Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

The Goliaths and Hizbullah

Burgas, or it boils down to Syria and Iran? Gamal Nkrumah assesses the EU’s decision to partially declare Hizbullah terrorist

Al-Ahram Weekly

Readers of a certain age may remember the Addams Family. The Europeans, to my mind, on Monday proved to be a satirical albeit contemptible ersatz of the Addamses, oblivious to the fact that others find them bizarre. In a compromise move designed to avoid labelling the Lebanon-based Hizbullah paramilitary movement a “terror organisation”, the European Union voted Monday to designate its “military wing” on the list of “terrorist” entities. Is there actually a distinction between the military wing and the political wing of Hizbullah? Hogwash! Balderdash!

Hizbullah is not the Irish Republican Army, as confused British politicians would have us believe. And Hizbullah has no Sinn Fein. And, certainly Hassan Nasrallah is no Gerry Adams.

The EU move would ostensibly make it easier for European law-enforcement agencies to secure co-operation of counterparts in other EU states. Britain, which has listed Hizbullah’s military wing as a terrorist organisation since 2008, secured the support of Germany and France several months ago. The only EU member state to list the political wing a terrorist organisation is the Netherlands. Britain and the Netherlands have long pressed their EU peers to impose sanctions on Hizbullah. “It is good that the EU has decided to call Hizbullah what it is: a terrorist organisation,” Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans declared Monday.

The irony is that Bulgaria, the key country concerned, was the least convinced of the soundness of the EU decision. The bombing of a tourist bus in the Black Sea resort of Burgas, Bulgaria, on 18 July 2012 that killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian is still under investigation and successive Bulgarian governments have said the evidence of Hizbullah involvement is not conclusive.

It is the voice of the British, not that of Bulgarians, that gives the distinctive tone to the EU decision. The EU’s adjudication was arrived at exactly after a months-long campaign by the British government and comes almost exactly a year after the Bulgaria attack widely attributed to Hizbullah. A number of EU member states already included Hizbullah on their national blacklists.

Be that as it may, the council of 28 EU foreign ministers could not reach a unanimous decision on the issue, although a majority was eventually reached, egged on by the Big Three — the Goliaths: Britain, France and Germany. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah were unperturbed.

The Israelis, in sharp contrast, were elated. They delighted in the EU decision. In typically eccentric Addamses fashion, Israeli President Shimon Peres promptly praised the EU’s partial ban of Hizbullah. “This is a necessary, wise step that is aimed at preventing the spread of terrorism that is not just limited to the Middle East, but does damage [to Hizbullah] in every corner of the earth, including European soil,” Peres pontificated.

Israeli hardliners far from reticent. “The Europeans contented themselves with going only half way and reaching a partial and unsatisfactory decision. As is their habit,” said hawkish former Israeli foreign minister and known extremist Avigdor Lieberman.

Dovish Israeli politicians were less ardent. “Finally, after years of deliberations, the claim that Hizbullah is a legitimate political party has rightfully failed. Now it is clear to the entire world that Hizbullah is a terrorist organisation,” applauded Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister.

But Burgas was just a pretext to blacklist Hizbullah. It is widely believed that Hizbullah’s determination to intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the regime of Al-Assad convinced many Europeans previously opposed a ban to accept the Goliaths’ dictates.

“It is important for us to show that we are united and strong in facing terrorism,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague harangued. Hague hailed the decision, and stated he did not believe it would destabilise Lebanon, where simmering tensions between pro and anti-Al-Assad ideological and confessional factions have reached boiling point.

In a separate, but related development, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states signalled last week that they intended to blacklist Hizbullah as a “terrorist” organisation. Unlike the EU, they did not make a distinction between the political and military wing of Hizbullah. The EU may have disappointed GCC military wonks hoping for a blow-by-blow account of every Syrian skirmish.

Peace in Syria is distant but not inconceivable. The EU Goliaths desperately try to load up the political plates of their Sunni Muslim allies, exacerbating the Sunni-Shia regional divide. The GCC has been in the forefront of financing and providing logistical and political support to the armed opposition groups battling to topple the Syrian regime. The Shia Islamic Republic of Iran props up both Hizbullah and Al-Assad.

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