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Hezbollah's Military and Politics: Any Difference?

By Richard Horowitz

Is Hezbollah a social welfare organization with a military wing, or a terrorist organization that takes care of the social welfare of its people?

The European Union’s recent decision to include Hezbollah’s military wing on its terrorist list raises questions regarding the nature of a terrorist organization and international politics. Even if one agrees with the dichotomy between a military and political wing, the fact that the EU did not blacklist Hezbollah’s military wing until July 2013 itself is telling; Bahrain, the first Arab country to blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, did so in April 2013.

Consider that the issue of the EU not blacklisting Hezbollah is not new and that Hezbollah itself has stated that it does not consider itself a bifurcated organization.  As Hezbollah's Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem said in 2012: “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.”  Other senior Hezbollah officials rejected the division and Saudi Arabian newspapers criticized the EU for making this distinction. Last month Arab media reported that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ministers met in Riyadh to discuss sanctions against Hezbollah for its involvement in Syria, making no distinction between a military and political wing.

On July 28, 2006, 215 members of Congress co-signed a letter to Javier Solana, the EU’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, reminding him that the US, Canada, and Australia have classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The letter recalled that on March 10, 2005, the EU Parliament “voted overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution that affirmed Hezbollah’s involvement in terror” and that four days later the House of Representatives “passed a resolution urging the European Union to add Hezbollah to its terrorism list.” Moreover, the letter stated that its co-signers “were dismayed” by Commissioner Solana’s July 19 assertion “that the EU lacked ‘sufficient data’ to add Hezbollah to its terrorist list.”

Congressional hearings on Hezbollah’s global capability contain much information on the group’s capacities ( i.e., “Hezbollah’s Global Reach” and “Hezbollah’s Strategic Shift: A Global Terrorist Threat”). A Congressional hearing held on June 20, 2007 entitled “Adding Hezbollah to the EU Terror List” gave a rather chilling estimation: “As the chairman noted, German intelligence officials estimate roughly 900 Hezbollah members live in Germany alone, and Hezbollah has stretched its tentacles beyond into Europe, including planting support cells in Belgium, Bosnia, Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine, according to press reports." Of note, the preliminary findings of the House Homeland Security Committee of March 21, 2012 entitled “Iran, Hezbollah and the Threat to the Homeland,” stated that Hezbollah likely has several hundred operatives in the U.S.

One can hardly conceive that an American or European public service announcement for an organization whose mission is to feed hungry children would state that 95 percent of money it raises goes to feed hungry children while 5 percent is used to kill those responsible for the hunger.  What then, is the justification to distinguish between a military and political wing of a non-state actor and why did the EU not take action until 2013?

An opinion of an American court in 1997 provides an insight that would justify the bifurcation:

The PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] is an international organization with ties to Palestine, and which the district court concluded is engaged in a wide range of lawful activities, including the provision of "education, day care, health care, and social security, as well as cultural activities, publications, and political organizing." The government avers that the PFLP is an international terrorist and communist organization, but does not dispute the district court's finding that the organization conducts lawful activities.

The question remains: is the PFLP a social welfare organization with a military wing or a terrorist organization that takes care of the social welfare of its people?  Like the EU blacklisting Hezbollah, this sort of question is not new, its nature can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, essence versus characteristics. Is terrorism the essence of Hezbollah or one of its characteristics?

Clearly the EU’s decision as to if, when, and how to put Hezbollah on its terrorist list is a political one, the details of which have not all yet been made public. For those in favor, distinguishing between a military and political wing contains within it an intellectual justification for a predetermined policy. 

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Richard Horowitz is an attorney and former IDF officer.  He has lectured on terrorism and related topics in eighteen countries.

[Photo courtesy of AP]

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