Australia on Wednesday listed all of Hezbollah as a “terrorist organization”, extending a ban on armed factions to the entire movement, which wields considerable power over Lebanon.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said that the Tehran-backed Shiite group “continues to threaten terrorist attacks and provide support to terrorist organizations” and poses a “real” and “credible” threat to Australia.
The movement, which plays a pivotal role in Lebanese politics, has been accused of fuelling Syria’s civil war by sending thousands of fighters across the border to prop up President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Read more: President Bashar al-Assad’s bombing campaign kills more than 500 people in Syria
In 2006, it fought a short yet devastating war against Israel.
Critics have accused the movement of killing former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, and more recently of blocking investigations into the cataclysmic 2020 Beirut port explosion.
Some countries have sought to distinguish between Hezbollah’s political and militant factions, fearing a blanket ban could further destabilize Lebanon and hamper contacts with authorities.
Australia had such a policy since 2003 when it banned Hezbollah’s so-called External Security Organisation — a part of the movement’s military wing that is chiefly focused on shadowy overseas operations.
From now, membership of the entire organization or providing funding for it will now be proscribed in Australia, which has a large Lebanese community.
Read more: Hezbollah says border talks not ‘normalisation’ with Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked his “friend” and Australian counterpart Scott Morrison for the move.
“Hezbollah is an Iranian-backed terror organization in Lebanon responsible for countless attacks in Israel & around the world,” he tweeted.
אני מודה לממשל אוסטרליה ולידידי @ScottMorrisonMP על הכוונה להגדיר את חזבאללה כארגון טרור.
נמשיך לפעול בכל דרך אפשרית כנגד הטרור, גם בזירה הבינלאומית. pic.twitter.com/iIN4isUeha
— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) November 24, 2021
No reason was given for the timing of Canberra’s decision, which comes as Lebanon reels from spiraling political and economic crises.
Nearly 80 percent of the population is estimated to be living below the poverty line.
Elections are expected in March 2022 and there is growing public anger about nepotism and corruption among Lebanon’s ruling class.
The move may play well domestically for Australia’s conservative government, ahead of its own elections expected next year.
Before 2018 polls, Morrison made the surprise move of recognizing west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, helping secure votes in a battleground Sydney seat with a sizable Jewish community
Matthew Levitt, a former US counter-terrorism financing official now with the Washington Institue for Near East Policy, told AFP the move was “long overdue.”
In June, he testified to the Australian parliament that the previous designation was “insufficient” adding that “Hezbollah is structured and operates as a singular organization.”
“In recent years a laundry list of Hezbollah terrorist plots and illicit financial schemes have involved Australian citizens and/or activities on Australian soil,” he said.
Read more: Hezbollah accuses Israel of waging ‘imaginary battle’ against Iranian troops in Syria
Australia’s government also announced Wednesday that it would be listing far-right group “The Base” as a terror group.
“They are a violent, racist neo-Nazi group known by security agencies to be planning and preparing terrorist attacks,” Andrews said.