Calls for UK to follow US crackdown on Hezbollah

This July 29, 2017 photo, a Hezbollah fighter stands at a watchtower at the site where clashes erupted between Hezbollah and al-Qaida-linked fighters in Wadi al-Kheil or al-Kheil Valley in the Lebanon-Syria border. (AP)
Updated 16 January 2018

Calls for UK to follow US crackdown on Hezbollah

LONDON: Calls for the UK to re-classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in its entirety are intensifying, following demands from both UK MPs and US President Donald Trump to outlaw the organization.
UK politicians have secured a cross-party parliamentary debate to take place on Jan. 25 with the aim of ramping up pressure on the government to completely ban the Lebanon-based group “without further delay or excuses,” Jennifer Gerber, director of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), said.
“Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, driven by an anti-Semitic ideology, which seeks the destruction of Israel. The British government has repeatedly failed to take action to ban it in its entirety.”
The upcoming debate was secured by the LFI chairperson and Labour MP Joan Ryan.
Trump also demanded all US allies to designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in a speech on Jan. 12 where he called Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” which has enabled organizations such as Hezbollah “to sow chaos and kill innocent people.”
Hezbollah, which is funded and armed by Iran, is among 60 groups defined as foreign terrorist organizations by the US State Department.
The UK only categorizes Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization, excluding the group’s political wing. It made that proscription in 2001 and extended the ban to Hezbollah’s Jihad Council in 2008.
The EU also names the military arm of Hezbollah on its list of terror groups, but does not include the political arm. The EU designated Hezbollah’s military arm as a terrorist entity in 2013 after a bus of Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian city of Burgas was bombed.
“This false distinction means that Hezbollah flags can be flown on the streets of Britain,” LFI said in a statement last week, referring to the flags seen in the Al Quds Day parade held in London in June last year. Al Quds Day is an annual event first established by Iran to encourage people to march in support of Palestine and against Israel.
The parliamentary debate has been welcomed by many groups eager for the government to crack down on Hezbollah and its presence on the streets of the UK.
“On June 4, 2017, the day after the London Bridge terror attack, Prime Minister Theresa May said that the UK was too tolerant of extremism. Two weeks later, people walked down the streets of London waving Hezbollah flags,” said Michael McCann, director at the Israel Britain Alliance.
“Hezbollah is a genocidal terror organization that operates on the orders of Iran. It illustrates the prime minister’s point perfectly. On Jan. 25, MPs can send a message to the British government — our country stands against terror in all its forms,” he said.
McCann’s comments are echoed by David Ibsen, the executive director of the Counter-Extremism Project, a US-based non-government organization.
“The UK and the EU must recognize the semantic fallacy of a difference between the military and political wings of Hezbollah,” he said.
“There is only one Hezbollah, a terrorist organization founded by and heavily funded by Iran. Even Hezbollah’s top officials brazenly acknowledge that the same leaders who ordered attacks against British soldiers in Iraq direct Hezbollah’s work in the Lebanese Parliament.
Ibsen said it was time for the UK and the EU to join countries such as the Netherlands, the Arab League, Canada and the US that have banned the group in its entirety.
While the distinction between the political and military arms may not even be recognized by Hezbollah itself, Filippo Dionigi, lecturer of politics and International relations at the University of Bristol, said it could be useful in supporting the UK’s diplomatic relations with Lebanon.
“This distinction (however artificial) allows to those states and institutions that adopt it (including the EU) to implement measures against Hezbollah’s militant activity, but avoids the condemnation of Hezbollah’s political activity which is important, given that this group plays an influential role also within the Lebanese government and institutions,” he said.
He said that the UK government would need to weigh its foreign policy priorities before making a decision to reclassify Hezbollah.
“It will depend on the government’s priorities and interests whether to adopt a more comprehensive ban on Hezbollah or not.
“Doing so will signal greater amenability to President’s Trump demands (and those of Israeli nationalist groups), but may have the effect of rendering relations with Lebanon more unstable given that the president of the country enjoys Hezbollah’s support and the government is partly composed by Hezbollah-supported members,” he said.
While the focus of the UK debate will probably be on Israel, Hezbollah’s actions in other countries like Syria, where it has provided a crucial military buttress to Bashar Assad, will also be under scrutiny.
“Hezbollah’s current crimes against Syrian civilians should be our most urgent concern,” a spokesperson for opposition group Syria Solidarity UK, said.
“In particular, Hezbollah is directly responsible for besieging and forcibly displacing several civilian communities, blocking food and medical aid, and killing civilians.”
The group called for a full ban on Hezbollah by the UK.

Qatar defies US, sides with Turkey with $15bn investment pledge

Updated 3 min 32 sec ago

Qatar defies US, sides with Turkey with $15bn investment pledge

  • Emir's support for Erdogan comes amid trade, diplomatic spat with US
  • The Turkish currency has lost nearly 40 percent against the dollar this year

JEDDAH: Qatar defied US President Donald Trump on Wednesday and promised to plough $15 billion into Turkish financial markets and banks, amid a collapse in the value of the lira and a looming trade war between Turkey and the United States.

The bail-out followed talks in Ankara between the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

The lira has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year, driven by worries over Erdogan’s growing influence on the economy and his refusal to raise interest rates despite high inflation.

Last week the US doubled tariffs on aluminium and steel imports from Turkey, during a dispute over Turkey’s detention of an American pastor on security charges that the US views as baseless.

In response, Erdogan launched a boycott of US electrical products and sharply raised tariffs on other US imports.

Turkey and Qatar have become close economic and political partners. Doha has $20 billion worth of investments in Turkey, and Ankara is one of the top exporters to the emirate. Sheikh Tamim was the first foreign leader to call Erdogan after the aborted coup in Turkey in 2016, and Turkey — along with Iran — is one of the few countries to support Qatar against the boycott by the Saudi-led Anti-Terror Quartet over Doha’s financing of terrorism. 

Although Qatar has now pledged $15 billion it has not actually paid anything, and it may not be enough to solve Turkey’s economic problems.

Analysts also said the political cost of the investment remained to be seen, given that Qatar is also a US ally and dependent on Washington for both military and political protection.

“This is what happens when you choose to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, told Arab News. “The Americans have their base at Al-Udeid in Qatar so naturally they will expect Qatar to toe their line.

“Qatar has gravitated toward Turkey because of the Muslim Brotherhood link and the Iranian connection so now it finds itself in an unenviable situation. If they side with Turkey, they run the risk of antagonizing US President Donald Trump. If they back the American position on Turkey tariff penalties, then they lose Turkey.”

Al-Shehri said Ankara appeared to have blackmailed Qatar into supporting it. “They said they came to Qatar’s support during Doha’s row with its Arab neighbors, and now it was Qatar’s turn to pay back the favor.”