“It is no longer tenable to distinguish between the military and political wings of [Hezbollah],” a British government statement read. British Home Secretary Sajid Javid has finally woken up to this truth and “proscribed” Hezbollah “in its entirety” as a terrorist organisation.
The fact is that this discovery by the UK government came too late because Hezbollah has been repeating for ages, especially via Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem, that there is no difference between the military wing and the political wing inside Hezbollah and that “the party is unified by its very nature.”
The notion of Hezbollah’s two wings is a European diplomacy invention to give with the left hand what it will withdraw with the right. If the 2012 Burgas bombing in Bulgaria established a European consensus base against Hezbollah’s military wing in 2012, the other European consensus not to characterise Hezbollah’s political wing as terrorist was a sign of naivety and a source of ridicule in the Middle East, particularly inside Hezbollah itself.
As incredible as it may sound, the sophisticated European diplomacy considers that the operations carried out by Hezbollah, which Europe describes as terrorist acts, are an abomination committed by a military group totally disconnected from any political decision coming from the party’s leadership.
Thus, the kidnapping of Westerners in Beirut, the bomb explosion in Buenos Aires and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s claim that Hezbollah elements were involved in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri or even the bombing in Bulgaria were all carried out independently of any consultations with the political body of the party.
Not only that, but when Hezbollah declares openly that its two wings are one and the same, European diplomats rush to correct for the party its own information by trying to convince it that it has a military wing that is evil and terrorist and a gentle political wing interested only in working for the public good.
Europe has dealt with Hezbollah as if its existence were a matter of fact and of force. After the deadly attacks of 1983, the Americans and the French gathered their dead and wounded and left Beirut. It was rumoured that Hezbollah was behind the attacks on their barracks in Beirut but they did nothing.
When Europeans were abducted in Beirut, Europe dealt with the events as if they were training exercises in foreign diplomacy and international relations, by exercising understanding, negotiations or even paying monetary and political ransoms. After each deal, French, German and British diplomats, and those from other EU countries, meet with political figures from Hezbollah as if nothing had happened.
The British decision draws attention to a development outside the debate in the United Kingdom. It was at this precise time that London, which is preoccupied with the Brexit file and where major local political developments are brewing, realised that Hezbollah was a terrorist organisation and therefore placed it in the same bag as terrorist organisations active in Mali and in Burkina Faso.
This is the same London that, along with the rest of the Western world, has focused on terrorism practiced by Sunni groups but failed to see the same in Iran’s jihadist groups in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the decision, Hezbollah ended up in the company of Sunni terrorist groups and thus Britain and Europe have ended an era of impunity and exception that Hezbollah had enjoyed in the corridors of British and European diplomacy.
The rest of Europe has yet to follow Britain’s example. French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris can still see clearly the line between the military wing and the political wing of Hezbollah and that France sees the party’s military militia as terrorist but appreciates the party’s politics as it remains open to dialogue. That seems also to be the position of the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.
London, however, threw a stone into the stagnate still waters that characterise Europe’s old-fashioned protocol with Hezbollah.
Europe is not going to stay united about this matter, given that one of its major members, even as it works on leaving the union, considers Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. After all, Britain remains a key reference in matters of security and European security in particular.
Granted that the intimate relationship between London and Washington dictated to the British to look at Hezbollah with American eyes and the United States is not alone in placing Hezbollah on its black list. Eleven other countries and political entities, including the Arab League, have done so. Britain is not the only European country that is lovey-dovey with the United States and others might soon follow suit.
Britain has discovered that Hezbollah, a political, ideological, military and financial ally of Iran, is a terrorist organisation, exactly as Washington has claimed. Britain, however, does not see Iran, which the United States has labelled as a sponsor of terrorism, as a terrorist state.
Herein lies a structural contradiction in Javid’s and the British government’s decision. The branch is seen as evil but the root tree is seen as a full-fledged state worthy of British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s visit last November.
What is worse is that Iran itself has not kicked up a storm in reaction to London’s decision. As long as it remains excluded, let the branches take the fall.
London, however, doesn’t stop there and offers more Machiavellianism than the word diplomacy can bear. Hunt explained that the decision to place Hezbollah (and its political wing in particular) on the terrorist lists will not affect his country’s plans to support Lebanon and its government.
We do not see how London will deal with the “Hezbollah government,” by some Lebanese descriptions. We do not know how the British government will deal with a Lebanese government that includes ministers from a terrorist party, by London’s own descriptions.
Lebanese officialdom did not see a big problem in this matter. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said it was Britain’s concern, not Lebanon’s, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said the decision would not affect Lebanese-British relations.
The world is changing and Lebanon does not want to believe it. Perhaps there is in this position a right perspective based on disappointing international precedents.
Mohamed Kawas is a Lebanese writer.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.