The EU’s Partial Hezbollah Ban

Jul 26, 2013

The EU's Partial Hezbollah Ban

Update from AIJAC

July 26, 2013
Number 07/13 #07

On Monday, the European Union agreed, after months of debate and negotiation, to ban the “military wing” of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah (Australia, of course, similarly bans only Hezbollah’s “External Security Organisation”). This Update focusses on the background and implications of this decision – as well as the wisdom of banning only the “military wing”, rather than the whole organisation.

First up is David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, which has long lobbied for European action against Hezbollah. He says of the latest decision, it is indeed too little and too late, yet still very welcome. That is, the decision to ban only the military wing will make the decision less effective in curtailing Hezbollah’s activities, while it has been apparent for a very long time the Hezbollah is a terror organisation that should be banned – yet the move is nonetheless a major step forward in curtailing Hezbollah’s violent activities. For Harris’ complete argument, CLICK HERE.

Offering some more detailed background on the decision, and on its likely effects, is Washington Institute Counterterrorism expert Matthew Levitt, writing with researcher Jonathan Prohov. Levitt and Prohov argue that, because of the “military wing” distinction, Hezbollah’s assets will likely escape being frozen in Europe, but that there will be other major effects. In particular, they predict much improved intelligence coordination, making Europe a less attractive staging ground for Hezbollah operatives; reduced fundraising; and deterrence of further terror activity in Europe, at least for a time. For Levitt and Prohov’s expert evaluation, CLICK HERE.

Finally, the Middle East Media Research Institute has compiled a dispatch on Hezbollah’s reaction to the EU ban. Not surprisingly, the terror group is both defiant and angry, but they are also almost indignant about the division of the group into “political” and “military” wings being made.  Statement after statement from Hezbollah officials and sympathetic media denies that any such distinction can be made. For all the details, CLICK HERE.

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The EU and Hezbollah: Half a loaf is far better than no loaf

David Harris

Jerusalem Post,

The European Union has now designated the “military wing” of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The decision came on July 22nd, when the EU’s 28 foreign ministers gathered in Brussels and voted unanimously, as required, to do so.

For many, including AJC, which has been active on the European scene for decades, this was a welcome step. But others in the Jewish world considered it too little, too late.

In principle, yes, it was too little.

After all, trying to bifurcate Hezbollah into “military” and “political” wings is seeking to make a distinction without a difference. They are the same, part and parcel of one “Party of God,” with one outlook and one mission. They can no more be divided internally than can the Ku Klux Klan, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or the Nazis.

Thus, implementing the EU decision will not be a simple matter.

Hezbollah fundraisers in Europe don’t go around seeking donors for such earmarked projects, outlined in glossy brochures, as attacking the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, training agents for assaults in West Africa, or dispatching troops to Syria’s grisly war with rebel forces.

Rather, it’s all cloaked in concern for “widows and orphans” in Lebanon. Revealing the truth about such efforts and following the money require operational capacity and political will. It remains to be seen if the EU will have both. 

And in principle, yes, it’s too late.

Hezbollah was a terrorist organization long before last year’s deadly attack in Bulgaria, an EU member state, and the later conviction of a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus, another EU member state, for scouting for terror targets.

No doubt, it took the EU far too long to reach a decision that should have been painfully obvious a decade ago, and that raised troubling questions about exactly why the regional group wouldn’t act.

But, as the saying goes: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” And this week’s EU decision, against which Lebanon in particular lobbied energetically, is a good one, far more than might have been expected even 6-12 months ago.

It means that Hezbollah can no longer act with impunity in Europe. It has been named and shamed. Its activities on European soil will be monitored far more carefully. And Israel has just announced that, as a result of the EU step, it will begin to share more intelligence on Hezbollah. No doubt, the U.S. will do the same.

After the 2012 attack in Burgas, Bulgaria, in which five Israelis and one Bulgarian were killed, the U.S. and Israel both pointed the finger at Hezbollah.

Many in the EU were skeptical, either because they didn’t believe it or didn’t want to believe it, lest they be forced to draw policy conclusions from it.

And there were even voices within Bulgaria that wanted the whole thing to go away as quickly and quietly as possible.

But—and this is a big but—Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov and his government, including Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, pressed ahead with their investigation.

Without their steely courage, determination and principle, the EU’s action on July 22nd might never have happened. They produced the evidence of Hezbollah involvement in an attack on European soil, which in turn demanded a European response.

And Cyprus added to the picture. After arresting a suspected Hezbollah operative, a Cypriot court successfully prosecuted him, proving his link to the terror group and his assignment to identify potential targets for a Burgas-like attack.

Again, there were those who hoped against hope that Cyprus wouldn’t press ahead. But, to its credit, it did.

As both cases evolved and it became clearer that the EU couldn’t just sit on its hands, and that all the excuses for inaction were ringing hollow, some suggested a path of least resistance – name a few Hezbollah military leaders, add them to the EU terrorism list, bar their entry into Europe, and freeze their assets, if any, held in European institutions.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Netherlands, the only EU country to list Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist group, wanted to see the 28 member states adopt the Dutch position. Regrettably, there was little appetite for that laudable option. 

Britain took the lead in urging the EU to designate the “military” wing, as London had done years ago. 

Ultimately, the British position prevailed, with a big boost from France, which indicated its openness to the idea six months ago, and Germany, which overcame some initial concern about whether there was sufficient legal evidence to stand up in the European courts should any decision be challenged.

So, was the EU decision too little? Yes. 

Was it too late? Yes.

Was it nonetheless welcome? Absolutely.

And is the effort over? No, not until the EU joins the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands in recognizing that Hezbollah is a unified, not a bifurcated, terrorist organization.

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There Is No Distinct Hezbollah ‘Military Wing,’ So Why Ban It?

Matthew Levitt and Jonathan Prohov

Daily Beast, July 25, 2013

Focusing on just one facet of Hezbollah is a political distinction of convenience that will limit efforts to target the group’s finances, but the EU ban is still a useful step.

By blacklisting Hezbollah’s military wing, the E.U. took a long overdue step in the right direction: making clear to Lebanon’s Party of God that it will pay a political price for continued acts of terrorism, crime and militancy. For decades, Hezbollah felt a measure of immunity given Europe’s hesitancy — until now — to hold Hezbollah accountable for its illicit conduct given its political position within the delicately balanced Lebanese political system.

But by listing only Hezbollah’s military wing, E.U. member states made a political distinction of convenience. Speaking in October 2012, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem was crystal clear on the subject: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other…Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, are in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”

“Resistance” came to European soil last year in the form of a bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing six people and injuring many more. The investigation’s findings were partly released in early February, spurring a European debate about proscribing Hezbollah in whole or in part. For years, European countries had avoided any discussion on this topic. Some cited the fact that it had not carried out terrorist attacks on the continent since the 1980s, while others highlighted the group’s social welfare activities and its status as Lebanon’s dominant political party. According to some E.U. leaders, targeting Hezbollah’s military and terrorist wings would have destabilized Lebanon even if the political wing were left untouched. European governments also worried that the peacekeeping troops they had contributed to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon would be at risk, or that Hezbollah might retaliate against European interests, and that banning the military wing might somehow preclude political contact with, and leverage over, the group’s political leadership.

While the Burgas investigation is ongoing, and some aspects of the case remain unsolved, investigators have definitively determined that Hezbollah carried out the attack based on forensics, telephone communications, and more. Some E.U. officials complained to the media that the evidence as presented to the E.U. was inconclusive, but under the evidentiary rules governing the E.U.’s designation process, the stated investigative conclusion of a country’s “competent authority” — such as that provided by Bulgarian officials — is evidence enough.

Moreover, the designation was never about just one case. Far more evidence of Hezbollah’s recent terrorist activities exists. In late March, a Cypriot court convicted Hossam Taleb Yaacoub — a Swedish Lebanese citizen arrested just days before the Burgas bombing — on charges of planning attacks against Israeli tourists. These two cases alone presented a more compelling argument for an E.U. designation than ever before.

Ironically, the designation was passed under the E.U.’s Common Position (CP) 931, which at its core is an asset forfeiture authority authorizing the freezing of a banned entity’s assets — it does not preclude contact with the group’s members, nor does it include a travel ban. (Note that the ban on contact with Hamas is a product of the Quartet’s restrictions, not the E.U. designation of Hamas as a terrorist group.)

The irony is that by limiting the designation to Hezbollah’s “military wing,” the E.U. effectively undermined its ability to seize any funds under this asset forfeiture regime. Hezbollah accounts in Europe are not likely to list as account holders “Hezbollah military wing.” Legally, any funds tied to Hezbollah but not expressly linked to its military wing remain untouchable in Europe. Money being fungible, Hezbollah will likely continue soliciting funds in Europe but under the rubric of political and social activities. Siphoning off funds for less altruistic activities such as the group’s militia or terrorist activities would not be difficult at all.

What then is the utility of blacklisting a “military wing” that is in fact indistinguishable from the rest of the organization?

Despite the formal focus on asset freezing, the most significant impact of the E.U. ban will be felt on other fronts. First, it will enable E.U. governments to initiate preemptive intelligence investigations into activities that can be tied in any way to Hezbollah’s military wing, thus acting as a strong deterrent. Germany and a handful of other European countries have already conducted such investigations, but the designation will spur many others to do so. This alone is a tremendous change that should make Europe a far less attractive place for Hezbollah operatives. In fact, the day after the ban was announced, Israeli officials announced that they would begin providing E.U. law enforcement officials with intelligence materials to help with enforcement efforts.

Second, the ban is a strong means of communicating to Hezbollah that its current activities are beyond the pale, and that continuing to engage in acts of violence will exact a high cost. Previously, the group had been permitted to mix its political and social welfare activities with its terrorist and criminal activities, giving it an effective way to raise and launder money along with a measure of immunity for its militant activities. This week’s designation makes clear to Hezbollah that international terrorism, organized crime, and militia operations will endanger its legitimacy as a political and social actor.

As for the financial angle, seizing significant amounts of Hezbollah funds is unlikely because the group’s accounts are presumably registered under its nonmilitary names. But the ban will probably still curtail Hezbollah fundraising. Some of the group’s members may be barred from traveling to Europe as member states become bolder in opening new investigations and consider issuing visa restrictions under their national authorities as a result. And Hezbollah leaders may unilaterally curtail certain activities on the continent as they assess the ban’s full impact and try to cut their losses at a time when the group is under severe international and domestic pressure.

If history is any guide, failure to respond in a meaningful way to Hezbollah terrorist plots in Europe would almost certainly have invited further Hezbollah attacks, and in fact Hezbollah does respond to strong measures. Ironically, in the past Hezbollah was severely constrained by an act of terrorism not of its own making. Al-Qaeda’s September 11 attacks proved to be a turning point. Desperate not to be caught in the crosshairs of Washington’s “war on terror,” Hezbollah appeared to consciously decide to roll back its international operations and keep its efforts to strike at Israeli targets focused and limited. In the past few years however, this has changed. The U.S. State Department’s annual terrorism report, released in May 30, noted a “marked resurgence” of Iranian sponsored terrorist activities, adding that “Iran and Hizballah’s terrorist activity has reached a tempo unseen since the 1990s.”

In addition to plots in Bulgaria and Cyprus, Hezbollah has conducted surveillance, planning, and related activities in Greece and other countries, engaged in a wide array of organized crime across the continent, and increased its military involvement in places where European interests are at stake, such as Syria. This operational uptick is cause for great concern among European law enforcement and intelligence agencies. As the U.S. State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism noted last year, “Hezbollah and Iran will both continue to maintain a heightened level of terrorist activity in operations in the near future, and we assess that Hezbollah could attack in Europe or elsewhere at any time with little or no warning.” For these reasons, the E.U. designation is critical, in terms of both sending Hezbollah a message and giving E.U. member states the legal basis and motivation to investigate.

Matthew Levitt directs The Washington Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence and is author of the forthcoming book Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God. Jonathan Prohov is a research assistant at the Institute.

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Senior Hizbullah Officials And Associates: There Is No Distinction Between Hizbullah’s Political And Military Arms

MEMRI Special Dispatch No.5374

July 24, 2013     

Following the July 22, 2013 decision by the foreign ministers of the European Union to include Hizbullah’s military arm on the E.U.’s list of terrorist organizations, Hizbullah released a communiqué condemning the decision and attacking E.U. policy.

The communiqué stated: “This is an aggressive and oppressive decision that is base neither on justifications nor on evidence. The E.U. countries’ submission to American and Zionist pressures, and their complete obedience to the White House’s dictates constitute grave behavior. For it appears that the decision was drafted by American hands in Zionist ink and all that remained for Europe to do was to sign it.”

The communiqué added: “…If the E.U. countries believe that with their submission to American extortion and their issuing such decisions they can attain status in our Arab and Islamic region, then we say to them that the U.S. has preceded them in such a decision, and got nothing for it but many losses and disappointments.”[1]

Also, in referring to the decision, senior Hizbullah officials headed by deputy secretary-general Na’im Qassem, as well as Hizbullah associates and daily newspapers that support the organization, reiterated that there is no distinction between Hizbullah’s political and military arms. These, they said, constitute a single organization, with a single leadership that makes decisions on both political activity and military and jihadist activity.

This report will review statements by senior Hizbullah officials and associates against the decision and against distinguishing between the organization’s political and military arm.

Hizbullah Deputy Secretary-General Na’im Qassem: We Have No Military Arm And Political Arm

Two months prior to the E.U.’s decision, Hizbullah deputy secretary-general Na’im Qassem argued that Hizbullah’s organizational structure does not distinguish between a political arm and a military arm, and that such a distinction was invented by Britain in 2008 when it placed Hizbullah’s military arm on its list of terrorist organizations.

In a statement at a May 24, 2013 political meeting in Lebanon held by Hizbullah, Qassem said: “In our resistance, we do not distinguish between one position and another position, because we never divided our movement in such a way that we would have different projects. Therefore, all our martyrs in every position are martyrs [who perished] by force of the obligation [to wage] jihad… We do not maintain one status for a resistance fighter and another [for someone] who is not a resistance fighter. We do not have a military arm and another [arm] that is political. These Europeans are making themselves ridiculous by imitating Britain, which drew the distinction [Hizbullah’s] military arm and political arm; [they are drawing this distinction] because they need relations with us, and they are manipulating their own peoples [by saying] that they are conducting a dialogue with [Hizbullah’s] politicians rather than with members of [its] military [arm]. They have forgotten that for us, every child is both a military man and politician.

“We will not stand and look on from the sidelines at how the international community and the region, on all sides, are conspiring against the resistance enterprise… We will use all options at our disposal at the appropriate place and time in order to struggle against those who strive to strike the resistance directly or indirectly. We will never participate in the measures for recognizing Israel and expanding its influence and control in our region…”[2]

Hizbullah Deputy Secretary-General Na’im Qassem (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, April 15, 2009).

This is not the first time that Qassem stated that Hizbullah does not have separate political and military arms, and that all its capabilities serve the resistance; he has made such arguments numerous times in previous years. At an October 6, 2012 student commencement ceremony, he said: “In Lebanon there is one party that is called Hizbullah. We do not have a military arm and a political arm. We do not have [a political party that is called] Hizbullah [and at the same time] a resistance party. Hizbullah is a political party; it is a resistance party and the party of action on behalf of Allah and in the service of the people. In short, this is Hizbullah.

“Therefore, all these distinctions, that some people are attempting to disseminate, are something that we reject; they do not exist. All the senior officials and activists, and the diverse capabilities that we in Hizbullah possess, are at the service of the resistance. We have no priority save for resistance – from the organization’s leadership till the very last of its fighters…”[3]

In an interview with Global Viewpoint in April 2009, that was republished a few days later by the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Qassem said: “Britain has even tried to justify establishing relations with Hizbullah by distinguishing between two different sections that don’t actually exist because the party is by nature unified. Hizbullah has a single leadership as represented in the Shura (the organization’s council) and at its head, the secretary general [Hassan Nasrallah]. All political, social and jihadi work is tied to the decisions of this leadership. The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihadi actions in the struggle against Israel. There is one decision that has a mechanism and structure for implementation. That is how Hezbollah is even if other parties need to picture it otherwise in order to justify their actions…”[4]

Other Hizbullah Officials And Associates: No Such Distinction Can Be Made

Former MP from Hizbullah Ismail Sukariyya said: “The military issue is basic to Hizbullah. [Hizbullah] has an ideological objective that is politically belligerent, and therefore on the basis [of this fact] it is impossible to separate the political [arm] from the military one.”[5]

Several hours before the E.U. announced its decision, Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, of the Shi’ite Amal faction, who is a close associate and supporter of Hizbullah, said, “It is not possible to separate Hizbullah’s political arm and military arm.”[6]

The Lebanese daily Al-Safir, which is known for its support of the March 8 Forces and Hizbullah, pointed to an internal contradiction in the E.U. decision. In a July 23 report, it stated: “The decision contradicts itself. On the one hand, the Europeans have conferred the title of terrorist on military Hizbullah, and on the other hand they have left open the channels of communication with political Hizbullah…”[7]

Cartoon from Iran’s Fars News agency: Israel and the U.S. manipulate both the E.U., which terms Hizbullah terrorist, and the jihadists in Syria (Fars, Iran, July 23, 2013).

Lebanese Daily Al-Akhbar: The Military Arm And The Political Arm Of Hizbullah Are Intertwined

The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, published reports and articles claiming that the E.U.’s decision had sparked derision in Hizbullah, because no distinction can be made between the political and military arms because they are intertwined.

One article noted: “The E.U. decision aroused derision within [the Lebanese] resistance. Jokes about this are flooding the social networks, and the men of the resistance have transformed [this decision] into an object of mockery… How could the E.U. distinguish between the military [arm] and the political [arm]? The men of the resistance claim that we are dealing with a bid’ah [unacceptable innovation] and nothing more.”[8]

The Sons Of Hizbullah Ministers And MPs Are Fighting For Assad In Syria

Nicolas Nassif, a regular contributor to Al-Akhbar, wrote: “In a situational assessment conducted by [Hizbullah] officials hours after the decision, the following details were discussed: The [E.U.’s] distinction between the military arm and the political arm of Hizbullah is merely an illusion with respect to a party whose military arm brought it prestige and served as the central pillar of its role and presence – [and this] is due to its focus on resistance and bearing arms…

“[The political arm and the military arm] are inseparable twins. The truth is that two months ago, Hizbullah ministers and MPs sent their sons to the [Syrian city] of Al-Qusayr in order to participate in the war alongside the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad against his armed opponents… This is an indication that removes any ambiguity regarding the connection between the two [arms of Hizbullah] that are linked…”[9]

Civilian Residents Of South Lebanon Participate In Hizbullah Fighting

On July 24, 2013, Al-Akhbar reported that “residents of the South Lebanon villages bordering on occupied Palestine do not comprehend… the distinction between Hizbullah and its military arm, or how the Europeans distinguish between the two, and according to what criteria [they did so]. As far as they know, anyone who carries out military activity or assists Hizbullah’s military activity is included in this decision. That is, [the residents of South Lebanon] are all being targeted…

“Most [residents of the South] consider themselves an inseparable part of the [military] resistance arm of Hizbullah, particularly after the July 2006 war ‘when,’ according to one of them, ”Imad Mughniyeh decided to expand the circle of resistance so it would include more residents [of the South]…

“Citizen Hassan Yassin, from Majdal Selem [in South Lebanon] wonders.: ‘… Don’t the E.U.’s [foreign] ministers know that most of the people of the south participate in the wars against Israel, and that the women [from the town] of ‘Aita Al-Shaab, for example, participated by conveying weapons to the Hizbullah fighters?…

“According to one farmer, in this region ‘there is no distinction between the civilian and the soldier, or between a Hizbullah member who clandestinely carries weapons in the field of the struggle and a farmer who plants tobacco… It is no secret that everyone knows how to use weapons, and is prepared for war. The 2006 war is testimony that young students vanquished the most hostile army in the region.’

“Muhammad, a teacher in one of the schools of Bint Jbeil, told how dozens of his students fought in June 2006, and 13 of them died as martyrs… Other Bint Jbeil and Marj’ayoun residents said similar things, and [according to them] know nothing about anything called ‘Hizbullah’s military arm’:  ‘We hear about an apparatus that is called the resistance, but we cannot know its real operatives… Any one of us can be among the operatives; no one here has a military title, except after he’s been killed. So we don’t distinguish between a military man and a civilian, except posthumously…

“[A south Lebanon citizen named] Kifah says… ‘In a battle [during the 2006 war] in the olive grove near the Bint Jbeil vocational school, the school’s students, together with some of their teachers, killed dozens of Israeli soldiers. None of the residents had known that these students were resistance fighters…'[10]


[1] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 23, 2013.

[2] Na’imkassem.net, May 24, 2013.

[3] Na’imkassem.net, October 6, 2012.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat  (London), April 15, 2009; Digitalnpq.org, April 13, 2009.

[5]  Elaph.com, July 23, 2013.

[6] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), July 22, 2013.

[7] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 23, 2013.

[8] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 23, 2013.

[9] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 23, 2013.

[10] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 24, 2013.

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