Opinion: Op-Eds

European Union should try actually banning Hezbollah

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Photo - In this photo taken Tuesday, July 26, 2011, Hezbollah supporters wave the party's flags and carry pictures of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during a rally marking the fifth anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut's southern suburb, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
In this photo taken Tuesday, July 26, 2011, Hezbollah supporters wave the party's flags and carry pictures of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during a rally marking the fifth anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut's southern suburb, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
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After over 10 years of intense debate, the Europe Union has finally agreed to include Hezbollah in its list of terrorist organizations. This came about after the Bulgarian authorities revealed that Hezbollah was behind the Burgas bus bombing in July 2012 that killed six and injured 32.

Also the fact that Hezbollah has been very active in the Syrian conflict alongside Bashar al Assad's army put additional pressure on the EU to act.

While this is a very impressive achievement - indeed having 28 countries agree unanimously on associating the "Tword" (Terrorism) with Hezbollah - it may turn out to be just a symbolical action. U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, congratulating the EU for the ban, actually knows that this will not change anything for Hezbollah. In fact, the EU has only banned the military wing of Hezbollah rather than the whole organization.

While some terror groups differentiate their military wing from their political one by having two different names, Hezbollah does not even bother. They are really two sides of the same coin. And that is why Hezbollah itself does not make this distinction. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's supreme leader, is as much the "commander in Chief" as the "President."

It is telling that the distinction is made by some European countries: so for example back in May 2004, the French ambassador to the United States, Jean-David Levitte declared that Hezbollah served mostly as a "social" organization. France insisted that Hezbollah is a political party and that declaring it a terrorist organization could destabilize Lebanon.

In practical terms, what will this ban change for Hezbollah in Europe? Virtually nothing. The fundraising will go on unabated because Hezbollah could always hide behind its political wing. So for instance in Berlin's Neukoeln district where sometimes the green Hezbollah flag is flying outside homes, people within the Shia community could still give money to Hezbollah with no fear of consequences.

In the end, they could always say: "But I gave money to Hezbollah's political wing, not to the military one". How can anyone counter that?

With this half-baked decision, the EU may have followed the wrong path and got itself in a lose-lose situation. It did not really clamp down on Hezbollah and at the same time it may have angered the Shia terror group and some within the Lebanese political class. It is not far-fetched to think that, at this point, Hezbollah could retaliate by attacking UNIFIL soldiers in Southern Lebanon or target European interests around the world.

So in the end, Hezbollah may have the last laugh because nothing will really change for them in Europe and it could make the point that the EU is against the Shia community as a whole. Also when France was against the ban, Gerard Araud, current French Ambassador to the United Nations, said that putting Hezbollah on the terrorism list would be seen by some in the Arab world as "an American-Zionist plot". And France "does not want to give them that pleasure."

The European Union may actually just have done that for naught.

Olivier Guitta is director of research at the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign affairs think tank in London.

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