By Charlie Weimers
The recent German government’s blacklisting of Hezbollah in its entirety, is a significant step in the global fight against terrorism and Iranian aggression. The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and our allies across the world, the United States, Australia, Canada, Israel, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council have all designated the entire Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. It is therefore high time for the European Union (EU) to join the international consensus in ceasing its differentiation between Hezbollah’s so-called ‘political’ and ‘military’ wings, and outlaw the entire organisation.
The false distinction between the two wings came about after Hezbollah bombed a bus with Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria in 2012, killing six and wounding several others. As a consequence, the EU could no longer deny Hezbollah’s terrorist activities. But to not upset its relations with Lebanon – where Hezbollah is a significant political player – it introduced a theoretical distinction between Hezbollah’s ‘political’ and ‘military’ wings, of which, only the latter was outlawed in July 2013. It should be noted that senior Hezbollah leadership consistently and vehemently deny that there is any distinction between their ‘wings’ and stress that it is one and the same organisation.
The EU’s fear – to upset the fragile political balance between communities in Lebanon if it were to place the entire Hezbollah organisation on the EU terror list – is unwarranted. Our allies and others, who have blacklisted Hezbollah fully, continue to maintain strong relations with the Lebanese institutions, including State security agencies and the Lebanese Armed Forces.
In fact, Hezbollah is a source of instability in Lebanon. Since its inception in 1982 as an Iranian proxy, it created a ‘state within a state’, ruling predominantly Shi’ite areas in southern Lebanon. Certain districts have even become off limits for Lebanese security forces. Hezbollah’s increasing control over government, its sectarian politics and the rampant corruption by the political elite, gave rise to popular protests in late 2019.
People rallied under the Lebanese flag and for the first time dared to openly criticise Hezbollah. Unprecedented calls of ‘terrorists, terrorists, Hezbollah are terrorists’, ‘here is Lebanon, not Iran’ and ‘we don’t want any other army in Lebanon, other than the Lebanese army’ resonated through the Lebanese streets. Protestors were attacked and beaten up by Hezbollah thugs, but even that could not deter the protestors: they kept defiantly protesting and criticising the political elite day after day.
And what did the protests achieve? After three months, Lebanon got a new, supposedly ‘technocrat’ government. However, it is a far cry from the protestors’ demands. The new government is the brainchild of Hezbollah, which leads the current parliamentary coalition, for the first time in Lebanon’s history, and holds four key ministries.
The citizens of Lebanon are not the only ones suffering under Hezbollah’s rule or experiencing its terrorism. In Syria, many civilians have been victims of atrocities by the Assad regime, heavily supported by thousands of Hezbollah fighters. In Israel, civilians have often been the victims of rocket attacks from Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Lebanon. Currently, Hezbollah has over 120,000 rockets pointed at Israel, in violation of United Nations Resolution 1701. In Yemen, Hezbollah has been active in support of the Iran-backed Houthis. In Bahrain, security forces face continuous threats from Hezbollah aligned organisations. The list goes on.
The Middle East is perhaps where Hezbollah originates, but the organisation is a global threat. In Latin America, Hezbollah maintains deep roots with the drug trade and its brutal cartels. In 1994, Hezbollah was behind the bombing of a Jewish centre in Argentina, better known as the AMIA bombing, which killed 85 people and wounded hundreds others. In Africa, Hezbollah is known to raise funds, solicit recruits and plot attacks against Western and Israeli targets.
In Europe, Hezbollah is known for its criminal activities, including money-laundering, drug trafficking, counterfeit currency and clothing, as well as fundraising and recruiting people for its so-called ‘charity’ programs. It has assassinated opponents and bombed innocent civilians. It has become undeniable over the years, that Hezbollah equals terror, crime and a significant security threat. It was therefore a positive step that the so-called ‘military’ wing of Hezbollah was placed on the EU terror list in 2013.
Time has now come to face reality and recognise that there are no different ‘wings’ but that the whole organisation is one and the same: a criminal terror group. The whole organisation needs to urgently be proscribed on the EU terror list, as a safeguard of our security. Terrorism is terrorism, and no exceptions can be made.
The author is a Swedish Member of the European Parliament for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR). He sits on the Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs Committees.