On Monday at the annual meeting of the European Union’s 28 foreign ministers, the assembly came to a unanimous agreement to officially recognize Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization.
The ministers hope that this will limit the organization’s capacity to travel, operate, and raise funds within the EU, and in the world in general, says Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans.
Moreover, it presents the West as more of a united front in terms of global policy than it has seemed in the past. The United States has long recognized the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and has been working to undermine its influence in the region due to its ties to Iran, its support of Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, and its militant fight against Israel. Monday’s E.U. edict seems to pull Europe closer in line to American foreign policy, which may increase the efficacy of both administrations’ blacklisting.
However, others worry that lending credence to anti-Hezbollah sentiment in Lebanon, regardless of Hezbollah’s terrorist activity, may actually lead to an increase in Sunni radicalism and in violence in the region, according to Julie E. Taylor of the RAND Corporation. Hezbollah is a Shi’a organization, with roots of support in Iran, and has slowly grown to dominate Lebanese politics, despite the Shi’a not officially carrying a very important position in Lebanon’s confessionalist consociationalist governmental system.
Taylor worries that the declaration of a branch of one of Lebanon’s major political parties as a terrorist organization may cause more sectarian violence as Sunni Muslims feel legitimized in taking violent actions against Hezbollah and Lebanon’s Shi’a. She cites the incident in Sidon this month where a Salafi cleric named Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir engaged in a shootout with the Lebanese military, and warns that these kinds of incidents might increase with the new E.U. edict.
In addition, because Hezbollah is now so deeply an entrenched part of the Lebanese political system, some analysts worry that the Lebanese people will view the blacklisting as an indictment against the country as a whole. British foreign secretary William Hague insists, “Designation will do nothing to affect the E.U’.s and the U.K.’s strong relationship with, and support for, Lebanon.” However, BBC reporter Jim Muir found in his interviews with residents of Beirut that many in Lebanon see Hezbollah as “everything to us… not a terrorist organization.”
Like Muir, Atlantic monthly journalist Thanssis Cambanis also expresses concern that this edict will cut off communication with a vital part of Lebanese politics, and harm E.U.-Lebanese relations, especially considering the E.U. has been acting as a regional broker with Hezbollah because of the U.S.’s reluctance to deal with the organization.
Whether or not these negative consequences outlined in the BBC, Foreign Policy, and the Atlantic come to light remains to be seen, but because Lebanon is experiencing so much spillover from the Syrian civil war, and the situation in the region as a whole is becoming more violent and volatile, a potential explosion in violence caused by this edict may occur sooner rather than later.
By Laura Gates
Source: The Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, BBC, The Atlantic