German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer ordered that Hezbollah’s activities be banned due to violations of criminal law, he announced on Thursday.
Police in North Rhine-Westphalia, Bremen and Berlin began searches in mosques and residences tied to Hezbollah, “due to their financial support and propaganda for the terrorist organization,” after the ban was announced at 6 a.m.
Israel and the United States have long pushed for Germany to ban the Shi’ite terrorist group. Germany previously drew a distinction between Hezbollah's political arm and its military units, which fought alongside President Bashar Assad's army in Syria.
Hezbollah symbols may not be used publicly in any assembly, or in print, audio and visual material in Germany, and its assets will be confiscated “to the benefit of the Federal Republic of Germany,” the Interior Ministry’s press release read.
The ban is because Hezbollah is a terrorist group, and also because it “calls for the violent elimination of the State of Israel and questions the right of the State of Israel to exist.
“The organization is therefore fundamentally against the concept of international understanding, regardless of whether it presents itself as a political, social or military structure,” the ministry said.
“Its violent denial of the right to exist of the State of Israel also fundamentally opposes Germany’s national ethos,” another Interior Ministry document states.
The order allows German authorities to “use all available instruments of the rule of law to crack down” on Hezbollah and its German sub-organization, the statement reads.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz praised the decision, saying it is “very important and values-based.”
Banning Hezbollah is “significant in the world battle against terror,” Katz added. “I want to express my appreciation to the German government for this step and am certain many governments in the Middle East and victims of Hezbollah’s terrorism share my gratitude.”
Katz called on additional European states and the EU to follow Germany’s lead and say that “Hezbollah, its military and political arms, is a terrorist organization and must be treated that way.”
“This is a welcome, much-anticipated and significant German decision,” said American Jewish Committee head David Harris. "We now hope other European nations will take a close look at Germany’s decision and reach the same conclusion about the true nature of Hezbollah.”
Yesh Atid-Telem leader Yair Lapid, who has long advocated for European countries to ban Hezbollah, praised Germany on Twitter.
"This is an important step in the fight against terror, and the time has come for all of Europe to follow Germany, the Netherlands and the UK," Lapid wrote. "The money Hezbollah raises abroad turns into weapons against Israel. This requires an international effort and it is good that Germany is committed to it."
Security officials believe that up to 1,050 people in Germany are associated with Hezbollah.
The German Interior Ministry explained that there is no "Hezbollah Germany," but its followers in the country meet at local mosques and try to keep their association secret to avoid detection by the authorities. However, supporters – especially the younger ones – declare themselves as such on social media and online forums, using the terrorist group's symbols.
In addition, Hezbollah has used Germany as a base for recruitment and fundraising.
Ministry documents quote Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and others at length in demonstrating the Shi’ite terrorist group's aim of destroying Israel.
The ban includes images of Hezbollah symbols that may not be displayed. First is its yellow flag with a green logo and a stylized text of the word "Hezbollah" with a hand grasping a gun. Another is the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts, the Hezbollah youth movement, which looks similar to the international scouts' fleur-de-lis logo, but with a hand and a Lebanese cedar on it.
“Germany’s long-awaited action today is significant for many reasons. It underscores that even while the world is seeking to address health threats posed by Covid-19, it is not ignoring national security threats. Germany’s decision accentuates the need for all of Europe to counter the malign activities of Iran-backed proxies wherever they may act, “ said Toby Dershowitz, Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Strategy at the non-partisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who has written about Hezbollah’s illicit activities.
She notes that “Many parts of the US government have worked with their counterparts in Europe to take this action.”
In 2019, Congress once again urged Germany to designate the entire organization as a terrorist entity, not only its military. Representatives Ted Deutch, Grace Meng, Gus Bilirakus and Lee Zeldin wrote a letter to Chancellor Merkel in June 2019 saying in part: “The alliance between our two countries, whether for combating terrorism or supporting democracy, has been a cornerstone of the transatlantic relationship and NATO alliance, and our coordinated efforts have been critical to our collective national security. That is why we hope that Germany will consider this decision to, once and for all, fully designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.” The letter came after the Bundestag failed to pass a resolution that would refer to the entire organization as a terrorist group.
On a trip to Berlin last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped Germany would follow Britain in banning Hezbollah. The UK introduced legislation in February of last year that classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.Pompeo commended Germany's "strong action against Hezbollah" and called on other "EU member states to follow suite in holding Hezbollah accountable."
Reuters contributed to this report.