The world’s attitude toward Hezbollah finally appears to be shifting. As Daniel Schwammenthal noted in these pages last month, even after Israel implicated Hezbollah in the bombing of a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in July, the EU still refuses to designate the Iran-backed group a terrorist entity. Instead it continues to hide behind the meaningless claim that there is a separation between Hezbollah’s political and military wings. But that false wall has started to crumble.
Last Wednesday at a political debate in Amsterdam, Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal urged fellow members of the EU to follow Holland’s lead in designating Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. Mr. Rosenthal said the Dutch government had made an appeal to other EU members “to place Hezbollah on the EU list of terrorist organizations,” citing, among other reasons, Hezbollah’s continuing involvement in the violence in Syria. “You see what happens when this organization is allowed to operate freely,” Mr. Rosenthal said.
Then last Friday the Canadian government drove home the same point. Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird announced that Canada was suspending diplomatic relations with Iran and expelling its diplomats from Canada. His reasons included the fact that “Iran is among the worst violators of human rights” and that “it shelters and materially supports terrorist groups.”
That Iran is a state sponsor of terror, there can be no doubt. Canada and the U.S. have long included Hezbollah on their list of designated terrorists. What is strange is that some governments are still pretending to see a separation of powers in Iran’s proxies where absolutely none exists.
On Saturday British Foreign Secretary William Hague stepped forward as well, but with an important difference. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Cyprus, he called on the EU to add Hezbollah to its list of terror groups. But Mr. Hague added a caveat, saying: “I would like to see the EU take action against the military wing of Hezbollah.”
Uri Rosenthal gets it. Why doesn’t Brussels?
“Military wing.” At the root of this phrase lies not just a British, but an EU, problem. As other EU members and allies were putting forth their comprehensive objections to Hezbollah, Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis laid out the position that the EU has taken up till now.
Ms. Kozakou-Marcoullis asserted that, as an organization, Hezbollah “comprises a political party [and] social services network, as well as an armed wing.” She stated further that there was “no consensus among the EU member states for putting Hezbollah on its terrorist list. Should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism, the EU would consider listing the organization.”
The EU is one of the few organizations in the world that still recognizes a difference between the “political” and “armed” wings of Hezbollah. This difference is not recognized in the U.S. or Canada, it is not recognized in Lebanon and it is certainly not recognized by Hezbollah itself.
The EU’s wall of separation is not only its own invention, it is a fiction with which European countries have some first-hand experience, and something they have suffered from in the past.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the Conservative government in Britain had the long and painful task of trying to explain the unified nature of another terrorist group. When Irish Republican Army units were targeting British civilians and military personnel, numerous organizations were raising money for the IRA in the U.S. and elsewhere, in the same way that Hezbollah uses Europe as a support-base today. Certain charities were notorious for their claim that they were merely fundraising for a “political” as opposed to a “military” struggle. But in clear and specific cases the claim was false.
A number of elected U.S. officials from across the political divide covered themselves in ignominy by going along with and supporting the charade. The separation between the political activities and the terrorist activities of Irish Republicans was often entirely fictional. It took until the George W. Bush administration’s post-9/11 crackdown for this game to be wound down nearly completely.
But at least the IRA itself pretended to be a different organization from its political wing—enough to give cover of bamboozlement for those who wished to be bamboozled. In the case of Hezbollah there is no such excuse. The political and military leaders of Hezbollah not only say the same things and behave in the same ways, but are one and the same people. For British and European leaders not to recognize this is to wilfully ignore the problem.
For 30 years, ever since Hezbollah killed 58 French peacekeeping troops and 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut, the EU has given Hezbollah excuses that it does not even ask for. Hezbollah has now been implicated in bloodshed in Europe. But even before the Bulgaria attack, the EU had a moral and historical imperative to recognize the trail of terror that Hezbollah has blazed across the Middle East and beyond.
If the EU cares for the future of the Middle East, let alone its own future, it must recognize that the forces emanating from Iran seek to destabilize that region first—but only first. Israel, Lebanon and Syria: These may be the initial targets of Tehran’s wrath, but they are not the last. An EU that refuses to recognize this is an EU that has wilfully blinded itself to the enemies not just of Europe but of peace-loving people everywhere.