Commentary

EU Blacklists Hezbollah's Military Wing

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Last week, the European Union (EU) decided to list Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization. At least for the time being, the decision leaves the door open for the organization’s political arm to engage both domestically and internationally. Most observers caution Hezbollah’s leaders to take EU’s actions seriously, but few expect Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah to pull back from the organization’s involvement in Syria, which many believe was the real reason behind the EU’s decision to blacklist Hezbollah.

In a recent op-ed for Al Hayat, Walid Choucair expresses the view that EU’s sanctions on Hezbollah must be seen primarily through the lens of the latter’s involvement in the Syrian conflict: “The European Union is confused when it comes to providing a clear justification for its steps to designate the military wing of Hezbollah as a terror group. At times, officials talk about the judicial reason for the move, connected to the accusation that this wing carried out the Burgas bombing in Bulgaria, and a separate bombing attempt in Cyprus. At other times, however, 'high-placed' EU sources leak information that the reason for the decision is Hezbollah’s heavy military involvement in the war in Syria. This latter is a political reason, because the EU decision represents a political message to the party.”

Nasrallah, for his part, has dismissed the EU decision as insignificant and has vowed to maintain his support for the Assad regime in Syria, while warning his domestic opponents that there would be no stability in Lebanon without Hezbollah’s involvement: “Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said on Wednesday that the latest EU decision regarding Hezbollah will only doom to failure, advising the European states to soak their paper in water and drink it, for the Resistance will remain vital and victorious by the will of Allah Almighty....Touching on the local situation, Sayyed Nasrallah said that the other camp in Lebanon will not be able to exploit the decision in their domestic political calculations, or to isolate the party and form a cabinet without it.”

Most observers in the region, however, disagree. For example, the National’s (UAE) editorial considers “EU's decision on Hezbollah militias… a heavy blow…. Hezbollah’s sphere of influence is shrinking rapidly. The decision of the Lebanese ‘party of God’ to back the embattled Assad regime has changed the strategic environment for the group more than any other single decision since its rise in the 1980s....The truth is the decision will have very little practical effect: the distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wings is not an easy one to establish and, indeed, is not one the party itself recognizes.... The end for Hezbollah will not come from Europe's capitals or indeed from any Arab country - except one. It is only when the Lebanese tire of this militia in their midst that Hezbollah, having proved its allegiance to foreign powers, having brought brief glory but much misery to Lebanon, will be stripped of its weapons. And its military and political wings will fade away.”

The Peninsula editorial also considers the EU action “A strong signal…. Lebanon’s Hezbollah has paid a small price for sending its men to Syria to fight along the side of Bashar Al Assad’s troops. On Monday, the European Union foreign ministers added the military wing of Hezbollah to a list of terrorist organizations. It’s not known what effects the EU move would have, though it’s likely to include sanctions and asset freezes. The punishment for the military wing is unlikely to impact the EU’s interaction with the organization....despite the external pressure, Hezbollah is unlikely to rethink its strong support for Assad. The organization will find itself more isolated in the coming months, and the benefits from support for Assad will be eclipsed by the losses it would incur.”

Lebanon’s own main newspaper, The Daily Star, notes the complicated nature of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Lebanese political arena, and expresses concerns that EU’s actions have implications beyond Hezbollah’s future: “The European Union’s move, decided unanimously by 28 nations, is neither symbolic nor meaningless: It is a warning bell that must be heeded....Hezbollah and Lebanon cannot truly be separated. If the resistance chooses the wrong path, and instead of being delisted in six month’s time the entire party is blacklisted by the EU, Lebanon will not be spared the consequences. Should the entire party be listed, could the state function with no interaction with Hezbollah? ...For the future of Lebanon, the resistance must refocus itself and demonstrate its commitment to the Lebanese state over foreign influences.”

Al Hayat’s Husam Itani is especially worried that Hezbollah’s hubris and overconfidence might get in the way of seeing and responding to the current challenges clearly: “Nothing affects Hezbollah. Nothing. Its blacklisting by the European Union as a terrorist organization, the similar GCC decision, the hundreds of coffins for its fighters who are dying in Syria and its security exposure are all part of a media campaign which deserves nothing but mockery and enigmatic smiles....But what the party is refusing to see lies behind the border and beyond the Lebanese equations and policies. And the storm which the party’s supporters say it can overcome and beat, just like it beat all the previous ones, is forming on multiple fronts....However, the party and those applauding it failed to pay attention to issues which might not be of interest to them, namely the loss of the general Arab respect toward its current role.”

Finally, there are those who approve of EU’s actions but don’t believe they go far enough.  According to an AFP report published on the Saudi Gazette, almost immediately after the EU announced its decision to blacklist Hezbollah’s military wing, “The Syrian opposition on Tuesday welcomed the EU decision to blacklist Hezbollah’s military wing and said that leaders of the Lebanese Shiite movement should be put on trial for their role in the Syrian war. The ‘National Coalition believes this is a step in the right direction and highlights the need for the European Union to take measures to stop (Hezbollah’s) militia from intervening in Syria,’ the opposition group said.”

In Israel, the announcement was received positively, although some, including Jerusalem Post’s Alex Brummer,  have expressed a desire to see the EU go further: “The European Union’s interventions in the Middle East are not always entirely helpful. So it is nice to be able to welcome, along with Jewish communities worldwide, the EU’s recent decision to classify the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. It would now be desirable to see EU member states go one step further. They should follow the example of France, the Netherlands, Israel, Canada and the United States to take the next logical step and proscribe Hezbollah’s political wing as well.”


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