Hezbollah: a military and political pariah

Hezbollah, considered by some as the largest terrorist organisation operating in the world currently, has perpetrated atrocities around the world over the past four decades, including suicide attacks, hostage taking, political assassinations, airline hijacking and bombings of military and civilian targets, mostly aimed at US and Israeli interests.

Yet despite 40 years worth of terrorist attacks, only Hezbollah’s military wing – the External Security Organisation (ESO) – is currently proscribed in Australia, while its “political” wing is not, despite Hezbollah itself proclaiming the unity of its organisation. The US, Canada, Japan, Israel and the Netherlands designate the entirety of Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Hezbollah – a proxy of Iran – is currently paid $700 million annually by the Islamic Republic, making it a very powerful international paramilitary force by global standards. It also makes the group’s connection to Iran undeniable and highlights the latter’s influence throughout the Middle East and beyond.

Hezbollah was founded in 1982 in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Interestingly, in the last month alone, the Trump Administration formally designated the IRGC as a “foreign terrorist organisation”. Meaning “Party of God,” Hezbollah was inspired by the radical Shia ideology of Iran’s first Ayatollah, Ruhollah Khomeini.

Taking advantage of Lebanon’s instability during its extensive civil war, Hezbollah has now grown to wield both extensive political power and military power within Lebanon, with its paramilitary strength believed to be greater than that of Lebanon’s Army. Amongst its extensive arsenal are approximately 150,000 rockets and missiles, including several thousand long range, high-precision, heavy rockets supplied by Iran.

Hezbollah is also currently attempting to gain a foothold in Syria, having deployed approximately 6,000-8,000 troops to fight alongside the IRGC Quds Force in support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

According to a report from the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year, Britain's Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced he would ban Hezbollah's political wing together with the already proscribed military wing which has been banned in the UK for the past decade, adding that he would raise it at the Five Eyes meeting he will chair in Manchester later this year.

"There have long been calls to ban the whole group with the distinction between the two factions derided as smoke and mirrors, Hezbollah themselves have laughed off the suggestion that there is a difference," Javid told the Commons.

According to a report from The Australian, Javid not only moved to have Hezbollah as a whole listed as a proscribed group, but would also see anyone being either a member or supporter face up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

“Hezbollah is continuing in its attempts to destabilise 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,” Mr Javid said. “Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety.”

According to the same report, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she would speak to her UK counterpart Jeremy Hunt about the moves and whether they should be considered in Canberra.

“We have measures in place as you know, particularly in relation to the ESO and threshold around criminal behaviour but I would want to look at that carefully with my colleagues,” Senator Payne told the Nine Network’s Sydney Morning Herald in London, The Australian reported.

In 2012, Hezbollah leader Naim Qassem himself made the lack of distinction between the two purported wings clear: “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.”

According to Australia’s National Security website, Hezbollah attacked a tour bus carrying 42 tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing five Israelis and the Bulgarian bus driver in July 2012. Bulgarian authorities have charged an Australian national in absentia with involvement in this attack.

The time is clearly well overdue for Australia to proclaim the entirety of Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.

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