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October 16, 2019 5:55 am

Europe Must Do the Right Thing on Hezbollah

avatar by David Harris


Hezbollah supporters in Marjayoun, Lebanon, May 7, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Aziz Taher / File.

What do Arab governments know about Hezbollah that the European Union refuses to acknowledge? The Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have both labeled Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

The EU, by contrast, determined six years ago that only Hezbollah’s so-called “military wing” belongs on its terrorism list. Partial recognition was at the time a welcome achievement: the 28 member states had finally overcome their longstanding resistance to adding the Iranian-sponsored group to the list.

Prompted by the leadership of the United Kingdom and determination of Bulgaria, which experienced a deadly Hezbollah attack the year before, and Cyprus, which arrested a Hezbollah operative scouting target sites, the EU recognized the threat Hezbollah posed in European cities.

But the EU uniquely opted to bifurcate Hezbollah, leaving its “political wing” off the terrorism list.

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If there ever was a distinction without a difference, this was it. None other than Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s Lebanon-based chief, said as much, stressing that no one could divide his organization. Mocking the EU’s decision, Nasrallah asserted: “Just as a joke, I propose that our ministers in the next government be from the military wing of Hezbollah.”

The European argument asserts that Hezbollah is a “legitimate” political party in Lebanon, runs in elections, and has members in the government. Thus, to blacklist Hezbollah in its entirety denies those who vote for its candidates their basic rights, in addition to jeopardizing the fragile stability of the Levantine country.

This line of defense fails to acknowledge the obvious.

First, Hezbollah may run in elections, but that is simply a way of taking advantage of an electoral system to gain power.

Second, Hezbollah wants it both ways — being in the political system, while maintaining its military forces outside the system’s control. As such, Hezbollah has long been a state within a state, endangering Lebanese sovereignty and security.

Third, Iranian-funded and armed Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, and all its component parts lend support to the group’s ideological thrust and lethal aims.

That’s precisely what a Dutch General Intelligence report concluded, when it declared: “Hezbollah’s political and terrorist wings are controlled by one coordinating council.” The same study added: “The Netherlands has changed its policy and no longer makes a distinction between the political and terrorist Hezbollah branches.” (The Netherlands declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization in its entirety in 2004.)

To understand the group’s goals, we can simply examine Hezbollah’s actions over the years.

From joining with Syrian President Assad and Iranian forces in perpetrating mass murder in Syria, where the death toll has reportedly reached 600,000 after eight years of conflict; to slaughtering Americans and French in their Beirut embassies and military compounds; from calling for Israel’s destruction to plotting attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide, including deadly assaults on the Israeli embassy and the AMIA building in Buenos Aires; and from killing opposition politicians to holding civilian populations in Lebanon as hostages, Hezbollah has not been ambiguous about its objectives and methods.

In fact, it’s been so glaringly obvious that the GCC — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — and the Arab League have labeled Hezbollah a terrorist group. Only Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based, and Iraq, an Iranian ally, voted against the designation. Syria did not vote, as its Arab League membership was suspended in 2011.

GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani accused Hezbollah of carrying out “terrorist attacks, smuggling weapons and explosives, stirring up sedition and incitement to chaos and violence,” adding that the group’s actions posed a direct threat to “Arab national security.” No distinction was made between “military” and “political” wings of the terror organization.

So we have the remarkable situation that the US, Canada, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, the Arab League, and the GCC, joined most recently by Argentina and the United Kingdom, all agree on the true nature of Hezbollah, yet the EU stands oddly apart.

Isn’t it time for the EU to finish the work it began in 2013?

This step would hamper Hezbollah’s ability to operate freely in Europe by empowering governments to shut down the group’s organizing and fundraising efforts within EU borders. More than 1,000 Hezbollah members in Germany alone have been reported to exist.

Hezbollah is a doctrinaire, violent, antisemitic group. No effort to pretend otherwise will succeed. No belief that it will change its spots to meet the EU halfway can work, not when it comes to non-negotiable beliefs and faith.

Again, Hassan Nasrallah’s own words are clear: “Whoever wants to forcefully disarm the Resistance — and I have said this more than once — we will chop off his hand, behead him, and get rid of his soul. We are that determined.”

In the past, some European countries, including France and Italy, tried to deal with terrorists operating on their soil by appeasing them with light jail sentences and early prison releases, pursuing shady backroom deals, or pretending their motivating “grievances” were “legitimate.”

In recent years, however, given the tragic events that have unfolded, the plots that were thwarted on European soil, and, yes, the rise of antisemitism, Europe should know that these strategies don’t work. And with that knowledge should come the inescapable realization that terror is terror, and Hezbollah is Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, in its entirety, ought to be placed on the EU terrorism list.

David Harris is the CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). A version of this article was originally published in Bild.

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