The Washington Post reports today that the United States is putting pressure on the European Union so it brand Lebanese political and militant organisation Hezbollah as a terrorist group. This renewed call occurs after the Bulgarian government charged Hezbollah with the bombing of bus carrying Israeli tourists, last July in Bulgaria:
White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan urged Europe to “take proactive action to uncover Hezbollah’s infrastructure and disrupt the group’s financing schemes and operational networks in order to prevent future attacks.”
Brennan did not expressly call on the E.U. to revisit the question of terrorism designation, but others did.
“This brazen act of terrorism by Hezbollah was committed on European Union soil,” said Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), who with 74 other senators last year wrote to the E.U. urging action. “Brussels can no longer delay.”
I acknowledge that some European countries had and have rightfully taken strong actions against terrorist organisations (participation in Enduring Freedom Afghanistan, past and ongoing operations on militant groups in Sahel…), but I do not think the European Union should rush to label Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
First, because of the context. Some European countries might be reluctant to brand Hezbollah as a terrorist group, whilst it is one of the most powerful organisations in the Near East. Apart from the fact that some Ministers in the Lebanese government were appointed by Hezbollah, this organization is a State within the State in Lebanon.
Should Hezbollah attack Israel, Israel would be fully entitled to apply self-defence measures and Hezbollah’s actions should be firmly blamed by the international community. However, as long as some kind of armed peace lasts between these two enemies, any move – even if legitimate – that could get Hezbollah’s back up must be considered with caution. It should aslo be taken into consideration the fact that several European countries have numerous expats living in Lebanon and that they could be closely watched (fr).
Such a caution should not imply passiveness or some kind of Munich behavior. Yet, the situation should also calls for thought before labeling a whole organization as a terrorist group, whilst only a branch of this organization can be classified as so.
Second, because of the very nature of Hezbollah. By reading about the war in Lebanon (I recommend the updated version of Robert Fisk’s Pity the Nation or Thomas Freidman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem), one can easily understand that Hezbollah was born as a terrorist group.
However, the group has turn into an organisation that is much more complex. Hezbollah is at once: a paramilitary/terrorist organisation, a political party (who has seats in the Palriament), a backdoor for Iran into Israel’s neighborhood, a shady financial organisation, a TV and a radio channel and a social organisation that runs schools and hospitals…
I once met a Lebanese in the Bekaa valley who explained he was supporting Hezbollah because the movement was the only organisation able to defend his country, despite him having no hate or resentment for Western countries.
It is thus difficult to brand Hezbollah solely as a terrorist group, which would oversimplify our perception of this actor and might lead us to conduct biased approaches and unfit actions. However, this lack of classification should not prevent us from taking action against Hezbollah’s acts that are reprehensible.