Europe has a Hezbollah problem.
Last June, Hezbollah flags flew across London as protesters marked Quds Day, Iran’s annual day of anti-Israel protests. British officials found themselves unable to block the protests as demonstrators argued that they were supporting Hezbollah’s legal political wing and not its U.K.-sanctioned deadly military arm.
That is about to change. On Monday, the U.K. Home Office announced intentions to designate Hezbollah in its entirety, a commendable—if long overdue—move. As of yesterday, both houses of Parliament had approved the updated designation. The Home Office’s February 25 statement cited Hezbollah’s intervention in the Syrian civil war and continued stockpiling of weapons in southern Lebanon in contravention of U.N. resolutions in its decision. According to Javid’s statement, it was “no longer tenable to distinguish between the military and political wings of” Hezbollah. This is an understatement at best. But now that the United Kingdom has taken this step, it is past time that the European Union followed this example and designated Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.
The United Kingdom first designated Hezbollah’s military wing in 2001 but maintained a distinction between the terror group’s terrorist and political wings. The European Union designated Hezbollah’s military wing in 2013, making the same distinction fearing that it would upset relations with Lebanon, where Hezbollah is a powerful political party. The result was that political support of Hezbollah remained legal, which has led to public displays of support for the Lebanese terror group in Europe under the guise of political demonstrations. In response, Germany moved in 2016 to ban Hezbollah’s flag as a symbol of violent propaganda, though it did not take the step of banning the group as a whole. The United Kingdom will become only the second EU country to have banned Hezbollah in its entirety. In 2004, the Netherlands designated Hezbollah as a whole as a terrorist group, recognizing that “Hezbollah’s political and terrorist wings are controlled by one co-ordinating council.”
Countries that have banned Hezbollah as a whole—such as the United States and Canada—still maintain ties with Lebanon—just not with Hezbollah’s political representation. This should be the model for the European Union as well.
Even Hezbollah has long scoffed at Europe’s false division of the group. As far back as 2000, Hezbollah deputy leader Naim Qassem said that “Hezbollah’s secretary-general is the head of the Shura Council and also the head of the Jihad Council, and this means that we have one leadership, with one administration.” Qassem reaffirmed Hezbollah’s unitary structure in 2012: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other.” Hezbollah readily admits that its politicians and its combatants both take orders from Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. So why does Europe continue to insist otherwise?
Hezbollah has targeted Europe for decades. In June 1985, Hezbollah was responsible for the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 traveling from Athens to Rome. On July 18, 2012, a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian driver aboard an Israeli tour bus in Burgas, Bulgaria. Bulgarian officials identified Hezbollah as responsible for the attack. In 2013, a Cypriot court sentenced Lebanese-Swedish national Hossam Taleb Yaccoub to three years in prison for collecting intelligence on Israeli tourist targets on behalf of Hezbollah.
The EU’s failure to recognize Hezbollah for what it is will only hurt Lebanon by continuing to legitimize the terror group. Hezbollah has long had a detrimental effect on Lebanon, politically and militarily. Most recently, Hezbollah received the powerful Health Ministry portfolio in the Lebanese government. This has raised worldwide concerns that Hezbollah may try to siphon resources to Shiite areas of Lebanon—where Hezbollah maintains its political base—and away from Sunni regions that generally oppose the group. Another fear is that Hezbollah could redirect government funding to care for its fighters returning from Syria, further cementing Lebanon’s role in a war it never wanted.
The U.K. government’s decision to ban all of Hezbollah is a recognition of the reality of Hezbollah’s unitary leadership structure and its detrimental impact on Lebanon itself. The European Union remains in denial as long as it promotes its artificial division of Hezbollah’s ranks.