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Europe: Do the right thing on Hezbollah

The EU must recognize that appeasing terrorists with light sentences and earlier releases only breeds more terror

Nearly three years ago, the European Union finally overcame its longstanding resistance and addressed the issue of adding Hezbollah to its terrorism list.

The good news is that the 28 member states, prompted by the determination of Bulgaria, which experienced a deadly Hezbollah attack the year before, and Cyprus, which arrested a Hezbollah operative scouting out sites, took action.

The bad news is that the EU opted to bifurcate Hezbollah and place the “military wing” on the terrorism list, while leaving its “political wing” off it.

If ever there was a distinction without a difference, this was it. Don’t take my word for 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: “A government [of Lebanon] without Hezbollah will never be formed. Just as a joke, I propose that our ministers in the next government be from the military wing of Hezbollah.”

It’s not often that I agree with Nasrallah, but on this occasion — give him his due — he was right about the EU illusion that there are two Hezbollahs.

The European argument focuses on the claim that Hezbollah is also 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.

Indeed, immediately following the 2013 decision, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton explained: “We want to be clear, too, in support for political parties of Lebanon and the people of Lebanon. We’ve made the distinction clear.”

The problem with this line of defense is that it fails to acknowledge the obvious.

First, Hezbollah may run in elections, but that is just a not-so-subtle way of taking advantage of a democratic system to gain power.

Second, Hezbollah wants it both ways — being in the political system, while maintaining its own military forces outside the system’s control. As such, Hezbollah has long been a state within a state, endangering Lebanese sovereignty and security. And amazingly, until now it has succeeded with this two-pronged strategy.

Third, no matter how one slices and dices the rhetoric, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, and all its component parts — not some, but all — lend support to the lethal ideological thrust and aims of the group.

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.” (Alas, the EU has not followed the Dutch decision.)

What are the group’s aims? It doesn’t take a secret agent to figure them out. Rather, it only requires an examination of 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 is reportedly approaching 500,000 after five years of conflict, to slaughtering, in earlier years, Americans and French in their embassies and military compounds; from calling for Israel’s destruction to plotting attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide, including the deadly assaults on the Israeli embassy and AMIA building in Buenos Aires; and from killing opposition politicians to holding civilian populations in Lebanon as hostages, Hezbollah has not exactly been opaque about its overarching goals and preferred methods.

In fact, it’s been so glaringly apparent that, in addition to the United States and Canada, the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — and the members of the Arab League have recently labeled Hezbollah a terrorist group.

GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani did not mince words when he accused Hezbollah of carrying out “terrorist attacks, smuggling weapons and explosives, stirring up sedition and incitement to chaos and violence.” He added that the group’s actions posed a direct threat to “Arab national security.”

Mind you, no false distinction was made between “military” and “political” wings.

So we have the remarkable situation that the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Israel, the GCC, and the Arab League all agree on the true nature of Hezbollah, yet the EU stands oddly apart, clinging to the apparent belief that it can tame Hezbollah’s behavior when, in reality, no such evidence exists.

Isn’t it high time for the EU to finish the work on Hezbollah it began with its initial decision in 2013?

This important step would significantly 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.

Terrorism poses a threat to us all. In responding, we need to be clear-eyed, resolute, and unflinching. Hezbollah is what it says it is — a doctrinaire, violent group rooted in Shiite Islam. No effort to pretend otherwise will succeed. No belief that it will change its spots because we’re ready to meet them halfway can work, not when it comes to non-negotiable beliefs and faith.

Again, look no further than Hassan Nasrallah’s own words: “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 tried to deal with terrorists operating on European soil by appeasing them with light prison sentences and early releases from jail, pursuing shady backroom deals, pretending their motivating “grievances” were “legitimate,” or simply hoping the problem would magically go away.

In recent years, though, given the tragic events that unfolded, Europe should have understood that these strategies don’t work. And with that understanding ought to come the inescapable realization that, yes, terror is terror.

In that spirit, yes, Hezbollah is Hezbollah. There are not two Hezbollahs, just one. And that one Hezbollah, in its entirety, ought to be placed on the EU terrorism list soonest.

About the Author
David Harris is the CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).