*English Azja Bezpieczeństwo Bezpieczeństwo międzynarodowe Bliski Wschód Europa UE

Is the military wing of Hezbollah terrorist? From “Justius Lupsius” and “Capitals” to the East of the Mediterranean Sea, a diversity of points of view


source: http://www.independent.com.mt/

During its meeting of July 22nd, 2013, the foreign affairs formation of the Council of the European Union (EU) decided to add the military wing of the Hezbollah on the European list of entities, groups and persons involved in terrorist acts. This designation results in the freezing of funds, financial assets and economic resources of the organisation in the EU and in an enhanced monitoring by the police services throughout Europe. The purpose of this contribution is to underline the broader context, issues and weaknesses of the European decision as well as its perception on the Eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea.

Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shiite political party currently leaded by Hassan Nasrallah. Created in reaction to the Israeli invasion of 1982, the « Party of God » adopts a radical anti-Zionist position which can, in part, explain its proximity with Tehran that supports the movement, both ideologically and financially. The party has grown in importance since the 2006 war between the same two territories and has had, since then, a particular aura: it presents itself as being at the forefront of the movement of Islamic resistance against the rest of the world. As far as Lebanon is concerned, the party is considered as a real part of the society. This deep involvement in the roots of the society can explain the European reluctances to punish the movement so far.

The Party of God has been on the European agenda for a long time. Firstly because influential international actors such as the United States, Israel or regional countries such as Bahrain have already added the movement on their own terrorist list and repeatedly asked the EU to share their concerns. Secondly because the party is already linked to, at least, two terrorist activities on the European ground last year: in Bourgas (Bulgaria) and in Cyprus, even if the plot was defeated in the last case. Finally, the active involvement of the military wing of Hezbollah in the Syrian conflict launched a broader debate about its legitimacy, even inside the Lebanese public sphere. By taking Bashar Al-Assad side, and by acting outside of the Lebanese borders, the supporters of Nasrallah went beyond the ideological prerogatives that legitimate the movement, mainly a virulent discourse targeted against Israel. Even if High Representative Ashton officially denied this reason, probably to avoid defining any official European position on the Syrian’s internal situation, it remains hard not to establish such a link. A last element, more an educated guess, can be found in the global change of attitude towards the region as a whole. American diplomats made breakthroughs in the Middle East Peace Process between Israeli and Palestinians. At the same time, the EU adopts a more proactive stance in « locking » the region, first with Israel in sending a clear political message a few days ago and now with Lebanon. This dual track approach, if it has to be confirmed, is the symbol of a shift in the world equilibrium and the task repartitions that was the rule so far. When Mars and Venus are aligned…

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/minister-president/5556134245/

Focusing on the European decision-making process, the main political entrepreneurs were the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The other Member-states adopted a more sceptic position. The main argument was the weak Lebanese equilibrium that the adoption of a naming and blaming discourse could threaten. In that respect, it has to be noted that the negotiations to set up a government including Hezbollah are not going well and that an ad interim government currently rules the Country. This fear can also be witnessed in the common position of the Council and the Commission annexed to the decision. It makes clear that only the military wing of Hezbollah is targeted, that the EU will continue to hold diplomatic relations with the political side of the movement and that this decision does not affect the delivery of assistance to Lebanon. If the European intention is understandable, it is barely impossible, actually, to distinguish between the two wings of the movement: the military chiefs taking their order from the political headquarters. The Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs recognised that “Ministers raised questions about how to distinguish between the military and the political wing of Hezbollah”. The decision taken, in its current state, intends more of sending a political message than truly sanctioning a military group.

If we adopt another point of view and focus on regional reactions, it has to be admitted that the weaknesses of the EU decision-making process are overwhelmed by the weight of the political message, provoking number of reactions, from indignation to anger towards an EU accused to be under American and Jewish lobbies’ thumbs. The decision was overall not backed, but by one voice. Samir Geagea, President of the Lebanese Forces, laic political party but mainly representative of the Maronites Christians, complains about the government that “takes Lebanon as hostage”, forcing the population to be involved in a not-willed war. Its claim remains however one of the few favouring the European initiative and is, arguably, also motivated by the perspective of competing with a diminished political adversary.

Seyyed Abbad Arachichi
Seyyed Abbad Arachichi

The rest of the reactions often make reference to a widespread leitmotiv in the Middle-Eastern world: pressures from Israel and the US. The European decision would mean the victory of lobbies targeting the Middle-East world and willing to prevent a greater development of the Southern and Eastern regions of the Mediterranean Sea. Interestingly, the first capital to react was Tehran. The Iranian diplomatic spokesperson, Seyyed Abbad Arachichi, has indeed expressed his disappointment towards the European willingness to openly support the Zionist regime against Hezbollah which is « accepted and respected by all Lebanese, the Islamic world and number of states in the region ». The President changed but obviously not the rhetoric used in the Islamic Republic’s discourses. Inside Lebanon itself, deputies said « being surprised » by the European accusations of involvement of the Party of God in Syria and complaining about an « obvious » interference of the EU institutions in the conflict opposing rebels and Al-Assad. On a more threatening tone, Hassan Nasrallah even qualified the European stance as « dangerous ».

The European decision will necessarily have a major impact on the geopolitical situation in Lebanon and, by extension, in the Middle East. Beyond being a group of States, the Middle East is a multi-confessional area. The Lebanese situation is a very good example in that respect: politics are confessional and each representative belong to a certain religion (President must be Maronite, Prime Minister Sunni, President of Parliament Shiite…). By sanctioning the military branch of Hezbollah, it is the entire Shiite community that can have the impression of being targeted. The decision will be felt as an affront by a part of the population while being seen as a victory by another part. This will lead to an increase of the well-known internal tensions in Lebanon.

In conclusion, these reactions, often in conflict, have broadly embarrassed the Lebanese government in a country marked with years of confessional and ideological conflicts. Michel Sleiman, President of the Republic, called the EU to revise its position in the name of the « stability of the Lebanese state ». The insufficient outcomes of a decision-making process involving unanimity among twenty-eight partners do not seem to undermine the weight of the political messa

Quentin Genard – CII Collaborator – Belgian, former student of the College of Europe (Department of European Political and Administrative studies) and the University of Liège (Master in European policies), mainly interested in the political life of its own country, the European Union and the trade in strategic items.

Sabine Sarraf – Graduated from the Master in International and European Law from the University Lille 2 (France). She is interested in International Economic and Trade law as well as in the European integration mainly through the lens of the defence sector. Moreover, she also follows with interest the development in the relations between the EU and the Near East and Middle East since she has briefly lived there during her studies at the University of Saint-Joseph in Beirut.

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