Hezbollah is a terrorist group in its entirety; UK must recognize that

Hezbollah is a terrorist group in its entirety; UK must recognize that
© Getty Images

Foreshadowing for the blind: Expect nothing new from the U.K. government at Thursday’s parliamentary debate over whether or not to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group in its entirety.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, British officials remain committed to the politically expedient but baseless notion that Hezbollah maintains separate terrorist, military and political wings.


Oddly, London sticks to this fiction despite the fact that Hezbollah itself explicitly rejects the notion of separate wings, insisting quite clearly that it is a structurally unified organization committed to political violence through military and terrorist tactics.


Hezbollah’s terrorist wing has been banned in the U.K. since 2001, and its military wing has been banned since 2008.  But Hezbollah must find this pretty bemusing.

Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem, famously explained in pretty straightforward terms that do not lend themselves to much interpretation: 

"We don't have a military wing and a political one; we don't have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other ... Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, is in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority."

Yet, Home Office Minister for Security Ben Wallace feels differently. In response to a question, Wallace asserted this week that, “The military and political activities of Hezbollah are distinct, though links exist between the senior leaders of the political and military wings.” 

How these activities are “distinct” when there are “links” between senior leaders involved in each of these activities is left unsaid. Nor is there any recognition of the irony in the British government taking a position on Hezbollah that the group’s senior leaders themselves reject.

But Wallace is correct in one respect: Hezbollah leaders are indeed involved in both political and military activities.  Take Abdallah Safieddine, for example. Safieddine has long been Hezbollah’s representative in Tehran, an overt and senior political role. 

But at the same time, he also headed what U.S. law enforcement refers to as Hezbollah’s Business Affairs Component (BAC). U.S. investigators concluded the BAC was set up by Hezbollah arch terrorist Imad Mughniyeh for the purpose of funding Hezbollah terrorist and military operations. There's nothing political about that.

Indeed, it was Safiedine who helped connect Iranian officials to officials at the Lebanese Canadian Bank, which functioned as one of Hezbollah’s primary money laundering enterprises until it was shut down in a U.S. Treasury Department action.  

That should not surprise, given that a United Nations criminal investigator found that Safieddine — a cousin and close associate of Nasrallah — is “considered one of the Hezbollah’s top moneymen.” His brother, Sayyed Hashem Safieddine, is a senior Hezbollah official sometimes mentioned as a possible successor to Nasrallah. 

Around the time the U.K. discovered that Hezbollah was targeting British soldiers in Iraq (the main reason for adding the group’s military wing to the U.K. terrorism list in 2008), U.S. authorities came across information that Saffiedine was tied to anti-Coalition IED networks in Iraq.  

"I had no clue who Saffiedine was,” one official recalled. “But this guy was sending money into Iraq, to kill American soldiers.” There's nothing political about that either.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah continues to engage in criminal and terrorist activities, including — according to a House of Commons “debate pack” prepared in advance of this week’s debate — in the U.K. One U.S. investigation revealed a Hezbollah operative who was laundering narcotics proceeds for the group out of the U.K. 

In another case, Mohammad Ammar, a Hezbollah operative with U.K. citizenship, was arrested in Florida on narcotics money-laundering charges. According to investigators, Ammar “is known for ­facilitating the laundering of ­illicit monies from or through Holland, Spain, the UK, Australia and Africa.” 

Contrary to Wallace, Hezbollah leaders are fully aware of the structural continuity between its various militant and political activities and worry that a designation of the group in its entirety would severely undermine the group. 

They would also prefer to keep a lid on the full extent of the ties between these overt and covert activities. Asked about the various political and militant roles Safieddine plays within the group, a Hezbollah official responded, “We don’t usually expose the roles everyone plays because it is a jihadi organization. So it is a little bit secret.” 

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has publicly expressed his fears that a European designation of all of Hezbollah “would dry up the sources of finance, end moral, political and material support” for the group. The partial designation of Hezbollah has done no such thing, but Nasrallah worries what a full designation might accomplish.

This week, when British officials debate a full designation of Hezbollah, they should take the words of Hezbollah leaders to heart: Hezbollah is a unified “resistance” organization, which continues to operate within the U.K. despite a partial ban of its terrorist and military wings (these are “a little bit secret”). 

The only way to “dry up” the financial and material support for Hezbollah that still flows from the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe is to designate the group in its entirety.

Matthew Levitt is the Fromer-Wexler fellow and director of the counterterrorism program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is the author of "Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God."