In July, after lobbying led by the UK and Dutch governments, the European Union placed the "military wing" of the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah on the terror blacklist. The designation does not apply, however, to Hezbollah's "political wing," which will remain a partner of the EU.
On August 2, just weeks after the "blacklisting," Hezbollah flags were paraded by thousands of marchers across Europe as part of Al Quds Day, an annual march in cities throughout the world.
Hezbollah supporters march through London in thousands on Al Quds Day, August 17, 2012. (Photograph by Samuel Westrop)
Hezbollah itself does not share the EU's belief that it consists of separate "wings." As Hezbollah's deputy leader, Naim Qassem, told the Los Angeles Times in 2009, "We do not have a military wing and a political wing…The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel."
A number of critics have already claimed that the EU listing will have little effect. Soeren Kern, writing for the Gatestone Institute, noted that, "The onus will be on European counter-terrorism police to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Hezbollah monies … are being expressly destined for terrorist activities rather than for 'political' purposes. Because of this legal uncertainty, it remains unclear if the EU will actually target any of Hezbollah's assets or individuals in Europe."
Hezbollah's own television station, Al Manar, dismissed the EU's decision as inconsequential. Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Programme in Chatham House, said, "They [the EU] distinguish between the military and political wing when in reality there isn't much distinction. But it's a way of creating constructive ambiguity to maintain engagement at the same time as sending a strong message."
EU diplomats acknowledge that empowering Hezbollah's "political wing" is deliberate. European officials argue, according to Al Jazeera, and despite a staggering lack of evidence, that targeting the military wing could "persuade some of its members to move away from violence into the political sphere."
Britain's Ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher, wrote on Twitter that the blacklisting "does not alter cooperation with Lebanon Government, nor EU contact with political reps [of Hezbollah]." And, in 2009, Bill Rammell, a British Foreign Office official, said, "Our overriding objective is to press Hezbollah to play a more constructive role."
By preserving contact with, and funding of, Hezbollah's "political wing," without substantial measures against its "military wing," the EU not only sanitizes and legitimizes Hezbollah's "political" leadership, but also also legitimizes the entire terror group as an important actor in both Lebanese politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Even the European media have been puzzled at the EU's decision to bolster one side of the terror group while symbolically -- though not practically -- punishing the other side. An editorial in The Times noted, "It is implausible to believe that Hezbollah's political organisation is sealed from its terrorist wing. These are one entity, not two. Hezbollah comprises a murder gang and a public relations front."
It is this "public relations" front for a group that blows up civilians, however, with which European officials should be most concerned. As the journalist Benny Weinthal has written:
In particular, Europe has become infatuated with Hezbollah's social welfare programs. "They are quite professional in this," The New York Times quotes researcher Stephan Rosiny saying, "and this is something some Western donors are admitting that has a positive impression on some Western politicians." This, says the Times, "provides a rationale for the group's charitable networks" in Europe, which are essentially left alone by both police and intelligence services, giving authorities little means of knowing where the funds are actually going.
What the "political wing" of Hezbollah expresses also warrants concern. Hezbollah officials, for example, regularly address academic conferences in Europe. In 2009 Dr. Ibrahim Moussaoui, a Hezbollah spokesman and a senior director at Hezbollah's television station, Al Manar, and who recently addressed a conference at the University of London, once -- "politically," we assume -- described Jews as "a lesion on the forehead of history."
As for Al Manar, it has broadcast, along with inflammatory outbursts against the United States and Israel, a libellous series entitled, "Diaspora" -- a drama based on the anti-Semitic forgery, Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The drama depicts Jews planning the Holocaust and murdering children to satisfy a satanic desire.
Al Manar is banned in the United States, Spain, Germany and France for its promotion of "racial hatred" -- exactly the job with which Hezbollah's "political wing" is tasked. Al Quds Day marches and Iranian-sponsored television broadcasts only help Hezbollah to acquire financial and political support for its role within Lebanon and the wider Middle East -- an empowerment which European governments largely ignore.
Further, the proscription of Hezbollah's "military wing" is a textbook example of European governments' carrot-and-stick diplomacy, which invariably -- as with its fruitless negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program for the past decade -- features a lot of carrot but not much stick. Several days before the proscription was enacted, the EU published a directive that recommended the cessation of any funding, cooperation, awards of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone living in the Jewish neighborhoods within the West Bank or East Jerusalem.
Sami Ramadani, a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University, believes that the EU's justification for blacklisting Hezbollah had little to do with terrorism: "Well basically because it's nothing to do with the terrorist attack and Bulgaria … European political figures are on the record as saying that really Bulgaria is not the issue – the issue is to do with recent developments within Syria."
For the bureaucrats in Brussels, the murder of Israelis is an extraneous detail. The EU apparently believes it has a far greater incentive to act on the question of Syria rather than fight the threat of terror against civilians: rather than working against terrorism, the EU has hedged its bets: by proscribing only the military wing of Hezbollah, which assists Assad's forces in the violent suppression of the Syrian people, the EU has expressed a clear position against Hezbollah in Syria while simultaneously pledging tolerance for Hezbollah's role in Lebanon, yet avoiding the real nature of Hezbollah's structure in Europe.
Further, as is consistent with European government practises, the blacklisting of Hezbollah's "military wing" was preceded by a boycott on West Bank goods designed to demonstrate that Europe was not working to serve the interests of Israel. Similarly, in 2011, as the British government passed legislation that prevented the exploitation of international law to arrest visiting Israeli officials, Prime Minister David Cameron publicly resigned as patron of the Jewish National Fund -- an honorary position that, for decades, every Prime Minister has held.
EU officials may be trying to sell the gambit that, despite token gestures to the contrary, they can sponsor Hezbollah -- a terror group committed to the propagation of Iranian Islamism as well as to Israel's destruction -- as a "constructive" part of Middle East diplomacy. But as long as Europe legitimizes terrorists, it emboldens violent groups everywhere.