DUBAI, March 2 – The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council has designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization, it said on Wednesday, ratcheting up pressure on the Iran-allied group that wields influence in Lebanon and plays a key role in the Syrian crisis.
Gulf Arab states imposed sanctions on Hezbollah members in 2013 in retaliation for the group’s intervention in Syria’s civil war in support of President Bashar al Assad. And individual GCC countries – including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – have labeled the group terrorists.
But the GCC Secretary-General, Abdullatif al Zayani, in a statement issued in Riyadh, said that the GCC had now taken a collective decision on the group.
“As the militia continues its terrorist practices, the GCC states have decided to label it a terrorist organization and will take the necessary measures to implement its decision in this regard based on anti-terrorism laws applied in the GCC and similar international laws,” the statement quoted Zayani as saying.
Hezbollah, which openly supports Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s regime, officially acknowledges that its fighters have taken part in the war in Syria, as well as in Yemen, where the group is fighting alongside the Iranian-backed Houthi insurgency, against a Saudi-led Arab coalition.
The GCC had considered Hezbollah as a terrorist group back in 2013, but did not move to blacklist it.
Bahrain was the first Arab country to blacklist Hezbollah in April 2013, after it had detained a Hezbollah-affiliated group training Shiite Bahrainis during the riots in Manama.
In January, Lebanon’s refusal to endorse pan Arab resolutions calling for condemnations of attacks on Saudi missions in Tehran. created a spat between Beirut and Riyadh, with the latter withdrawing a $4 billion security aid package that was set to help the Lebanese Army and the country’s internal security forces.
In the past, dozens of Lebanese expats in the GCC were expelled under the guise of ‘security reasons’, most were believed to have been affiliated with Hezbollah.
The decision to label Hezbollah a terrorist outfit came one day after a speech by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah that Saudi Arabia had pushed Lebanon into a new phase of political conflict by announcing it was suspending an aid package to the Lebanese army.
Nasrallah also stepped up criticism of Saudi Arabia, accusing it of directing car bombings in Lebanon, an arena for sectarian-tinged Iranian-Saudi rivalry that is escalating across the Middle East.
For his part, Zayani accused Hezbollah of committing hostile acts against GCC states, including recruiting young men to carry out “terrorist attacks, smuggling weapons and explosives, stirring up sedition and incitement to chaos and violence”.
Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, the biggest member of the GCC, wields considerable influence in Lebanon through its backing for Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, a former prime minister who said on Tuesday that “riots, road blocking and tyre burning” were attempts to provoke “chaos and discord”. “We should not be dragged to any attempt of this sort,” he said.
Tension between Hezbollah and Hariri spilled into armed conflict as recently as 2008, when a political dispute fuelled by Saudi-Iranian rivalry triggered a brief civil war. Nasrallah said there would be no repeat of that conflict.
With additional writing by Leila Hatoum