The UK's Hezbollah ban will not just affect Al Quds Day — it will hinder its fundraising

The Lebanese Shia movement raises vast sums through donations, drug smuggling and money laundering

February 27, 2019 10:04

Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s decision to add the political wing of Hezbollah to the UK’s list of terror organisations will have a clear effect on the streets of Britain.

It will, for example, no longer be permitted to fly the movement’s flags at future Al Quds Day rallies.

But the decision may also have a deeper and long-term effect on the attempts beyond the UK’s borders to isolate the Lebanese Shia movement and to curtail its extensive fundraising efforts.

Hezbollah’s main financial backers are, and have always been, the Iranian regime. But this funding — which according to Israeli intelligence in recent years reached around $1 billion (£760 million) annually — was cut by at least a half in 2018 because of renewed US sanctions against Iran and the deepening economic crisis in that country.

This came during a period in which the organisation’s financial needs skyrocketed. There are a large number of casualties returning home from the fighting in Syria — by some estimates totalling some 2,000 deaths and 9,000 wounded over the last eight years.

Hezbollah now has to divert a major part of its budget to supporting the families of dead fighters and the long-term wounded.

This new drain on its resources caused concern in Lebanon only last month, when a Hezbollah member of parliament was appointed Health Minister in the newly-formed government. The organisation was forced to put out a statement denying it intended to use its new cabinet post to fund treatment of their wounded fighters.

Hezbollah raises funds across the world. This comes in the form of donations from local Shia communities, as well as drug smuggling and money laundering. Britain is not regarded a major hub for operations such as these.

But the Home Secretary’s decision — when combined with the City of London’s role as a global centre of banking — could assist Israel and other western governments in their attempts to track down and block financial transactions carried out in accounts controlled by Hezbollah.

Another aspect that Israeli officials hope Mr Javid’s move could influence is its campaign to highlight the degree to which Hezbollah is now embedded in the Lebanese state agencies, including its intelligence service and armed forces.

Israel has found it difficult in recent years to convince its western allies that military aid to Lebanon often benefits Hezbollah, as was seen in cases where armoured vehicles supplied by the United States to the Lebanese armed force were photographed taking part in Hezbollah’s operations inside Syria.

February 27, 2019 10:04

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