Recently, Britain and Australia decided to designate Hamas and Hezbollah respectively as terrorist organizations. Against the backdrop of Iranian interventions in the Middle East, several Western governments in recent months have stepped up their efforts to build an international consensus against the human rights violations and violence unleashed by Tehran’s militias in the region. Iranian interventions have now become a serious concern, especially as they hinder the political and socioeconomic transformation of the region.
London explained that since Hamas “commits, participates in, prepares for, and promotes and encourages terrorism”, it was not possible to make a distinction between the movement’s political and military wings. The British Home Office also warned that members or supporters of Hamas could face up to 14 years in jail. The European Union (EU) has several times rejected Hamas’ appeal to delist its terrorist designation, and EU courts have reiterated that the movement has not shown adequate proof that its political and military wings are separate entities. Australia designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization under Division 102 of the Australian Criminal Code Act of 1995. As a result of that, it banned both the military and political wings of Hezbollah without drawing a separation between both entities. Australian Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews mentioned that Canberra’s decision reflects the Australian government’s strong stand against the use of terrorism to achieve political, ideological, or religious aims. Iran condemned the British and Australian decisions and accused the British government of “distorting facts.”
The decision by London and Canberra also targets Hezbollah’s and Hamas’ global financial networks. As per some former US counterterrorism officials, Hezbollah’s illicit financial schemes have involved Australian citizens or it has carried out such schemes on Australian soil. Moreover, Hamas in the past has been accused of using charity fronts to raise funds in the UK. Britain’s Charity Commission in 2003 froze the assets of Interpal – the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund – after the United States charged it with funding the terrorist activities of Hamas. This crackdown on Hezbollah’s and Hamas’ finances is likely to impact their operations, especially as both Lebanon and Gaza face tight economic squeezes now, restricting the financial flexibility of both outfits. In addition, due to Iran’s own domestic economic woes, it has cut back its financial support to its militias in the region, compounding the financial dilemma facing outfits such as Hezbollah and Hamas as well as other Iranian militias in the region.
Responding to Canberra’s decision, Secretary-General of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah said that Australia’s decision would not impact Hezbollah’s operations and it will continue to fight against Western interests in the region. Hezbollah also condemned Britain’s decision to designate Hamas as a “terrorist organization.” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in a tweet said, “We condemn the UK’s decision to declare the popular movement of HAMAS a terrorist organization.” Iranian state media also condemned the British and Australian decisions and voiced their commitment to supporting the oppressed and fighting against occupation forces.
In light of Britain and Australia designating Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations, Iran’s destabilizing role in the region has once again come under intense criticism and scrutiny. In an attempt to escalate the security crisis in the region, Iran has been providing its militias with short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles. Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, has confirmed that Tehran militarily supports the Palestinian outfit. Iran’s military support to its militias has also led to the proliferation of weapons, further raising the specter of an arms race in the region. Iranian drones, ammunition, and missiles have been used to target US interests as well as the interests of its allies like Riyadh, which has faced a barrage of missile attacks from Yemen. The Iranian-backed Houthi militia has spearheaded the attacks against Riyadh, leading to global condemnation against its targeting of civilian areas inside and beyond Yemen. With its militias facing widespread rejection in its vital spheres of influence such as in Iraq and Lebanon, Iran is struggling to uphold its clout, and this has been made more difficult by its inability to finance its arms like before, leading to divisions amongst its militias across the region and a decline in terrorist operations.
It is likely that the recent British and Australian move is in line with growing US concern over Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s agenda to strengthen Iran’s “axis of resistance” in the region. The United States is planning to withdraw from the region and to quell the raging conflicts between regional states. The United States also aims to curb Iran as much as possible, with a strong intent on weakening and restricting its militias which give much impetus to Tehran’s expansionist schemes in the region.