In January this year, the authorities in Bulgaria formally accused Hezbollah of instigating the terror-attack in the town of Burgas in July 2012, killing five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus-driver. Soon after this, in March, a court in Cyprus convicted a Hezbollah-operative on several counts of terrorism. That Hezbollah is, again, conducting terror operations in Europe shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Even less of a surprise should be the extent of criminal activity that Hezbollah is involved in in Europe. This runs the gamut from weapons-smuggling to drug-running (using West-African countries as their main conduit).
A designation of Hezbollah would help ease the pressure on Assad’s opponents in Syria and make a political resolution of the conflict there more likely, even considering the huge difficulties of such a process.Dr. Magnus Norell
Yet the EU stubbornly refuses to recognize Hezbollah for what it is: a terrorist entity. With the notable exceptions of The Netherlands, which has proscribed Hezbollah and the UK, where the so-called ‘armed wing’ is designated, Europe is not seriously seeking to tackle Hezbollah, even on its home-turf, despite compelling evidence of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Burgas terror attack and other forms of criminal activity in Europe.
One of the reasons most often cited by EU politicians on why this remains the case, is that a designation of Hezbollah would generate huge instability for the Lebanese government. This because Hezbollah is already the top-dog in the country and any attempt to squeeze the organization (at home or abroad) would put the already precarious political situation in Lebanon under even more strain, possibly leading to internal strife and conflict. This fear is of course compounded by the civil war raging in neighboring Syria; a war that Hezbollah is deeply involved in, underpinning the position of the Assad regime with weapons, fighters and political support aimed at scaring off increased aid to the opposition in Syria from other Arab countries in the region.
On closer examination, however, these arguments do not hold water. Firstly, Lebanon itself has already confronted Hezbollah by indicting four members of Hezbollah through the U.N.-backed court for the killing of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri back in 2005. Contrary to the arguments posited by some EU governments, who suggest that designating Hezbollah would endanger Lebanon's political stability, the act of doing so would actually make it easier for true democratic forces in the country to come to grips with this movement and go some way towards introducing a more normalized political system there. This is very much in the interests of both Lebanon and the EU.
Upping the ante
Secondly, Spanish and Italian troops in the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon have, over the past year, been increasingly challenged and humiliated by Hezbollah when conducting routine patrols. Hezbollah is upping the ante by pressuring the UNIFIL forces, strengthening its position and increasing tensions with Israel. A tougher approach by the EU would both help counter Hezbollah’s attempt to make the UNIFIL force even more ineffectual and, at the same time, help bolster the Lebanese government and civil society proper to regain its standing in the country as whole.
In addition, UNSCR 1559, adopted after the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 demanded that Hezbollah disarm. A designation of Hezbollah would actually help speed up that process and force the organization to choose between what it primarily wants to be - a political organization or, a private militia with extensive criminal and terrorist activities right across the globe.
For the sake of Lebanon and its ability to sustain the pressures from Syria as well as its own domestic tensions, it is paramount that this matter is resolved. With the present political structure, Hezbollah will eventually destroy Lebanon or be forced to control the country using ever more violent means. It should be pointed out that a not insignificant number of Shiites in Lebanon are highly critical of Hezbollah’s policy of armed violence, within as well as outside the country.
Furthermore, a designation of Hezbollah would help ease the pressure on Assad’s opponents in Syria and make a political resolution of the conflict there more likely, even considering the huge difficulties of such a process. This would also go a significant way in helping the EU to focus on and support the political transitions now underway in the MENA-region. Confronting and challenging the ‘spoilers’ in that process (Hezbollah, Syria and Iran) would go down well with EU allies in the Gulf and in the Levant.
Finally, proscribing Hezbollah would also make life significantly easier for European police and intelligence agencies. It should be noted that EUROPOL already includes Hezbollah as a terrorist entity in its database. It’s about time law enforcement agencies in Europe and their colleagues in the various police forces sang from the same hymn sheet concerning an issue as pivotal as international terrorism. A designation would also ease co-operation when it comes to combating international terrorism as the U.S. has already proscribed Hezbollah. Enhancing and facilitating cooperation with the U.S. (and others) on these matters is surely in the best security interests of the EU.
Dr. Magnus Norell is a Senior Policy Advisor at the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD) in Brussels. Previously, he was a senior analyst and project leader at the Swedish Defense Research Agency and a senior research fellow at the Swedish Institute for International Affairs in Stockholm. From 1997 to 2000, he created a back channel between Hezbollah and Israel to facilitate the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Prior to joining the Swedish Defense Research Agency, Dr. Norell served as an analyst for the Swedish Secret Service and Swedish Military Intelligence.
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