After Germany end April banned Hezbollah from its territory and declared the group in its entirety a terrorist organisation, following the path of the UK, the Netherlands, the United States, Australia, Canada, Israel, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Austrian parliament last week urged Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to advocate within the European Union that Hezbollah’s entire organisation be reassessed in connection with a full terror designation.
However, only one of the ‘’big’’ EU member states has not made the move: France, a situation which probably prevents the EU as a whole to also blacklist Hezbollah.
In fact Paris continues vehemently to refuse to recognize Hezbollah, Iran’s main proxy in Lebanon and Syria, as a terrorist organization.
Why are the French maintaining this stance while several other European countries have all designated the entire Hezbollah as a terror group, rejecting the artificial differentiation between Hezbollah’s ‘’military’’ and ‘’political’’ factions that some countries made before banning it completely ?
“The mere fact that the Germans have changed their position does not necessarily mean that we have to change our position as well,” said last week the new French ambassador to Israel, Eric Danon, in an interview with The Times of Israel.
“You would have to ask them what moment or event triggered their change of positions,” he added. “There were reports in the press about a possible terror attack planned in Germany. Maybe this played a part? But really, to avoid speculation, you would have to ask the Germans directly as to the reasons behind this decision. For our part, we have not identified a particular event that would prompt us to change our position.”
Danon was referring to reports that Berlin changed its policy vis-a-vis Hezbollah after Israel’s Mossad spy agency, after a months-long operation to assess the group’s operations in Germany, informed local authorities of the existence of warehouses in the south of the country where the Beirut-based group kept materials used to make explosives.
Germany’s official reason for outlawing the Iranian-backed group was that it violates criminal law and “opposes the concept of international understanding.”
Hezbollah denies Israel’s right to exist and “supports the armed terrorist fight” against the Jewish state, Germany’s interior ministry said at the time, adding that the organization can be expected to continue planning terror attacks against Israel and Israeli interests abroad.
Following Germany’s move on April 31, an EU spokesperson told European Jewish Press that the European Union’s position on Hezbollah ‘’has not changed.’’ The EU has only blacklisted Hezobllah’s ‘’military wing.’’
“We take note of the decision of the German Ministry of Interior on Hezbollah, which is a domestic public law decision in Germany. The EU position has not changed. In July 2013, the EU 28 Member States agreed unanimously to designate the military wing of Hezbollah under the EU sanctions regime to combat terrorism (Common Position 2001/931),’’ Peter Stano, EU spokesperson for foreign affairs told EJP;
He added: ‘’They underlined that this decision does not prevent the continuation of dialogue with all political parties and does not affect the delivery of financial aid from the EU and its Member States. The EU remains committed to Lebanon’s stability.“
Other EU member states, in particular France, still defend Hezbollah’s ‘’legitimacy’’ due to its political role in Lebanon. An artificial distinction between Hezbollah’s “political wing” and “military wing” that even the group itself does not recognize.
In establishing this distinction, the EU intends to preserve an open channel with Hezbollah and its representatives in the Lebanese government.
Austrian Member of the European Parliament Lukas Mandl, from the European People’s Party, said that ‘’ it is clear without any doubt that the European Union must ban Hezbollah entirely. There is no so-called ‚political arm‘ and a ‚terrorist arm‘, but one organization acting violently against the only Jewish State, including killings of civilians, many of them children.’’ ‘’A true European Foreign Policy will establish an even stronger relationship with reliable partners in Lebanon,“ he added.
Mandl has joined more than 50 lawmakers from the European Parliament, national parliaments in Europe, the US Congress and the Canadese parliament, who signed a declaration calling for a total EU ban of Hezbollah.
‘’The designation of Hezbollah as a terror group in its entirety would not deprive Brussels of its open channel to the Lebanese government. The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, and others each recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and each maintains a robust relationship with Lebanon. In fact, Lebanon receives more foreign assistance from the U.S. than from any other country in the world,’’ noted Richard Grenell, outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Germany.
Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon
‘’In fact, Hezbollah has been active in Europe since the terrorist group’s founding in the early 1980s, when it engaged in a long list of attacks across the continent,’’ noted US expert on terrorism, Matthew Levitt, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) established Hezbollah in 1982 to export Iranian terror around the world. In 1983, at the Iranian regime’s direction, Hezbollah carried out suicide bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut (killing 63 people, including 17 Americans), and the U.S. marine barracks in Beirut (killing 241 American marines and other U.S. service personnel). Hezbollah suicide attacks from 1982-1986 murdered 659 people .
Iran/Hezbollah also provided explosives, planning and training for the deadly terrorist bombings of Khobar Towers in 1996 (19 Americans killed and hundreds wounded) as well as the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 which killed over 200 people. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York also concluded that Iran and Hezbollah played key roles in planning 9-11 and training the 9-11. In January 2020, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah called for all of Iran’s allies to exact “ revenge ” on the United States.
Hezbollah has carried out numerous terror and rocket attacks against Israelis and Jews, including bombing the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1992 (19 people killed), the bombing in Buenos Aires of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in 1994 (85 people killed and hundreds injured), firing 4,000 rockets into Israel during the 2006 Lebanon war, planting explosives near the border that have injured Israelis and firing further missiles into Israel, including firing missiles into an Israeli farming community in September 2019. Hezbollah continues to threaten Israel with annihilation, is expanding its massive missile arsenal in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and is converting its huge arsenal of 150,000 rockets pointed at Israel into precision guided weapons.
Hezbollah operatives were behind the bombed of a bus with Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, that killed six people in July 2012 and wounded several others.
”Despite all these evidences, France remains a holdout, effectively protecting Hezbollah from any meaningful European action,” stresses Matthew Levitt.
French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated in February 2019 explained his refusal to follow the example of Britain. “France or any other power has the right to decide which Lebanese political parties are good and which are not,” also saying that dialogue could lead the party to “change” its positions .
”On this issue, as in so many others, Brussels appears to have its head buried firmly in the sand,” according to Jacob Campbell, a research fellow at the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy in the U.K.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, who heads the Jerusalem-based watchdog group NGO Monitor, told the Jerusalem Post that “in Lebanon, millions of euros from the EU budget are provided under the banner of ‘education reform,’ while the education minister has mandated the teaching of ‘Resistance,’ meaning Hezbollah terrorism, backed by Iran, as demonstrated tragically in Bulgaria.
Hezbollah is a force for destabilization in Syria as an Iranian proxy but it is also active in Lebanese politics, including the parliament and the government. There is a fear in the EU that a ban on the group might destabilize Lebanon’s fragile political system. ‘’Hezbollah has already taken over the role as the kingmaker in Lebanese politics and is de-facto in control of the government in Lebanon. European forces are part of UNIFIL (the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon). European businesses have investments in Lebanon. EU leaders are concerned for the safety of these interests,’’ wrote Benjamin Weinthal, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.
The EU is continuing to differentiate Hezbollah’s military and political wings, a concept that has been abandoned by several member states, and other countries in the world. But one must recall that Hezbollah’s deputy leader Naim Qassem also rejected this differentiation. He told in the Los Angeles Times in 2009 that the “same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.”
For years, Germany adhered to the fiction that Hezbollah was composed of two distinct wings. The German government, which allowed the organisation to operate within its borders, reversed course last April and declared the entire organisation a terrorist group. We should not despair about France following suit….so that the EU would finally made the right move.
”The whole organisation needs to urgently be proscribed on the EU terror list, as a safeguard of our security.Terrorism is terrorism, no exceptions can be made,” wrote Charlie Weimers, Swedish member of the European Parliament.
”What do Arab governments know about Hezbollah that the European Union refuses to acknowledge?,” asked American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris in an opinion piece in German Bild newspaper, in a reference to the fact that both the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council have labeled Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Yossi Lempkowicz is Editor-in-Chief of European Jewish Press (EJP) and Senior Media Advisor of Europe Israel Press Associatio (EIPA).