Saturday

6th Mar 2021

Opinion

Time for EU to get real on Hezbollah

  • Poster of Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon (Photo: aldask)

The UN Security Council's renewal of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) mandate on August 28 has presented an urgent opportunity to re-examine Europe's legacy in the region and, more importantly, the steps that are needed today to bring real stability to Lebanon.

Founded in 1978 to oversee Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, over 40 years later Unifil remains on the ground, fulfilling the same role, as a peacekeeper and monitoring hostilities.

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However, neither the EU's foreign policy, nor the Unifil mandate, are in line with the current state of affairs, as Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terrorist group which presents itself as a political party, continues to exploit Lebanon for its own nefarious purposes and insert itself into the political sphere.

According to Western intelligence agencies, Iran funds Hezbollah to the tune of $200m to $300m [€168-€252] per year in cash outlays alone, and provides an arsenal of weapons and logistical services valued at more than $700m.

The terrorist organisation has ravaged the region politically, economically, and violently for decades.

The political impact of the Shiite militia is devastating to Lebanon.

Since 1992, Hezbollah has woven itself into the political fabric of the country and held an inflated influence in the elected government.

Government mismanagement and years of slow growth have saddled Lebanon with one of the world's highest public debt burdens, an economic situation that is exacerbated by the recent explosion in Beirut.

The importance of strengthening Unifil must not be underestimated to truly tackle the destruction and instability caused by the militia.

Hezbollah has flagrantly violated the UN mandate, as it continues arms smuggling via Syria with Iran and digging tunnels along the Israeli border.

A recent report from the UN Security Council itself has found that Unifil was consistently not granted access to investigate sites of interest to its operations, has been unable to crack down on arms smuggling and has faced backlash from local Hezbollah sympathisers.

EU member states like Ireland, Germany, and Poland which contribute soldiers to Unifil, along with UN Security Council members, need to reevaluate the current role the force plays in the region.

By strengthening the Unifil mandate, in particular by ensuring that the mission can physically or electronically inspect and effectively monitor sites where potential violations of the Security Council resolution 1706 (2006) are suspected, Unifil can be an effective instrument helping to push back the influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

It is also vital for individual EU states to take their own concrete action against the Hezbollah terrorists.

While some European nations, most recently Germany, have recognised the full extent of its reign of terror and banned Hezbollah in its entirety, the official EU position still clings to the erroneous assumption that a true distinction between the political and military wings of the group can be made.

Artificial distinction

Such a distinction is rejected even by Hezbollah's own leadership.

Hezbollah does not distinguish between wings and each part of the organisation, the social, political and military structures are integral parts of the terror group and all enable its functioning.

Introducing artificial distinctions is not an effective approach.

Should Hezbollah be allowed to continue to grow, it is feared Lebanon could eventually become something long coveted by Iran - a threat to Western values and a forward base for Iran on the Mediterranean.

It is pivotal that the EU uses its voice to support Lebanon and work against the devastation brought by Hezbollah by declaring the organisation in all its entities a terrorist group, banning its presence on European soil outright.

Europe must coordinate its security approach, to follow the progressive lead of Germany, and to finally designate Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.

Evidentially, neither the EU's' approach to Hezbollah nor the current Unifil mandate are fit for purpose.

This combination of imperfect foreign policy has allowed the terrorist militia to become an almost untouchable force in Lebanon

It is time for European countries to recognise Hezbollah for the terror group it truly is and for the UN Security Council to strengthen the mandate of Unifil to allow the soldiers to effectively monitor suspect sites.

Only then can Europe continue its legacy of bringing hope and stability to the next generation of Lebanese people.

Author bio

Radek Sikorski is a Polish MEP and former foreign affairs minister of Poland. Lucinda Creighton is a former Irish foreign minister. Hans-Jakob Schindler is director of the Counter Extremism Project, an international non-profit organisation, and a former UN coordinator on monitoring extremist Islamist groups Isil (Da’esh) and al-Qaeda and the Taliban militia in Afghanistan.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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