On February 25, 2019, the British government rescinded its previous distinction between Hizbullah's political and military wings and declared Hizbullah in its entirety a terrorist organization. In 2001, Britain classified Hizbullah's external operations unit a terrorist organization, and in 2008 it did the same for Hizbullah's military wing.
One possible consequence of this move is that the Lebanese government, of which Hizbullah is a member, will be subject to British sanctions. However, Lebanese Prime Minister S'ad Al-Hariri, who heads the anti-Hizbullah March 14 Forces, sought to downplay the British decision's importance, stressing that Lebanon-UK relations must be preserved. He stated: "We believe that this [decision] pertains to Britain and not to Lebanon. What interests us is that our relations remain unharmed... We must build optimal relations with everyone. This is the foundation for Lebanon's future and for its [national] interest."
In contrast, Hizbullah's Lebanese allies, who are part of the March 8 Forces, rejected Britain's decision. Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil emphasized that Lebanon would continue to support Hizbullah, stating: "Even if the entire world calls the resistance terrorism, it won't make the Lebanese see it as terrorism.. As long as the land is occupied, both the state institutions and the entire Lebanese people will continue to embrace the resistance." He added that Britain's move would not negatively impact Lebanon because "we are accustomed to this [situation] with other countries." Additionally, Lebanese deputy parliamentary speaker Elie Ferzli, also of the March 8 Forces, rejected the decision: "Will we, the Lebanese, agree when the political wing of the resistance that liberated Lebanon from Israeli occupation and that continues to deter this enemy from attacking Lebanon is designated as terrorist?"
Hizbullah itself has not yet officially responded to Britain's move. Hizbullah sources told the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is closely affiliated with the organization, that it was a British "propaganda" move pandering to the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel, and that the organization did not expect it to impact Hizbullah-Britain relations because there have been none for years. They added that it could, however, impact Hizbullah supporters in Britain, who will no longer be able to publicly voice their support. Lebanese Health Minister Jamil Jabak, who represents Hizbullah in the government but is not a Hizbullah member, said: "The government of Lebanon is a national unity government which deals with internal issues. Hizbullah represents a large segment of the people." According to Jabak, the decision will not affect the Ministry of Health: "My work at the Ministry of Health is to provide service. I have no political role in Hizbullah. I am a physician." Jabak is close to Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, and was once his personal physician. Hizbullah appointed him, rather than one of its members, to the ministerial post in order to prevent U.S. sanctions against the Health Ministry, after the U.S. warned that this could happen with the appointment of a Hizbullah member.
Al-Akhbar published a very harsh reaction complete with threatening messages; the front page of its edition the day after the British announcement stated that "Lebanon is Hostile Territory" for British representatives. Its two full pages on the subject included a photo of the British Embassy in Beirut alongside a sharply worded article by the paper's editor, Ibrahim Al-Amin, addressing British representatives in Lebanon and headlined "You Are in Hostile Territory." Informing them that they were not wanted in Lebanon, he called on the Lebanese government to realize that Britain had "declared war" on a large part of the Lebanese people, and that Lebanon must therefore stop cooperating with Britain in various spheres. He concluded with an implied threat to the British, stating that all colonial and occupying powers had left Lebanon in coffins.
Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily front page, February 26, 2019: "Britain Has Designated the Political Arm of Hizbullah as a Terrorist Organization; Lebanon is Hostile Territory!"
The following are translated excerpts from the article by Al-Akhbar editor Ibrahim Al-Amin:
"We are fortunate, as Arabs, that the tyrants of the world are unashamed and do not hide. We are fortunate that every time an agent [of theirs] falls somewhere, colonialism is compelled to stand before us in all its ugliness and criminality. We are fortunate, we the people of resistance, that we stand right in front of this filthy group and confront it [directly] without agents, and that the arrow will fly straight to their black hearts. We are at the heart of the campaign orchestrated by the peoples of the world against what remains of the dictatorship. [This is] the same campaign [in which] the leaders of Britain are still sharpening their knives, although with the passage of time they have become nothing more than tools in the hands of the great master in America.
"There are many reasons for the decision by Her Royal Highness to treat the resistance in Lebanon [i.e. Hizbullah] as a terror group, one of the reasons being internal – to counter the increasing strength of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn's camp... There is an internal aspect to the [British] government decision yesterday [to classify Hizbullah's political arm as a terrorist organization] – the wish to prevent Corbyn and his people from expressing their desire to consolidate a new foreign policy which supports those with the rights in our region, and sees Saudi Arabia and Israel as the source of the oppression...
"Shouldn't we be asking what we are doing in response? It will be difficult to convince the people that Britain, representing evil incarnate, again stands at the head of the enemies of the Arabs. If there is among us [the Lebanese] anyone who wants to ignore this and consider it part of 'the global reality that is pointless to oppose,' then this brings us back to the question of whether we must wait for a national consensus in order to defend the most respected phenomenon Lebanon has known since its declaration of independence [i.e. the resistance].
Photo of the British Embassy in Beirut in Al-Akhbar, February 26, 2019.)
"Representatives of Her Majesty's government in Lebanon should [from now on] conduct themselves as if they are in hostile territory where their presence is not wanted. They must [understand] that the situation of those [in Lebanon] whom they consider friends who will help them is no better than the situation of their [i.e. British] mercenaries in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Palestine. It should be pointed out to the relevant parties that the British government sponsors diverse activity in our country that is aimed solely at damaging the security of Lebanon and the surrounding region. The Lebanese government must act in accordance with a new principle: The British government, of its own accord and with no legal or humanitarian justification, has declared war on a large part of the Lebanese [people], and is confronting a not inconsiderable part of the Arab people. Thus, the Lebanese government cannot stand idly by and ignore the fact that in Beirut today there are institutions involved in plans for military and security cooperation with the London government. These programs are being implemented as British intelligence increases its security activity in Lebanon, and as Lebanon is being used [by Britain] as a platform for anti-Syria and anti-Iraq activity, and for activity against the resistance forces in Palestine.
"It should be mentioned, solely by way of example, that it was the British who decided on and financed the plan to place watchtowers at Lebanon's eastern border – although there is no security risk to [Lebanon's] east and north. This is an attempt to perpetuate the Syria-Lebanon hostility and to work to internationalize control of the border, because Syria is a strategic area for the resistance.
"As part of efforts to change the [Lebanese] army's military doctrine in the future, the British are attempting to acquire significant influence within [this army]. On October 4, 2018, UK Ambassador [to Lebanon] Chris Rampling announced that Britain had trained 10,000 Lebanese soldiers, which he said constitute 'one-third of the fighting force of the army.' He permitted himself to announce this number – a number that [even] the [Lebanese] military establishment does not disclose.
"British intelligence personnel are working to set up a, in the [Lebanese] army, a 'manpower administration' branch – that is, for recruiting agents and overseeing their activity – which will in future become the most important branch in the [intelligence] administration. British officers are in charge of structuring [this branch] and of training its soldiers and officers. All this is but a drop in the ocean of the other [British] activity, which also includes establishing organizations operating under the title of 'civil society' and are springing up in Lebanon like mushrooms.
"Oh idiots, remember well that no colonialist has ever remained in Lebanon for long, and that an invading army never left [Lebanon] without being preceded by coffins!"