Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The EU's Hizballah delusion

Following a comprehensive investigation, Bulgaria's security services have concluded that the Lebanese Hizballah was responsible for bombing an Israeli tour bus in July 2012. Pressure is now growing on the EU to classify Hizballah as a terrorist organization. At present, only the group's military wing is prohibited from operating in the EU.  

One might assume that this is a relatively simple issue- that evidence should lead policy. That Hizballah's political masters cannot be disconnected from their military forces. However, as Tuesday's New York Times pointed out, major European states including France and Germany remain reluctant to get tougher on the group. 

Europeans like to argue that the US policy towards the Middle East is a product of utter naivete and favoritism towards Israel. But for me, the EU's current Hizballah policy represents the height of moral and strategic deficiency.

For a start, far too many Europeans have an absurdly idealized conception of what Hizballah is and what the organization stands for. Let me give you a personal example. In the immediate aftermath of the July 2012 attack, I blogged about why I believed the bombing was part of a larger strategy of covert action on the part of Hizballah and Iran. It would now appear that my analysis has been vindicated. Back in July though, many Europeans accused me of being a mindless drone for Israeli propaganda. This criticism included strong words from a former classmate from my Middle East Politics masters program. Sadly, when it comes to Hizballah, for many politically engaged Europeans, objective analysis is absent. In large part, this discourse failure stems from the pervasive anti-Israeli sentiment which exists in Europe. A belief that Israel is a illegitimate state and that its security actions are little more than a shadow strategy of ethnic cleansing. Hizballah takes full advantage of this prejudice. Presenting themselves as  liberation actors in the (sadly) still fashionable mould of Che Guevara, Hizballah's leaders have successfully blurred their group into the broader narrative of European populist anger over Israeli/US foreign policy in the Middle East. Every time that an anti-Israeli protest takes place in European cities, Hizballah flags are on proud display. Now, aside from the fact that describing Hizballah as a liberation movement is like saying that Mao was a humanitarian, there's a broader dysfunction to the EU's emotional delusion. It dilutes effective academic discussions of complex issues and it pollutes EU policy interactions with Hizballah. Rather than recognizing that the group retains its power through a mix of democratic interactions and terrorism (domestic as well as foreign), European politicians prepare to wear rose tinted glasses. They allow Hizballah's considerable EU fundraising efforts to flourish. And in doing so, they facilitate Hizballah's aggression in Lebanon and as we see in Syria, venomous brutality abroad

However, EU policy towards Hizballah doesn't just fail on the moral count. There's also its implicit strategic weakness. Consider this quote: “There’s the overall fear if we’re too noisy about this, Hezbollah might strike again, and it might not be Israeli tourists this time.” Those words come from the editor of one of Germany's top foreign policy magazines. And they represent the pervasive power of appeasement at the heart of the EU's counter-terrorism policy. Prior to 9/11, EU states excused Al Qa'ida operatives in their midst (see Germany). Since 9/11, while EU-US counter-terrorism co-operation has improved, tensions have also developed. Why these tensions? Because Europe continues to entertain the delusion that terrorism is criminal activity. It isn't.  Terrorism is political. By any consideration of Clausewitizian doctrine, terrorism is the continuation of politics by other means. It requires a comprehensive response.
At the moment in Europe at least, Hizballah is smiling.

Relevant update.

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