- February 11, 2001: The United Kingdom banned Hezbollah’s External Security Organization.
- 2008: The United Kingdom designated Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization.
- March 2019: The United Kingdom designated Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.
- January 16, 2020: The United Kingdom added Hezbollah in its entirety to its Consolidated List of Financial Sanctions Targets.
The United Kingdom decided to proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety on February 25, 2019. For almost two decades of Hezbollah’s existence, the United Kingdom refrained from taking any action against the group. Despite its enmity towards the United Kingdom – inherited from its Khomeinist ideology – Hezbollah didn’t directly threaten any of London’s domestic or regional interests. During the 1990s, moreover, it purported to act purely as a resistance group against Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon.
However, beginning in 2001, the United Kingdom began acting against Hezbollah, but in a piecemeal fashion. It first proscribed Hezbollah’s External Security Organization, its global operations arm. In 2008, it banned Hezbollah’s Jihad Council, responsible for all of the group’s military operations. Yet, this remained symbolic, due to the symbiosis between Hezbollah’s political and military wings, a fictitious dichotomy which the group itself has consistently and vociferously denied exists. The U.K., however, maintained this dichotomy, hoping their recognition of Hezbollah’s political apparatus as a legitimate non-state actor would help moderate the group. This reasoning motivated London itself to re-engage the group’s political wing in 2009, after suspending ties four years prior. Given Hezbollah’s participation in Lebanon’s parliament and government, London also feared that banning the group in its entirety would hinder bilateral relations with Lebanon, undermining the country’s fragile stability as a result.
In 2019, the United Kingdom began to change course, proscribing Hezbollah in its entirety. Several factors led to this, none of which had to do with any internal changes within Hezbollah. First was the U.K.’s exit from the European Union and, with this “Brexit” a reorientation towards the United States, at a time when the Trump administration was pursuing an aggressive policy against Iran and its proxies. This included withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Second, after decades of pursuing a policy of moderating Hezbollah, it was eminently obvious that continuing to do so would neither reorient the group nor contribute to Lebanon’s stability. Third, it was revealed in 2019 that, in 2015, British security services had uncovered a Hezbollah plot to stockpile weapons in London. The fact that the U.K. refrained from acting against the group is perhaps owed more to external factors, not least of which was probably its own and the United States’ engagement with Hezbollah’s patron, Iran, to reach an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program. It has been speculated that London remained silent on Hezbollah’s actions, discovered months after the JCPOA had been reached, to avoid derailing the agreement with Iran.