In summary

Opinion piece for The Australian by Dr Jason Thomas, Lecturer in postgraduate Risk Management, Swinburne University of Technology

The argument that the paramilitary wing of Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist killing machine, is separate from its political wing – as the Australian government proclaims – is absurd.

All Hezbollah’s limbs are clearly, obviously and inseparably connected.

And it is time Australia fully proscribed the entire organisation as terrorists. While our state and non-state enemies are exploiting the COVID-19 distraction, now is the time to reassert our position in the face of all those who threaten our friends and ourselves. Hezbollah (the Party of God) is primarily focused on executing Jews and Americans and is still able to operate here. But Australia does not stand for terror no matter how it is disguised.

Australia banned Hezbollah’s External Security Organisation, its military wing, in 2003. Then attorney-general Daryl Williams stated: “While it began as a militia, the group has evolved into a multifaceted organisation including political, social and military components. The functions of the organisation include legitimate political and social activities.” During its peak in Syria and Iraq, ISIS had social and political wings, ran schools and health clinics, and yet it was fully proscribed by Australia.

It’s a pipe dream to believe there is a difference between the political and military wing. Even Hezbollah thinks the notion laughable. In 2013, Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary delegation, said: “The Hezbollah military wing is a lie invented by the Europeans because they feel a need to communicate with us and they want to make a delusional separation between the so-called military and political wings.”

Hezbollah’s second-in-command, Naim Qassem, has said: “The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.” Just because Hezbollah is more sophisticated and is not live-streaming beheadings, (unlike its Sunni extremist cousins such as al-Qa’eda or ISIS), does not make it acceptable.

Insurgencies and terrorist organisations get their oxygen from non-violent supporters and cleverly infiltrate politics and civil society – even in Australia — attempting to convince us they are a legitimate part of our public discourse. That is when they are at their most dangerous.

Hezbollah’s deception has enabled it to become mainstream when in reality it is Iran attempting to normalise its brand of terror. The last thing Australia needs is a terrorist group being in a position to politically influence our foreign policy decisions.

Hezbollah is not made up of your average unhinged extremists. For a start its arsenal would be the envy of any small nation. Iran’s terrorist networks are some of the best-armed on the planet. Hezbollah has amassed weapons systems such as the Fateh-110/M-600 short-range ballistic missile, Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 short-range ballistic missiles, Toophan antitank guided missiles, Kornet portable antitank guided missiles, M113 armoured personnel carriers and T-72 main battle tanks. Hezbollah’s armed drones are among the world’s most advanced. One of the world’s leading experts on Hezbollah, Washington Institute director Matthew Levitt, explains Hezbollah is Iran’s most dangerous and competent terrorist proxy. For years, the group has been making plans and stockpiling weapons for attacks across the globe, including in Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America.

In Australia it is an offence to be a member of a terrorist organisation, direct the activities of one, or recruit for or acquire funds for one. It is also an offence to associate with a listed terrorist organisation. Anyone guilty of such faces 25 years’ jail.

But Australians can provide all kinds of support to Hezbollah’s social and political wing. Fully proscribing Hezbollah would shut down money-laundering funnels from Australia and disrupt its networks here.

The UK fully proscribed Hezbollah last year. Home Secretary Sajid Javid explained: “The distinction between the two factions [is] derided as smoke and mirrors.” A contributing factor to Javid’s decision may have been that in 2015 British law enforcement agencies found three tonnes of ammonium nitrate (a key bomb-making ingredient) Hezbollah had stashed in London at the time of the signing of the controversial nuclear deal with Iran.

Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hezbollah was responsible for killing more Americans than any other terrorist organisation. It is also dedicated to targeting Israel and Jewish communities. The impact has been a string of suicide attacks against Jews around the world. Last week Australian Meliad Farah and his Canadian accomplice were sentence to life in prison by a Bulgarian court for the 2012 Sofia bus bombing that killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian driver. Hezbollah is one of the reasons Jewish schools in Australia hire guards and impose strict security measures.

And Hezbollah has dangerous friends, including Mexican drug cartels and people-smugglers in North Africa, emphasising the need for it to be placed in a continual choke-hold.

In 2017 it was revealed a Sydney-based money launderer and crime figure, identified as a “Hezbollah functionary”, had brokered an arms deal between China, Iran and Hezbollah in 2011. The shipment was discovered as part of an international investigation into Hezbollah’s links with narcotics traffickers in Latin American, the Middle East and China.

Legitimate political institutions don’t traffic drugs and weapons, conduct suicide bombings or threaten schoolchildren. Partially proscribing Hezbollah will not win Australia terrorist credits in the event of a major clash between Iran and the US. This presents serious considerations for Australia; one of them should be not appeasing extremists.

This article is republished from The Australian. Read the original article.

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