GCC’s Labeling of Hezbollah as Terrorist Group is Sectarian Politics as Usual

“A threat to Arab national security.”[1] The six Sunni monarchies composing the Gulf Cooperation Council came together on March 2nd of this year and aimed this reprimand at Hezbollah, the self-styled ‘Party of God’ in Lebanon. It is no secret within the Middle Eastern world that this Lebanese Shia party has been allied with Syria’s Alawi government (and by extension the Iranian Shia regime) since the party’s inception in 1982. However, recent excursions of Hezbollah into the Syrian Civil War on behalf of Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian cronies has prompted backlash from the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (an intergovernmental union between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE and Oman). Interestingly enough, Hezbollah has already been recognized as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, the EU, Canada, France, New Zealand and Australia (though the EU only targets the military wing of the part). The timing of this blacklisting has incited criticism from leftist parties of the   coalition within the Israeli Knesset who see the GCC’s actions as “pouring oil on the sectarian conflict [in the region] and worsening the ordeal the Islamic nation has been witnessing.” Moreover, the pro-two state solution coalition in Israel also condemns the labeling on the basis that “[it is a] dangerous decision, which serves Israel and her allies who do not hide their colonialist aspirations in Palestine, Lebanon and the rest of the Arabic homeland” and further insists that the GCC has proved its status as “enemies of Arabs.”[2] Categorizing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization has been accompanied by the Council reneging on certain forms of military aid and promises of future sanctions against political and business elites in Lebanon found to have ties with the Shia group.[3]

Certainly there is a compelling argument to be made for adding Hezbollah to a terror list. GCC assertions that Hezbollah recruits young people for terrorist acts are backed by a long history of nefarious activity by the Party of God. For instance, in February of this year Hussein Nasrallah, the Hezbollah party leader, threatened to deliberately fire missiles at ammonia storage tanks in the city of Haifa, Israel, thereby causing mass casualties.[4] Additionally, Hezbollah’s innocence is not bolstered by its implication in a longstanding UN investigation regarding its role in the assassination of Sunni Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. These instances are just two in a lengthy list of accusations of terrorist-like activity in which Hezbollah has been the alleged perpetrator.

Young men swearing into Hezbollah militia, courtesy of The Examiner, April 2015.
Young men swearing into Hezbollah militia, courtesy of The Examiner, April 2015.

Conversely, any academic International Relations journal article can tell you that terrorism is a problematic term to define, and is often used politically—as the popular adage goes, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” This situation appears to be no different in that Saudi Arabia’s track record of supporting Sunni extremist groups is suspect. The idea that the Saudi administration is exploiting Hezbollah’s objectionable behavior for its own sectarian-based political gain is bolstered by its recent execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia which sparked riots in Tehran and the trashing of the Saudi embassy there.

Furthermore, the house of Saud has been preoccupied with the ongoing and bloody proxy conflict at its southern border in Yemen, in which a Sunni leader has been ousted by Iranian-backed Shia Houthi fighters. It makes sense then, that the GCC would have waited to make this decision until a time such as this, when sectarian tensions in the region are rising at an alarming rate and conflicts are being drawn along the lines of regional alliances (Saudi Arabia and the West versus Iran and Russia). Whether or not the Sunni condemnation of Hezbollah stems from pure intentions, it is nonetheless encouraging that attention is being brought to the ‘state within a state’ that is Nasrallah’s Hezbollah. The military wing of the Shia party in Lebanon has been said to be as powerful as the Lebanese military itself, and has contributed to the ongoing stalemate in Beirut in which Parliamentary elections have not been held in seven years and the Presidency has been vacant since 2014.[5] In order to reintroduce stability into Lebanese democracy, concessions of disarmament will have to be made by the Shia group to quell the intense fears of its Sunni and Christian compatriots. However, this is likely to occur in the near future until the Syrian conflict comes to a resolution and until there are more concerted efforts similar to the GCC’s regarding the militant nature of Hezbollah.

Unfortunately, the words of Saudi Arabia and her allies will fall on deaf ears and will not be legitimized until their own actions match their denouncements of terrorism (many still accuse the Sunni regime of having ties to Al Qaeda and Al Nusra). But if instability in Syria and Lebanon are the result of entrenched sectarian hostility, it is Saudi Arabia’s (and Iran’s) own fault. These two powerhouses in the Middle East have consistently invoked Sunni vs. Shia rhetoric to mobilize support for their regime within and beyond their borders.[6] And until both governments realize, or are helped to realize the destabilizing implications of such divisiveness, places like Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen will continue to be at the mercy of unbridled sectarian politics.


Dennis, Jack. “Former Member of Hezzbollah and Amal Militia Sentenced.” Examiner.com. April 28, 2015. http://www.examiner.com/slideshow/former-member-of-hezzbollah-and-amal-militia-sentenced. (Image).

“GCC Designates Lebanon’s Hezbollah ‘terrorist’ Group.” Middle East Monitor. March 2, 2016. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24271-gcc-designates-lebanons--terrorist-group.

“Lebanon Awaits Winner in Regional War: Shias or Sunnis? Iran, Saudi Arabia or Isis?” The Guardian. January 08, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/iran-blog/2016/jan/08/lebanon-precipice-proxy-war-shias-sunnis-iran-saudi-arabia-isis.

Kais, Roi. “Nasrallah: Ammonia Plant in Haifa Is My Atomic Bomb.” Ynet. February 16, 2016. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4767144,00.html.

“Knesset Factions Condemn Gulf Arab States for Blacklisting Hezbollah.” The Jerusalem Post. March 7, 2016. http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Two-Knesset-factions-condemn-Gulf-States-for-labeling-Hezbollah-a-terrorist-organization-447129.

Salamey, Imad. 2014. The Government and Politics of Lebanon. London ;: Routledge

[1] “GCC Designates Hezbollah Terrorist Group,” Middle East Monitor, 2 March 2016.

[2] “Knesset Factions Condemn Gulf Arab States for Blacklisting Hezbollah,” The Jerusalem Post, 7 March 2016.

[3] “GCC Designates Hezbollah Terrorist Group.”

[4] Roi Kais, ”Nasrallah: Ammonia Plant in Haifa Is My Atomic Bomb,” Ynet, 16 February 2016.

[5] Imad Salamey, The Government and Politics of Lebanon, (London: Routledge). 2014.

[6] “Lebanon Awaits Winner in Regional War: Shias or Sunnis? Iran, Saudi Arabia or ISIS,” The Guardian, 8 January 2016.



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