Hezbollah is a symptom, the Iranian regime is the disease
More countries are demonstrating an interest in taking a tougher stance against Hezbollah. The British government last week joined the likes of the US, Canada, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council and Israel in listing the Lebanon-based organization as a terrorist group.
Some of those world leaders who continue to be hesitant in sanctioning Hezbollah can argue there is a distinction between Hezbollah’s military wing and the political party. But such a distinction is unrealistic due to the fact that Hezbollah’s military and political activities are as closely intertwined as the military and political branches of its patron, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid has finally admitted that: “Hezbollah is continuing in its attempts to destabilize the fragile situation in the Middle East, and we are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party. Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety.”
Designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is long overdue. Since its inception, the group’s modus operandi has been similar to that of the IRGC in the sense that using terrorist activities to achieve ideological and political objectives is at its core. Hezbollah has been implicated in many terrorist attacks, including the 1983 bombing of the US Marines barracks in Beirut, in which 241 American service personnel were killed; a 2009 plot in Egypt; the 1984 US Embassy annex bombing in Beirut; a 2012 bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria; and the 9/11 attacks in the US, over which federal courts ordered Iran to pay $7.5 billion in damages to the victims’ families. Hezbollah and Iran were also reportedly behind the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, in which 29 people were killed.
While the policy of listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is a step toward demilitarization of the region and the promotion of peace and stability, the UK must be cognizant of the fact that, as long as Iran is not weakened and pressured, this policy will not be as effective as it could be.
In order to pressure Hezbollah, the flow of funds from Tehran must be cut off. Hezbollah has publicly admitted that its money and arms come entirely from Iran. Leader Hassan Nasrallah surprisingly stated in 2016: “We are open about the fact that Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, come from the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He added that Hezbollah “will not be affected” by sanctions pressure. This speech was broadcast by Al-Manar, the Shiite party’s TV station, which is also funded by the Iranian regime.
Since its inception, Hezbollah’s modus operandi has been similar to that of the IRGC in the sense that using terrorist activities to achieve ideological and political objectives is at its core.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Although imposing sanctions on the banks that conduct financial transactions for Hezbollah and Iran is necessary, it is not enough. This is because the transfer of funds from Iran to Hezbollah is not easily detected, as such transactions are unlikely to be carried out through banks. This is why Nasrallah ridiculed the US sanctions on his organization and insisted that they would have no impact. “We do not have any business projects or investments via banks,” he said. “We have no money in Lebanese banks, either in the past or now… We don’t transfer our money through the Lebanese banking system.”
Notwithstanding these issues, the most effective policy for the UK to counter Hezbollah’s terror activities would be to impose financial sanctions on its paymaster, the Iranian regime, and cut off the flow of funds to the Iranian leaders.
But, unfortunately, the UK continues to pursue appeasement policies with Hezbollah’s masters in Tehran, including by maintaining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal; continuing trade and business deals with the Iranian government; and helping Iran skirt US sanctions. Alongside Germany and France, the UK in January set up a payment channel with Iran called the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX). Sustaining the nuclear deal means that Tehran will continue to enjoy global legitimacy and have the revenues to sponsor its terror groups.
In addition, the paths Iran utilizes to smuggle advanced weapons to Hezbollah must also be disrupted. For example, the Iranian regime has been upgrading Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal in various ways, such as by transporting parts through Syrian territory or by using commercial airlines.
If the UK and other European countries join the US in putting tangible pressure on the Iranian regime, Tehran will find it extremely difficult to continue sponsoring, arming and financing Hezbollah.
In order to pressure Hezbollah, the Iranian regime must be weakened. As long as Iran enjoys high revenues and trade on the global stage, Hezbollah will continue to expand its power and terror activities.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh