Hizbullah and Europe: The Future holds a smaller world?

Flag of the EU

Flag of Hizbullah

Bulgaria has charged two alleged members of Hizbullah with the terrorist attack on its soil against Israelis. It is possible that this accusation will result in the EU’s classifying Hizbullah as a terrorist organization. Currently the EU differentiates between the military wing and the political/social wing of Hizbullah. As a result of this distinction members and supporters of Hizbullah operate in Western Europe raising funds and holding events.

This EU policy has been criticized by the U.S. which does not distinguish between a social or political wing and a military/”terrorist wing” of Hizbullah. As far as the U.S. government is concerned, and this message has been consistent U.S. policy for the past decades, is that Hizbullah is a terrorist organization. The fact that the "terrorist organization," the US government logic goes, has acquired a social wing and a political wing and got involved in the  "respectable politics" of Lebanon as a "responsible player", does not mean that the group has “evolved” as some observers of the groups have noted- observers such as Hala Jaber and Judith Harik. The U.S. sees the group as fundamentally and inalterably a terrorist group, which with time, acquired a social wing and a political wing. To the US government the Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that has not evolved or changed a bit- it has merely acquired, for its own tactical reasons, social and political outfits.

The U.S. has tried to convince the Europeans to change their mind about the distinction between a "good" Hizbollah and a "bad" Hizbollah. Over the years these efforts have failed because the Europeans do not see Hizbullah as a threat to them the way that the U.S. does. This is understandable. The position that the U.S. has in the ideology and rhetoric of Hizbollah, and its patron Iran, is not shared by any of the European states. In fact, one can say that Hizbollah is built around enmity to the U.S. While the Hizbollah does sometimes say that it has a problem with the U.S. government and not the American people, the enmity to U.S. power and influence is not seen as a charge to be denied but is regarded by the group as a badge of honor and a claim to Islamic credibility and authenticity. It is common to hear the chants of “death to America” at the group’s events even when the subject of the celebration or the protest is not connected to U.S. government or policy. 

The crisis over the Iranian nuclear program is instructive on how Hizbollah sees the U.S. Many in the Arab and Muslim world believe that the “Jewish lobby” controls the U.S. and is responsible for all the policies that Arabs and Muslims hate. Not Hizbollah. The leader of Hizbollah Sayed Nasrallah has stated that he does not believe that Israel controls the U.S. He thinks it is the other way around- he believes the U.S. controls Israel and all the bad deeds of Israel are attributable to the U.S. Therefore, he stated that an Israeli attack on Iran is an American attack on Iran and his group would respond according to this logic.

One is tempted to say that the U.S. position on Hizbullah is the result of the Israel lobby. The effusively pro- Israel statements by senators and congressmen give that impression. However, the concern about Hizbullah’s intents and capabilities is not a matter of political grandstanding. The head of the FBI called the Hizbullah the “A team of terror.” This is not a political statement tied to elections and fundraising. This is the assessment of the intelligence community that is concerned about the group due to, as seen by the intelligence community, three factors: a history of attacks on American targets, capacity to attack American targets with sleeper cells in the U.S., and a virulent anti- American ideology and rhetoric that does not leave any space for doubt about the intentions of the group.

One question often asked is why the E.U. approach is different from the U.S. approach: Why  does the U.S. refuse to follow the European approach of distinguishing between the different branches of Hizbullah? The more important question is whether Hizbullah wants the U.S. to deal with it the way the Europeans are dealing with it so far. Hizbullah has not undertaken any effort that indicates that  it wants a different relationship with the U.S. The reason for that is that enmity to the U.S. is so fundamental to the ideology and the identity of Hezbollah that the group needs and wants the existing dynamic.

  There will be serious consequences to the EU’s classification of Hizbullah as a terrorist organization. This classification will undo years of Hezbollah PR efforts that have excluded the U.S. but focused intently on building up the group’s reputation as a legitimate organization that deserves recognition and engagement.  The group has spent ample resources to reach out to any and all in Western Europe who would listen to it that it is a “resistance group” and not a “terrorist” group. The fact that the Europeans disagreed with the U.S.’s approach to Hizbullah was used by Hizbullah to argue that the U.S. approach has more to do with the U.S. and its aggressive and aggressor foreign policy toward the "freedom fighting" group than with what the group is and what it stands for. The argument went: Why would France and the UK, friends and allies of the U.S., resist U.S. pressure and deal with the Hizbullah had it not been that the U.S. is the problem and not Hizbullah?

That argument that the problem is the U.S. and not Hizbullah will become untenable if the EU moves to classify Hizbollah as a terrorist group. It would be the end of partial Western respectability of the group and will have serious consequences for the many organizational and individual supporters of the group in Europe.

If the EU makes the move- the world of Hizbullah and its supporters will shrink and their margin of movement will be severely reduced. 


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