Any armed group holding a country hostage on behalf of a foreign state is a traitorous terrorist militia, not a resistance movement and certainly not a legitimate political party, as Hezbollah has always claimed. Its tentacles, stretching from Tehran, have rendered Lebanon a failed state posing a threat to the region.
Given diminishing hope that the honorable Lebanese would reclaim their country, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states officially declared Hezbollah a terrorist group - together with “its leaders, factions and affiliated organizations” - because of “hostile acts” in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, inciting sedition, smuggling weapons and recruiting terrorists.
Most Arab states supported the declaration, but unsurprisingly Syria and Iraq disapproved because they, like Lebanon, are under the Iranian boot. However, the Tunisian president’s rejection of the declaration, and Algeria’s disassociation from it, were mystifying. Riyadh has rightly said it will no longer engage in Arab solidarity because it does not exist.
The move follows the Saudi decision to freeze $4 billion in military and security aid to Lebanon, and GCC governments warning their nationals not to travel to there for their own safety. Gulf states are also cracking down on known Hezbollah sympathizers and funders within their borders. These actions could not come soon enough.
Silence through fear
Ironically, while Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nohad al-Machnouk was quick to reject the GCC’s labelling, last month he said on Lebanese channel LBC that terrorist cells were trained in Lebanon under the supervision of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Members of those cells were trained by Iranians jointly with Hezbollah, as we know from intelligence gleaned from the group’s spies and agitators arrested in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. To think Machnouk does not know this is preposterous; either his intelligence-gathering capabilities are sorely lacking, or more likely he is afraid to say what every Lebanese politician knows.
They are all fearful of being added to Hezbollah’s list of assassination targets. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, formed to investigate and try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, is still waiting for Hezbollah to hand over four of its accused members for trial.
Machnouk also revealed that as of 2015 there were sleeping and active IRGC cells in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Kenya, Nigeria, Cyprus and Bulgaria.
Now that Hezbollah’s terrorist status is etched in stone, GCC leaderships should focus on its collaborators and appeasers within Lebanon’s political arena. For instance, Lebanese presidential hopeful Suleiman Franjieh has strongly denounced the terrorist blacklisting, tweeting: “Hezbollah as a resistance movement makes Lebanon and the Arabs proud.”
The Arabs he refers to share Iran’s ideology and have betrayed their roots by selling their souls to Persian mullahs. In this case, should Franjieh not be classed as a terrorist supporter? Should parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Amal Movement that is allied with Hezbollah, not be treated as a collaborator?
Amal’s political bureau blasted the GCC announcement and emphasized Hezbollah’s ‘credentials’ as a resistance movement. However, the only thing it is currently resisting is the dislodging of the barbaric Syrian regime under direct orders from Tehran. Amal also deserves a place on the GCC’s terrorist listing.
It is crunch time for Lebanon’s political and military decision-makers. Are you with us or against us? Do you stand with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, or with Hezbollah and Iran?Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
Likewise, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and its founder Michel Aoun, who is Hezbollah’s pick to fill a presidential vacuum that has endured for almost two years, has strange loyalties. Ten years ago Aoun, a Maronite, signed a political memorandum of understanding with Iran’s proxy in Lebanon following 15 years in exile.
He said the partnership was cemented to build a consensual Lebanese democracy on the basis of transparency, justice and equality. He has since blinded his eyes to Hezbollah’s crimes.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who characterized Hezbollah as part of an Iranian system in Lebanon just weeks ago, has also rejected listing it as a terrorist group. Jumblatt is a fierce critic of its involvement in Syria, and has warned its Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah that his anti-Saudi statements could negatively impact Lebanese expatriates in the Gulf. Yet when push comes to shove, he has declined to back the GCC decision.
The real disappointment is the figurehead of the March 14 bloc and leader of the Future Party, Saad Hariri, who until recently was considered the GCC’s most trusted Lebanese politician. We believed he was a lion capable of taking back his homeland. Throughout his self-imposed exile, his anti-Iranian, anti-Hezbollah rhetoric rarely faltered.
On Feb. 14, marking the anniversary of his father’s assassination, he told his followers that under no circumstance would Lebanon become a province of Iran. His recent behavior, however, belies that pledge.
Just weeks prior, he made the shocking announcement that he was prepared to share power with Hezbollah, before throwing his weight behind Franjieh for president. When asked why he would cooperate with a group deemed responsible for his father’s assassination, he said he was committed to the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”
Unlike most other politicians, Hariri did admonish Lebanon for not standing with Riyadh in the Arab League over the torching of the kingdom’s diplomatic missions in Iran. Asked why he was now supporting Franjieh for president, he said: “For me, better to have a president that I will maybe have some problems with than a total void in the presidency.”
In other words, he has gift-wrapped Lebanon to be awarded to the other side. It is not better to have a president hand-in-glove with Hezbollah, Iran and Syria than no president at all. The question is whether he will continue negotiations with Hezbollah or withdraw based on its terrorist designation.
If the Lebanese government does not back the GCC ruling and issue arrest warrants for Hezbollah’s commanders and funders, it should be classed as a terrorist abetter. I know that it is not within its power to make arrests, but at the very least its position would be clarified. Gulf leaders and their allies should consider governments and individuals standing against Hezbollah’s branding as partners within the same terrorist framework.
There is no room for playing both sides or holding a middle ground. The same demand should be made to the Lebanese army. Either it is against the terrorist organization, in which case it should make a public announcement to that effect, or it must declare its alliance with Hezbollah, in which case the army should share the same stamp.
The chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces, Brigadier-General Jean Kahwaji, and his top generals should affirm their allegiance to the state over the militia, and for once rise to the task of protecting the country from falling.
If not, we are forced to assume that the suspicions that the military is serving Hezbollah’s goals are correct, in which case commanders must be deemed terrorist colluders. Any army proven to be hand-in-glove with servants of a foreign entity deserves to be dismantled at the very least.
It is crunch time for Lebanon’s political and military decision-makers, who have reached a fork in the road. Are you with us or against us? Do you stand with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, or with Hezbollah and Iran? Those are questions the GCC should ask and demand answers to before reacting accordingly. Which path Lebanon takes will decide its destiny, not only for the foreseeable future but for generations to come.
Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.