End this dangerous distinction

By Raheem Kassam, September 24, 2012
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In March 2012, at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, Benjamin Netanyahu asked, of Iran's nuclear programme: "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then what is it?"

This speech, which garnered much international attention and even a YouTube remix, largely set the stage for the rest of this year's debate on Iran's nuclear programme and the resultant responses from the international community.

But if Iran is a nuclear duck, then Hizbollah is the terrorist elephant in the room, with few in Europe assuming the responsibility of dealing effectively with the organisation.

It comes as a surprise to many when I mention that, while Canada, America and the Netherlands have all proscribed Hizbollah as a terrorist organisation in its entirety, the UK and European Union still acknowledge a distinction between Hizbollah's "political" and "military" wings. This is not a delineation that Hizbollah itself makes, but one that the EU and UK give it of their own accord.

For an organisation that has claimed responsibility for dozens of atrocities since its formation in 1982, and which has recently stated that its rockets would turn "the lives of hundreds of thousands of Zionists to real hell", to be afforded a legitimate "political" wing, is frankly a scandal.

Banning Hizbollah proper across Europe is no symbolic gesture, either. Hasan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of the group, has himself acknowledged that it would be an effective death knell if the EU were to adopt a stricter outlook. A blanket European ban "would dry up sources of finance… end moral, political and material support, stifle voices," says Nasrallah. So it is no wonder that the Dutch Foreign Minister, Uri Rosenthal, last week urged the EU to brand Hizbollah a terrorist organisation.

Germany currently houses more than 900 members or supporters of Hizbollah, according to internal intelligence. Europe is critical for fundraising for the Lebanese-based group.

While Foreign Secretary William Hague has also recently spoken out on the issue, it was to the discredit of the British government that he failed to address the arbitrary distinction, as he claimed that the EU should seek to ban Hizbollah's "military wing". As British Navy ships converge alongside the US military around the Strait of Hormuz, questions must be asked as to why the EU is not taking more steps to guard against a Hizbollah response to any Israeli action against Iran's nuclear programme.

Britain and the EU's pusillanimity on the issue stems from the idea that, as a political actor, Hizbollah is too influential to openly and comprehensively reject. The irony is that the UK and the EU continue to lend Hizbollah political legitimacy by creating a demarcation between its terrorist activities and its "social work". While this is a tactic that has been employed to keep dialogue open across Europe, the recent bombing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, an attack attributed to Hizbollah by Israel, should come as a stark warning that despite Europe's misguided tolerance for Hizbollah, the latter has no inclination of letting up its attacks.

It has attacked targets outside of the Middle East on various occasions, including the 1984 bombing of a restaurant in Torrejon, Spain and the 1992 suicide bombing in Buenos Aires. More recently, it seems that Hizbollah's sponsors are supporting work that targets the interests of their enemies in the Far East, Europe and in India.

Iran has long supported Hizbollah in its attempt to dominate and destabilise adversaries in the region. It now appears that the nuclear duck is turning its elephant in the room towards new targets outside the Middle East.

It is unacceptable for Europe and the UK to maintain their wilful ignorance on this issue. The Henry Jackson Society is currently undertaking a campaign to educate legislators across the continent, and we urge you to join us in petitioning the British government and the EU to bring an end to this unconscionable status quo.

Raheem Kassam is director of communications for The Henry Jackson Society

Last updated: 11:45am, September 24 2012