Institute founded by Tony Blair calls for coordinated effort to counter Hezbollah interference
Entirety of Hezbollah is a terrorist group says analyst
Tony Blair’s policy institute has called on British and European governments to ban Hezbollah outright, severing what it describes as a bogus distinction between the Lebanese group’s political and military activity.
The current ambiguous approach legitimises Hezbollah’s military interference and its billion dollar criminal network as officials have failed to fully proscribe the Lebanese group, a leading policy expert at the Tony Blair Institute has warned.
The European Union needs to take a coordinated approach in targeting the entirety of Hezbollah, which is extensively funded by Iran, or it will continue to extend its malicious reach across the globe said Azmina Siddique, a policy advisor said.
“There’s nothing wrong with taking a concerted effort against a group who we all agree are terrorists. There’s been lots of debate but the inaction emboldens Hezbollah and tells them we are giving them legitimacy,” she told The National.
Ms Siddique said a tough stance would have a significant impact on the Lebanese party and its paramilitary wing.
“It would signal the EU have recognised Hezbollah is malicious and funds terrorist activities,” she added.
On Tuesday, the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah claimed the group was “stronger than at any time since its launch in the region.” He said victory in Syria would be declared “very soon,” a reference to Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s support of president Bashar Al-Assad and his Syrian regime in its seven-year civil war with rebels in devastated country. Overall, the group is estimated to have some 25,000 full-time fighters and 20,000-30,000 reservists.
Despite a track-record of violence, human trafficking and drug smuggling the only EU country to have designated all of Hezbollah as a terrorist group is the Netherlands. The rest have only proscribed Hezbollah’s military wing and not its party.
For Ms Siddique this is a grave mistake and legally emboldens the group. She described the military and political branches as “all part of the same thing.” Even Hezbollah’s deputy leader Naim Qassem has seemingly said no separation existed.
Debates over the group have waged on in the UK with London’s mayor Sadiq Khan continuously calling the government to fully designate the entirety of Hezbollah a terrorist group. “I’ve written to (former home secretary Amber Rudd) asking her to ban the march using the powers that she has. Unfortunately she’s not agreed to do so. I’ll carry on lobbying the government,” he said in April.
He was speaking ahead of the annual July Al-Quds Day in London where protestors march in support of Palestinians – but with many waving the Hezbollah flag emblazoned with an image of a Kalashnikov.
“Loopholes in the law that separate the wings make it seem like they can (wave the flag.) They are not separate wings. As long as we keep this arbitrary thing, the UK can’t do any more because they are not breaking the law,” said Ms Siddique.
“They can get away with it. It needs a coordinated approach. These events become a rallying cry for extremists otherwise,” she added.
Ms Siddique urged EU countries and authorities to clamp down on Hezbollah to protect Europe and empower law enforcement agencies.
Ms Siddique noted Iran is estimated to have funnelled up to $200 million into Hezbollah a year but said renewed US sanction on the Iranian regime meant Hezbollah could increasingly look to ramp up its prosperous illegal funding activities.
These more than $1 billion a year manoeuvres include the trafficking of weapons, drugs, humans and tobacco via a finely tuned network of shell companies and illegal endeavours that reach as far as South America.
While Tehran is not taking the US sanctions without lying down, the effects have already come to fruition as powerful European companies pull out of multi-billion dollar deals with Iran.
“Hezbollah are pragmatic. They need to ramp up their financial activities through their international network. There are legal funding bases but the bulk comes things such as narcotics and human trafficking. These are activities happening on our streets,” said Ms Siddique.
“As the group faces increasing financial pressures, it will look to draw on its international support base and expand its illicit activities globally to fund its campaigns of violence in Syria and the wider Middle East,” she wrote in CNN.
The policy expert also said it was unlikely affect diplomatic relations with Lebanon and cited the US and Canada as two countries maintaining ties with Beirut despite proscribing all of Hezbollah.