The West’s Blind Approach to Hezbollah

Hezbollah militants / Getty

Guess who said the following: "Everyone knows that Hezbollah's political and military wings are one and the same."

No, it was not some Israeli or American hawk, eager to crush Iran's chief proxy force in Lebanon. On the contrary, Ammar Moussawi, the head of Hezbollah's international relations, uttered those words in 2013, when the European Union blacklisted the group's "military wing" as a terrorist organization, excluding its "political" activities as part of a separate, benign entity. Six years later, the EU still separates Hezbollah's so-called political arm from its militancy, drawing an arbitrary line between the two that does not exist. Apparently leaders in Brussels think they understand Hezbollah better than Hezbollah itself. They are not alone.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration also seems to see the mythical line neatly dividing Hezbollah's military and political wings. After the United Kingdom banned Hezbollah in its entirety last week, Berlin refused to follow suit. American sources familiar with Germany's thinking told the Jerusalem Post that Berlin does not ban the Shi'ite Islamist group's political arm because it is "linked to Israel-Palestinian peace talks." The same sources also told the newspaper last year that Germany considers the Trump administration too pro-Israel. Yet a spokesman for the German Interior Ministry said Monday that "the entire Hezbollah is against the idea of international understanding in the sense of the Basic Law, because it fights the right of existence of the state of Israel with terrorist means." The spokesman added, "Such an objective is anti-Semitic in nature."

So the German government is hesitant to ban all of Hezbollah because of its role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also acknowledges that the group seeks Israel's destruction. If those ideas sound contradictory, that is because they are. Perhaps Merkel can explain how an entity dedicated to destroying the Jewish state can play a beneficial role in the peace process.

Germany's refusal to ban all of Hezbollah is also driven by fear of angering Lebanon, where the terror group is a powerful political party. Hezbollah, together with allied parties and politicians, currently controls 70 of the 128 seats in Lebanon's parliament. Moreover, Lebanese President Michel Aoun and other key government officials are allied with Hezbollah. In 2013, EU officials were worried that blacklisting Hezbollah's military wing, which meant freezing any of its assets in the bloc, would complicate the EU's relationship with the Lebanese government. "A few member states wanted to be reassured that such a decision will not in any way jeopardize political dialogue," a senior EU official said at the time. Some EU diplomats also argued that designating the military wing could eventually push members of Hezbollah to move away from militancy into politics. The underlying assumption is that the group's violence has nothing to do with its politics, and that its political activity is innocent. What motivated—and still motivates—the EU is also driving Germany's approach to Hezbollah.

The U.K. saw through this nonsense last week. "Hezbollah is continuing in its attempts to destabilize the fragile situation in the Middle East—and we are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party," British Home Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement. "Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety."

The United States, Canada, the Arab League, Israel, the Netherlands, and Japan also designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

The notion of separating Hezbollah's military and political activity has always been ludicrous. The entire organization falls under the same leadership. From members of parliament to terrorist operatives, Hassan Nasrallah leads Hezbollah, which is ultimately controlled by Iran. Nasrallah, his top lieutenants, and their masters in Tehran do not divide Hezbollah into two separate wings, so why should the West? Moreover, Hezbollah's soldiers and politicians pass money freely between them. There is no distinction. Money raised from Hezbollah's international criminal enterprise—which includes drug and human trafficking, counterfeiting European currency, and much more—supports Hezbollah's social and political activities inside Lebanon just as it supports terrorist operations and military deployments abroad. Europe's refusal to ban all of Hezbollah actually allows the group to organize and fundraise on European soil.

Also recall that Hezbollah assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005, and then in 2008, the group used violence in the streets of Lebanon to gain greater influence in the government. How is Hezbollah's political activity different than its militancy?

Germany should have incentive to blacklist all of Hezbollah. As the Jerusalem Post notes, there are 950 Hezbollah operatives in Germany who raise funds, recruit new members, and spread their anti-Western, anti-Semitic ideology, according to German intelligence reports. Hezbollah operatives also work closely with the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps across Europe. But of course Germany has a policy of appeasing Iran, and therefore Hezbollah by extension. Since banning all of Hezbollah will anger the ayatollahs, Germany has no interest in doing so.

Even countries that outlaw all of Hezbollah still have a blind approach to the terror group. Take Canada, whose armed forces are in Lebanon to train soldiers in winter warfare to help them better protect their borders. And Canada is not alone. The United States has provided about $1.7 billion to the Lebanese Armed Forces, or LAF, since 2006.

There are two major problems with this support. First, Hezbollah has become more powerful than the LAF, with about 130,000 rockets in its arsenal and strong support from Iran. Second and more importantly, the LAF is allied with Hezbollah, closely collaborating with the terrorist group while enjoying Western support. Indeed, Hezbollah and the LAF operate together in south Lebanon, and Hezbollah operatives even sometimes wear Lebanese army uniforms. Iran has also used a civilian airliner, known for its ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to fly weapons and advanced systems to Beirut International Airport, which the Lebanese army controls. Supporting the LAF is a way of supporting Hezbollah, whether the West knows it or not.

Western countries need to remember what Hezbollah is. It is the same group that has deployed thousands of troops to Syria to help Iran and the Assad regime slaughter the Syrian people. It is the same group that blew up an Israeli tour bus in Bulgaria in 2012, murdering six people and injuring 32 others. And it is the same group that uses Lebanese civilians as human shields to deter Israel from attacking its operatives after they attack Israelis. Hezbollah is destructive both inside Lebanon and abroad. It is shameful and strategically incompetent not to ban the organization in its entirety. And it is the height of folly to continue supporting the LAF when it collaborates so closely with Hezbollah. Maybe the West will eventually learn. But there is no easy cure for willful blindness.