The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council named Hezbollah a terrorist organization on Wednesday, opening up the possibility of further sanctions against the Iran-allied group that wields influence in Lebanon and fights in Syria.
The Sunni dominated council – representing Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar – already imposed sanctions on the Shi’ite group in 2013 after it entered Syria’s war in support of President Bashar Assad.
“Until now, the Saudis had only designated individual operatives and Hezbollah’s Saudi branch as a terrorist organization, not its Lebanese core,” David Andrew Weinberg, a specialist on Gulf affairs and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister called “Lebanese Hezbollah” the “No. 1” terrorist group in the world recently, “so this action was, if anything, overdue compared to the kingdom’s rhetoric,” noted Weinberg.
“The fact that they brought along other GCC states in this new pledge to sanction Hezbollah, including typically neutral Oman, is nothing to scoff at.”
However, he added, “Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE still exclude other Sunni terror groups from their lists of banned terrorist organizations – including Hamas, PFLP, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – so the GCC should be called on to ban these other terrorist groups swiftly as well.”
In Wednesday’s announcement, GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani said the council would now “take the necessary measures to implement its decision... based on anti-terrorism laws applied in the GCC and similar international laws.”
Zayani did not specify what action might follow, but Saudi Arabia, the biggest power in the council, last week said it had blacklisted four companies and three Lebanese men for having links to Hezbollah.
Zayani accused Hezbollah of committing “hostile acts” against GCC states, including recruiting young men to carry out “terrorist attacks, smuggling weapons and explosives, stirring up sedition and incitement to chaos and violence.”
Arab media has long been attacking Iran and its ally Hezbollah for its sectarian agenda in Syria and the region.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya TV and former editorin- chief of the popular Arab daily Asharq Alawsat, wrote an article published Tuesday in the Saudi-backed publication stating that in exchange for funds it “carries out various tasks for Iran.”
“It serves as a fighting force, absolves Iran from direct involvement in wars and it is for this reason that Israel attacked Lebanon and did not attack Syria or Iran, even though it definitely knew that the group is just a tool and that the Lebanese people are completely helpless,” he wrote.
Rashed added that it appears Hezbollah “is creating a new alternative service instead of confronting Israel. It will fight the Syrians and perhaps the Turks later.”
He also said that the group is “training a number of multinational Shiite militias to form an army of mercenaries following the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”
There was no immediate reaction from Hezbollah. A day earlier, its leader Hassan Nasrallah had said Saudi Arabia had pushed Lebanon into a new phase of political conflict by announcing it was suspending an aid package to the Lebanese army.
Nasrallah also stepped up criticism of Saudi Arabia, accusing it of directing car bombings in Lebanon.
Leading Sunni power Saudi Arabia and its Shi’ite regional rival Iran compete for influence across the region and back different factions in divided Lebanon.
Former Lebanese Sunni prime minister Saad Hariri stopped short of publicly endorsing the Saudi decision, but criticized Hezbollah for its involvement in Syria and its alleged involvement in Yemen which he described as “unlawful, criminal and terrorist.”