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Transatlantic Divergence in the MENA Region? The Question of Hezbollah

Transatlantic Divergence in the MENA Region? The Question of Hezbollah

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This policy brief argues that the political influence of Hezbollah is increasing at a time when transatlantic partners are still torn between different strategies.
This policy brief argues that the political influence of Hezbollah is increasing at a time when transatlantic partners are still torn between different strategies.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Oct 14, 2013
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11/20/2013

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Summary:
Although the EU’sdesignation of Hezbollah’s“military wing” as a terroristorganization represents a correc-tive convergence of EU andU.S. perceptions, transatlanticcooperation continues to sufferfrom divided approaches to theLebanese group. This paper
argues that the political inu
-ence of Hezbollah and damagesto Lebanese and Middle Eaststability are increasing at a timewhen transatlantic partnersare still torn between a “hard”strategy of containment and a“soft” strategy of conditionality.A common understanding of thegeopolitical agenda of Hezbollahand its links with the IslamicRepublic of Iran could consti-
tute a frst step in the defnition
of a coordinated transatlanticapproach to this movement.
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brie 
 Transatlantic Divergence in the MENARegion? The Question of Hezbollah
by Hassan Mneimneh
German Marshall Fund o theUnited States-Paris71 Boulevard Raspail75006 Paris: +33 1 47 23 47 18E:inoparis@gmus.org
October 2013
Te designation by the EU o theLebanese Hezbollah’s “military wing”as a terrorist organization representsa corrective convergence o Europeanand U.S. policies towards this militantormation, while at the same time alsorevealing the extent o the remainingdivergence. Far rom incidental, thedierence in approach results romthe varied weighing o criteria in theassessments rom each, but also o a deliberate approach by Hezbollahitsel to cultivate the distinct points o  view in order to reduce the impact o a harmonious approach on its activi-ties.Te Iranian origins o Hezbollah arenot in dispute. Te Lebanese “Party o God” represented, in the 1980s, theconsolidation o Iranian assets andallies in Lebanon to create a reliable,ideologically coherent, and operation-ally eective tool in the new contexto an expanded Israeli presence inLebanon, out o which the PalestineLiberation Organization had beenexpelled. Te anti-Western stancesand actions o Hezbollah — reiyingand ampliying the Iranian positions— were made evident in the coordi-nated suicide attacks on the U.S. andFrench contingents o the multina-tional peacekeeping orce in Beirutin 1984, as well as in the long plighto Western hostages that were heldin captivity by Hezbollah operativesunder Iranian tutelage.It is also evident that in post-civil warLebanon, the public ace o Hezbollahunderwent two main transormationsin the 1990s. 1) Hezbollah succeededin monopolizing the resistanceto Israeli occupation o southernLebanon by intimidating or elimi-nating other actions involved in anti-Israeli action; and 2) retreated romseeking a pro-Iranian Islamic order inLebanon, and gradually incorporateditsel into the Lebanese political andelectoral process.Te divergence in evaluatingHezbollah and its potential orrenewed anti-Western action origi-nates in the assessment o thesetransormations. Do they representa strategic evolution that reectsthe success o the Lebanese core o Hezbollah — the Shia community,which is not substantially dierentrom the rest o Lebanese society in itscosmopolitan and mercantilist orien-tations — in diluting the initial radicalIranian input? Or were they tacticaladaptations designed to conound andultimately alter the status quo?Te U.S. perspective was shaped by three continuous elements: 1) Hezbol-lah’s violent track record in the 1980s,urther conrmed in the 1990s, in
 
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brief 
2
Many European capitals, informedby the assurances of trustedinterlocutors in Lebanon, werewilling to consider Hezbollah’sforay into international terrorismin the 1990s as an extension of 
its conict with Israel.
carrying out lethal terrorist attacks in Latin America andthe Persian Gul; 2) its declared enmity to the UnitedStates, and, echoing its Iranian sponsors, its persistentcharacterization o the U.S. presence in the Middle East asmalevolent; and, last but not least, 3) its unchecked bellig-erence toward Israel, despite its May 2000 withdrawal romLebanon, through openly indiscriminate direct actions,and through the support o Palestinian actions engagedin similar eorts. Washington has thus been consistentin seeking to contain and counter actual or potentialHezbollah activities in the United States, through a variety o legislative, judicial, and nancial tools: designation asa terrorist organization; extension o the designation toront entities, such as media operations; prosecution o operatives; and restrictions on banking activities. Recog-nizing the wide reach that Hezbollah had gained throughthe cover o the global Shia Lebanese diaspora — notably in Arica and Latin America where Hezbollah’s entangle-ment in drug tracking and illicit diamond trade becameapparent — the United States sought an international law enorcement cooperative approach against what seemedincreasingly to be more o an organized crime network than a militant organization.Many European capitals, inormed by the assurances o trusted interlocutors in Lebanon, were willing to considerHezbollahs oray into international terrorism in the 1990sas an extension o its conict with Israel, and were assuch more inclined to accept the apparent domesticationo Hezbollah as an indigenous Lebanese orce, notably with the elevation o Hezbollah to the status o dominantpolitical orce in the Shia Lebanese community and itssuccess in orging a lasting alliance with mainline Chris-tian Lebanese partners. wo counter-acts challenged suchassumptions, but both could be, and ofen were, discountedas incidental.Firstly, Hezbollah had in act created a totalitarian order inits areas o control in Lebanon. Exceeding the notion o a“state-within-a-state,” Hezbollah provided comprehensivesocial, educational, and health services to its constitu-ency, evolved into its primary employer, and requiredin exchange to it absolute loyalty and acceptance o itsbellicose rhetoric and actions. Many Shia Lebanese arethus born in Hezbollah hospitals, educated in Hezbollahschools, imbued with Hezbollah narratives, work orHezbollah enterprises, and ght and die in Hezbollahbattles, with the assurance that their amilies will beattended to by Hezbollah social support programs. Tepresumed resilience o Lebanese society and its ability toresist and subvert socio-cultural engineering attempts isindeed being tested by this state o act. Arguments ques-tioning the sincerity o the ideological purity o Hezbollah’sleadership have even been made, and attributing someo its hard-line rhetoric to the need to satisy its Iraniansponsors. As “pragmatic” and “rational” as the Hezbollahleadership is purported to be, the long term eects o the indoctrination o many Shia Lebanese in ideological,sectarian, and messianic discourses as a means o strength-ening mobilization potential indeed seems to be producinga next generation o Hezbollah leaders less utilitarian intheir recourse to Hezbollah narratives. Te success o Hezbollah in dispatching thousands o its ghters to Syriain support o that country’s embattled dictator was builton a oundation o thinly disguised sectarian rhetoric thatrecasts 7
th
century events in new quasi-messianic tones.Te second “red ag,” equally discounted as politicaldecorum, is Hezbollah’s own sel-characterization asabiding by the “rulership o the jurisprudent,” that is, itsobedience to the diktat o the Iranian Supreme Guide, rstKhomeini and then Khamenei. Hezbollahs leadership hasrepeatedly asserted that their decision to accept and engagein the Lebanese political process is at the direction o theSupreme Guide, whose words are absolute commands. Tenon-rhetorical character o these assertions was broughtto the ore recently, when Hezbollah hailed a Lebanesemulti-party accord to avoid entanglement in the Syrianconict as being o undamental national importance, only to abruptly reverse course and dispatch orces to Syria,once so instructed by the Khamenei. Te blatant contradic-
 
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brief 
3
The “Party of God” can claimconsiderable success wheneven its most determined localopponents feel obligated tomitigate any punishment orsanction it is to face, lest thedamage extends to the wholeof Lebanon and leads to aproportional strengthening of Hezbollah’s grip.
tion between the intervention and previous stands was lefunexplained; the erosion, even the collapse, o the careully crafed image o the “Party o God,” nationally and region-ally, however damaging, is mere collateral damage in theneed to ulll Hezbollah’s core mission as an Iranian asset.Te obuscation o this core mission has contributed tothe dilution o European positions vis-à-vis Hezbollah.Te “Party o God” can claim considerable success wheneven its most determined local opponents eel obligated tomitigate any punishment or sanction it is to ace, lest thedamage extends to the whole o Lebanon and leads to aproportional strengthening o Hezbollah’s grip. Hezbollahcan claim urther success when analysts in Washington andother capitals suggest that its continued grip on Lebanonmay be the lesser o two evils, with chaos and uncertainty being certain to reign were Hezbollah to suer a severesetback. In the 1990s, Hezbollah held a ew Westernhostages. oday, it seems that it holds all o Lebanon as ahostage. In the abusive relationship between Hezbollahand its host country, the “Party o God’s” responsibility orintermittent political assassinations may be all but evident;still, Hezbollah benets rom “plausible deniability,”however thin it may be. It has indeed created a tamedpolitical culture that circulates the notion that a coalition o the Party’s external enemies (the United States, Israel, SaudiArabia, al Qaeda) is repeatedly engaged in eliminatingHezbollahs eective local opponents in order to sully itsreputation.Hezbollah seems intent on extending the concept o plausible deniability to a global scale in what appears tobe a re-invigoration o its international operations. Inci-dents in India, Azerbaijan, Tailand, Cyprus, and mostnotably Bulgaria suggest that Hezbollah is experimentingwith a model o out-sourced terrorism that would enableit to keep a sucient distance rom the action. In the caseo both Bulgaria and Cyprus, the experimentation haspartially altered as links to Hezbollah were exposed, butnot suciently to eliminate remedial plausible deniability.Tis allowed willing and inadvertent Hezbollah apologiststo plead innocence on its behal.Such pleas o innocence are premised both on the continu-ation o the “moderation o Hezbollah” argument, recently strengthened by a sub-text o “Hezbollah as a protectoro Christian and other minorities” in the ace o a radicalSunni onslaught, and on a more open categorical distinc-tion between Hezbollah and such radical Sunni outtso al-Qaeda type. Te latter are abject terrorists whileHezbollah engages in bona-de “resistance.Tere is undoubtedly a distinction to be made here.Al-Qaeda and associated organizations seek spectacularmassively lethal operations in order to project a powerthat they lack in their precarious settings. Hezbollah,mending its considerable inuence over its area o control,has avoided open global entanglement. Te reconstitutiono a global terrorist capacity may reect the desire o itsIranian overlords, as a urther tool o “messaging,” againstthe backdrop o the multi-dimensional warare ehran hasbeen acing or almost a decade. Te probable loss o Syriaas a strategic ally seems to be directing Iran to seekingmore versatility beyond its main investment and asset inthe Levant.Te Burgas, Bulgaria, incident — a homicidal attack onEuropean soil with established, albeit circuitous, links toHezbollah — may have nudged some European assess-ments in the direction o recognizing the negative potentialo this party. But the European reluctance to address theimplications has resulted in the curious compromise o limiting the terrorist designation to the presumed “military wing” o a party with totalitarian entrenchment — one

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