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Experts call for South Africa to follow UK in banning Hezbollah




Hezbollah has been described by political analysts around the world as one of the most lethal terrorist organisations in history. This week, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid accused the Iran-backed, Lebanon-based organisation of destabilising the Middle East.

A draft order laid in the United Kingdom parliament will ban Hezbollah and two other terror groups. Subject to parliament’s approval, the order will go into effect on Friday. Until now, the military wing of Hezbollah has been outlawed in Britain, but not its political arm.

Professor Hussein Solomon, a senior professor of political studies and governance at the University of the Free State, told the SA Jewish Report this week that South Africa should do the same.

“There has been Hezbollah activity in South Africa since the 1990s, both paramilitary and illicit economic activity,” he says. “Yes, this is long overdue. We should also declare it a terrorist organisation.”

Jasmine Opperman, a director at the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) says Hezbollah’s inclination towards violence against Israel stands in direct opposition and contrast to South Africa’s foreign policy objective and framework of seeking peace through negotiation and dialogue as a constructive solution to end the conflict.

“South Africa must be very careful not to apply double standards, and must not compromise its national values and interests, particularly now that we are on the United Nations Security Council,” she says.

“That Hezbollah supports violence as an option against Israel is no secret. Should South Africa ban Hezbollah? Yes! As long as Hezbollah openly supports violence as an option against Israel, this cannot be acceptable to our foreign policy framework.”

The Israeli Embassy in South Africa has welcomed the move, saying Hezbollah is an internationally recognised terrorist organisation. “It acts as Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, violating UN resolutions in its attempt to attack Israeli civilians using ‘terror tunnels’. Israel will continue to act for the worldwide designation of Hezbollah as a terror organisation, including imposing tough sanctions against it, and calls on the UN to ensure the implementation of its resolutions in the region.”

The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) also welcomed the UK move. Says Ben Swartz, the National Chairman of the SAZF, “We believe that Islamic fundamentalism is a serious threat not just to Israel, but to the entire Middle East, and has in recent years become a serious problem on the African continent.

“We hope that the South African government is taking note of the international community’s approach to fundamentalist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and that it uses its new mandate on the security council in a responsible manner to curb the spread of terrorism on the continent and around the world,” he says.

In December last year, Robert R Singer wrote in the Jerusalem Post that under the patronage of Iran, Hezbollah had blazed a worldwide murderous path with the declared objective of obliterating the state of Israel and combating “American imperialism”. Today, Hezbollah remains an immediate danger to Western society in general, and to Israel and Jewish communities in particular, he said.

Last year, a disturbing discovery was made of hidden Hezbollah tunnels, dug beneath the homes of Lebanese civilians, and stretching into sovereign Israeli territory.

Singer, who is the chief executive and executive vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, said, “These tunnels were dug to ferry terrorists, arms, and vehicles with the goal of killing innocent Israelis, and overtaking their communities along the border. The very location of the tunnels, beneath residential buildings, proves once again that Hezbollah’s leaders have no qualms [about] using their own people as human shields and camouflage to murder Israeli civilians and Jews worldwide.”

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, welcomed the UK decision, calling the separation between the political and armed wings of the group “false and artificial”.

“We will continue to lead the struggle for the security council to recognise Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and mobilise the international community against it as it serves as an arm of Iran to spread Tehran’s aggression,” Danon said.

In December last year, the security council discussed Hezbollah’s tunnelling operations, and confirmed that the tunnels violated international law and infringed upon Israel’s sovereignty.

As South Africa took up its seat on the security council in January, Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, said that the country would use its tenure on the council to “promote the maintenance of international peace and security through advocating for the peaceful settlement of disputes and inclusive dialogue”.

While it is not an everyday occurrence to see a Hezbollah flag being flown in South Africa, there have been occasions – disturbing as they may be – where it has occurred.

Anti-Israel supporters flew a Hezbollah flag with fake red blood stains during a protest at the #YallaYebo photo exhibition in Rosebank, Johannesburg, in May last year. During the 2017 Israel Apartheid Week, the Hezbollah flag was prominently displayed by anti-Israel activists during a standoff with pro-Israel students at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The UK government said Hezbollah continued to amass weapons in contravention of UN security council resolutions, while its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had prolonged “the conflict and the regime’s brutal and violent repression of the Syrian people”.

The move to ban the organisation comes against the backdrop of a push by the Trump administration to isolate Iran, which backs Hezbollah. Last week, the US said Hezbollah’s growing role in the new Lebanese cabinet posed a threat to the country’s stability. Hezbollah was the most popular single political party in the country’s parliamentary elections in 2018, and subsequently negotiated for three cabinet seats. The US is increasing its pressure on Hezbollah, placing several sets of sanctions on the group and Iran.

The UK ban requires endorsement by MPs, probably as early as Friday, potentially posing a dilemma for the Labour leadership, which has in the past advocated dialogue with Hezbollah’s so-called political wing.

The Labour Party has demanded that the British home secretary provide more evidence that Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has been accused of blatant anti-Semitism, has given party members permission to skip the parliamentary vote.

It remains to be seen which countries follow the UK’s example.

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