening legal proscription appears to be part of an effort to allow the British government to crack down on these various aspects of the Iranian threat.
The move by Britain comes against the background of United States’ President Donald Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran’s regime. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) and reimposed sanctions in May 2018. The JCPOA had released monies to Iran that it has used for devastatingly destabilizing interventions across the region, from Syria to Yemen. Trump sought to remove the financial capacity of the Islamic Republic to continue this malign behavior.
So far, “maximum pressure” has been almost entirely an economic campaign, though on 3 January there was a spectacular deviation when Trump ordered a drone strike in Baghdad that killed Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, a close aide to Soleimani and the deputy head of al-Hashd al-Shaabi, the Shia militia conglomerate that has been incorporated into Iraq’s government.
There have been many protests from governments around the world, including from U.S. allies, about “maximum pressure” and especially about the Soleimani strike. But, as with the expanded designation of Hezbollah in Britain, a number of countries are beginning to align with the American approach—mostly because it has become so obvious that Tehran will not, as the architects of JCPOA hoped, reform and behave more like a normal state.
There have been efforts in the European Parliament to have the European Union abandon the pretence that there are parts of Hezbollah disconnected from its criminal and terrorist activity, which is, as EER has previously explained, extensive within the E.U. Similar efforts are afoot in individual member states like Germany and in states outside the bloc as far away as Australia.
Perhaps most surprising is the turn of events in Latin America. Iran/Hezbollah has a well-entrenched presence in the Western Hemisphere, not only with networks that traffic in drugs and other contraband, but at an official level, with the Leftist governments in the region playing host to Iran’s activity in return for various forms of favor, most prominently with the Chavista regime in Venezuela.
In July 2019, Argentina—the site of one of Iran’s most heinous foreign terrorist operations, where the government had a measure of complicity (at least after the fact)—became the first Latin American state to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Paraguay followed soon afterwards, and Guatemala and Honduras joined them earlier this month.
Much of the media coverage of Soleimani’s death in the West lacked regional perspectives and dynamics, placing too heavy an emphasis on domestic political concerns. This led to concerns about the fallout that have, so far, proven to be rather alarmist. Eliminating Soleimani has seemingly brought a reconsideration on Iran’s regime and provided a measure of comfort to U.S. allies that has allowed them to be more publicly supportive of U.S. policy.