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Why are Arabs whitewashing Iran-backed terrorist organizations?

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By Bassam Tawil, Gatestone Institute

In a surprise and controversial move, the Arab League, which has 22 member states, announced last month that it no longer classifies the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon as a terrorist organization.

The announcement was made by Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League, Hossam Zaki, who recently visited the Lebanese capital of Beirut.

Zaki explained that previous decisions of the Arab League to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization “led to cutting off communication with it.”

The Arab League, he argued, does not have official terrorist lists and its efforts do not include classifying entities as terrorist organizations.

“The [Arab] member states of the League agreed that the label of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization should no longer be employed,” Zaki said.

In 2016, the Arab League declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization – a week after a similar move by Arab Gulf states.

The latest decision by the Arab League to remove Hezbollah from its terrorist list came amid growing concern in Lebanon that the militia and its patrons in Iran are seeking to drag the country into a devastating war with Israel.

The decision, in addition, came as Arabs in the Gulf continue to express fear about the role Iran and its proxies, including Hezbollah, are playing in instigating instability and insecurity in their countries, especially during the “window of opportunity” before the presidential election in the United States this November.

US President Joe Biden has failed, over three years, to demonstrate strong deterrence; this failure may be interpreted as an invitation to try to destroy Israel while the short opening still presents itself.

By removing Hezbollah from its terror list, the Arab League has sent a message to Iran and its terror proxies that they have a green light to pursue their terrorist attackers not only against Israel, but also against some of the Arab countries, especially the Gulf states.

Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war in October 2023, Hezbollah terrorists and their Palestinian allies – Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – have fired thousands of rockets, exploding drones and mortars towards Israel.

The war in the Gaza Strip erupted after thousands of Hamas terrorists and ordinary Gazan “civilians” breached the border with Israel and murdered, raped, beheaded and burned alive hundreds of Israelis.

The Arab League’s decision to remove Hezbollah from its terrorist list coincided with an online campaign by many Lebanese against the terrorist militia for using Lebanon as a springboard to attack Israel.

They fear that the Arab League’s decision will embolden Hezbollah and other Iran-backed terror groups, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The latter two groups have hundreds of terrorists in Lebanon.

“Lebanon does not want war [with Israel]” is one of several hashtags that have been trending on social media platforms for the past few weeks.

Many Lebanese citizens and politicians are convinced that Hezbollah, together with the mullahs in Iran, are determined to destroy Lebanon by dragging it into war with Israel.

They have also long been accusing Hezbollah of creating a state-within-a-state in Lebanon and undermining both the Lebanese army and state institutions.

“In Lebanon, we have an Iranian terrorist militia [Hezbollah] that has assaulted the sovereignty of the state,” complained Mirna Abou Assaly, a Lebanese social media user.

The Lebanese army, which has long been backed by the US, has done virtually nothing to disarm Hezbollah or prevent it from using Lebanese territory — or territory prohibited to it by UN Resolution 1701, ten miles north of the Israeli border — to attack Israel.

That is why it is bizarre to read what the US State Department published in 2022:

“U.S. security assistance for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is a key component of U.S. Lebanon policy to strengthen Lebanon’s sovereignty, secure its borders, counter internal threats, and disrupt terrorist facilitation.
Key areas of cooperation include border security, maritime security, defense institution building, arms transfers, and counterterrorism.”

Every child in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East knows that the Lebanese army, along with UNIFIL forces, have failed to secure the border with Israel and combat terrorism.

What has the Lebanese army done to stop Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad from firing rockets and missiles at Israel?

Does the Lebanese army dare to ask the terrorists to withdraw from the border with Israel?

Did the Lebanese army stop Hezbollah from sending terrorists to fight against the Syrian opposition in Syria?

Has the Lebanese army done anything to stop the entry of Iranian weapons into Lebanon? Sadly, no.

Walid Phares, a Lebanese-American foreign policy expert and academic, said that Iranian influencers in Washington may have made the suggestion to remove Hezbollah as a terrorist organization to keep the status quo in Lebanon and prevent a looming war with Israel.

“Phares explained that capitalists linked to international gas companies may benefit economically from declaring Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, as they can sign energy deals with Lebanon to exploit offshore gas fields.”

Phares wrote further on X:

“#IranDeal influence & the international gas companies scored a symbolic victory to “protect” a terror force versus making gains in the EastMed. Americans are not yet aware of the power of the “Deal” signed by the #ObamaBiden adm in 2015.”

Phares said in an interview with the Iran International:

“… Americans don’t know… that there was an agreement signed [for Lebanon’s undersea gas fields] between international companies, including American companies, European companies, all this under the umbrella of the Iran Deal… All these capitalists and companies who want to make money… are pressuring everybody to respect a ceasefire but also a status quo [in Lebanon].
Now, who loses? The Israelis and the Lebanese. The Israelis, if you put pressure on them. [saying] don’t do any action [against Hezbollah], Hezbollah will reinforce and reinforce and they will pull another October 7 from the north against Israel.
And the Lebanese, once Hezbollah is protected from Israel… they’ll go and finish off the… Christians, Druze, Sunnis who oppose Hezbollah.”

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora criticized the Arab League’s decision to remove Hezbollah from its terror list as “wrong” and called on Arab states to stop giving “free gifts” to the terrorists.

Siniora, like many of his fellow citizens, pointed out that Lebanon does not want another war with Israel.

He noted that his country is already suffering from an economic crisis, as well as the loss of Arab backing.

Lebanese politician Fares Saeed denounced the Arab League’s decision:

“I want to remind the Arab League that the Lebanese constitution does not allow an armed militia to operate in the country on orders from Iran… If Hezbollah wants to be part of the state, it should ask the parliament to amend the constitution.
We know that Hezbollah controls all aspects of life in Lebanon and its members have been convicted of murdering a Lebanese prime minister [Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005].”

Some Gulf Arabs have also expressed resentment over the Arab League’s decision, saying that their countries have suffered for many years from the terrorist agenda adopted by Hezbollah and its support and training of groups seeking to undermine security and stability.

Saudi political analyst Mohammed al-Sa’ed wrote:

“While acknowledging the weakness of some of the Arab League’s economic and cultural roles, it has never been a voice for organizations involved in terrorist acts, nor a platform through which those organizations deliver their terrorist instructions.
“Can we imagine that [Al-Qaeda leaders] Al-Zawahiri or Osama bin Laden sitting the League’s meeting table, or that [ISIS leader] Al-Zarqawi represents Iraq, and [ISIS leader] Al-Baghdadi represents Syria, or perhaps we find [Hezbollah secretary-general] Hassan Nasrallah, whose hands are stained with the blood of the Syrians and the Lebanese, addressing the Arabs and the world from the seat of Lebanon at the Arab League? What a crime against Arab history and the history of the Arab League. It is shocking that there are those who want to whitewash these terrorist organizations that have shed innocent blood in most of the Arab world.”

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