On September 15, 2019, a truck bomb exploded outside of the Al-Rai Hospital in Syria’s Aleppo Governorate, killing 12 civilians and injuring many more. There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
Europe has a Hezbollah problem. A year after a suspected Hezbollah bus bombing killed seven in Bulgaria in July 2012, the European Union designated Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization. But the EU drew a distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political operations. The problem, then as now, is that Hezbollah doesn’t have separate military and political wings. Hezbollah is a single entity with one leader—Hassan Nasrallah—directing all of its actions.
While the EU might distinguish between Hezbollah’s operations, Hezbollah doesn’t. After the 2013 designation of Hezbollah’s military wing, Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Mussawi told Spiegel Online: “Hezbollah is a single large organization, we have no wings that are separate from one another. What’s being said in Brussels doesn’t exist for us.” Indeed, whether it’s Hezbollah’s recent political campaign in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections this past May or Hezbollah’s military campaign in Syria on behalf of Bashar al-Assad, Nasrallah is giving the orders.
It is past time that European governments recognize Hezbollah for what it is: a murderous, terrorist organization predicated on dangerous Islamist ideals. Hezbollah freely acknowledges there is no distinction between its political and military leadership, but European leaders continue to promote a legal fiction even as Hezbollah has targeted European interests for over 30 years.
Among Hezbollah’s first attacks in 1983 were bombings of French forces in Lebanon and the French embassy in Kuwait. It is responsible for the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 between Athens and Rome, and has been linked to a 1985 restaurant bombing in Madrid. In 2013, Cyprus sentenced three Hezbollah agents to prison for conducting intelligence activities. Further, Hezbollah stands accused of trafficking in forged European passports, visas, and other documents that have allowed its agents to pass through the EU. A partial Hezbollah ban allows the group to further imbed itself in Europe, creating new avenues of moral, material, and financial support for its deadly activities.
The EU’s false distinction actually emboldens Hezbollah’s supporters and allows the group to promote its hateful ideology. In London, Hezbollah flags flew this past June—as in past years—as supporters marked Quds Day, the annual day of anti-Israel protests instituted by Iran in 1979. Hezbollah’s supporters in Europe claim they are legally supporting Hezbollah’s political party and not its vicious paramilitary, though they both march under the same flag. German intelligence estimates that there are 950 Hezbollah supporters in the country. According to Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany has served as a safe haven for Hezbollah supporters. Unless Hezbollah as a whole is designated, its agents can continue to use political affiliation as a shield.
In 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a resolution calling on the EU to sanction Hezbollah in its entirety, in line with the U.S. designation. Canada, Israel, and the seven members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have all designated Hezbollah in its entirety. The Arab League has also designated Hezbollah as a whole, though Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and three other members of the 22-nation body objected. But within the European Union, the Netherlands is the only country that has designated Hezbollah as a singular organization.
There has recently been some—but not enough—movement in Europe’s political spheres to change Hezbollah’s status. In January, representatives from Sweden, Denmark, and Hungary spurred more than 60 members of the European Parliament to write EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini demanding the designation of all of Hezbollah. The letter cited Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East as well as its growing arsenal, and called for the EU to recognize that “Islamist-inspired terrorism is not only a threat to the Middle East, but is also the top threat to Europe’s security.” Mogherini responded that Hezbollah’s designation is up to individual states. According to Mogherini, “the EU remains convinced that engaging in a constructive dialogue with all political parties present in” Lebanon is necessary because of the country’s fragile and complex political dynamics.
Also in January, British Labour MP Joan Ryan urged the House of Commons to take up the debate, arguing that if Hezbollah doesn’t accept the distinction between its political and military identities, neither should the British government. Nonetheless, the Labour Party distributed a memo advising that changing Hezbollah’s status could hurt “dialogue and meaningful peace negotiations in the Middle East.”
In a promising first step, and despite Labour’s objections, U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid reportedly plans to outlaw Hezbollah in its entirety later this year. It is important that Javid follow through with his promise and for the rest of the EU to follow his example.
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