Europe's half-solution on Hizbullah is no solution at all.
In a development long awaited and much debated, Europe is finally moving closer to designating Hizbullah a terrorist organisation.
Or is it? Reports of Europe's newfound resolve in stopping the Hizbullah threat, regrettably, may be exaggerated.
The main obstacle in the effort to undercut Hizbullah in Europe has always been France, which has historic ties to Hizbullah's home country of Lebanon. France has long argued that blacklisting Hizbullah would upset the balance of power in Lebanon, where the organisation plays a political role.
In recent weeks, though, French officials have signalled their government's willingness to designate Hizbullah's military wing a terrorist organisation if the latter's role in a bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria last year is confirmed. Germany has also indicated it might favour blacklisting Hizbullah's armed branch, while the United Kingdom already has such a ban in place.
With the European Union's ‘big three' – France, Germany and Great Britain – on board, Europe might finally muster the consensus required to impose an European Union-wide ban on Hizbullah's military wing.
But what would such a move really mean? Unfortunately, not as much as Europeans would like to suggest.
A ban on Hizbullah's military branch would not stop the political wing of the organisation from operating openly in Europe, as it has done for years. Raising funds, recruiting, acquiring technological training and materials – all of these activities would continue with impunity. And no authority could stop the political arm of Hizbullah from using fungible assets to support the organisation's military and criminal activities.
Hizbullah is an organisation with a unified command structure that oversees all of the group's disparate, and often illicit, activities. Many of Hizbullah's leaders, including its current secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, have been linked to the organisation's terrorist activities; indeed, their terrorist and criminal exploits have been instrumental to their rise within Hizbullah's structure.
What makes Europe's propensity to differentiate between the military and political branches of Hizbullah almost comical is that Hizbullah itself makes no such distinction. “Hizbullah has a single leadership,” Nasrallah's deputy, Naim Qassem, told a reporter in 2009. “The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.”
So far the Netherlands is the only EU member-state to blacklist Hizbullah outright, in doing so joining the United States, Israel, Canada, and even Bahrain.
But as the rest of Europe continues to suspend disbelief that Hizbullah is a single entity, the cost of such wilful denial – including the cost to European security – continues to rise. Overwhelming evidence points to Hizbullah's involvement last year not only in the Bulgaria attack, but in a foiled plot in Cyprus, as well.
Hizbullah today is increasingly coming to resemble the Hizbullah of the 1980s and 1990s, when the group routinely attacked civilian targets related to Israeli and other Western interests. Add to this the destructive role Hizbullah is playing in Syria by allying itself with the regime of President Bashar Assad, and the case for Europe blacklisting Hizbullah is more compelling than ever.
Europe's reluctance to ban Hizbullah outright can largely be attributed to fear of armed reprisal at home or abroad, as well as concern for how such a move might stir Europe's own restive Muslim population. However, Europeans cannot continue to mask their fecklessness by embracing the chimera of two separate and discrete Hizbullahs: one political, one military; one good, one bad. The consequences of perpetuating this falsehood are far more frightful than the alternative.
Eric Fusfield is deputy director of the B'nai B'rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy, which describes itself as a global voice of the Jewish community...more.