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Blaming Terrorists for Terrorism

1:29 PM, Feb 6, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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New Secretary of State John Kerry also weighed in, urging “other governments around the world – and particularly our partners in Europe – to take immediate action to crack down on Hizballah. We need to send an unequivocal message to this terrorist group that it can no longer engage in despicable actions with impunity.”

Kerry is referring to the ongoing debate within the European Union whether or not to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. France and Germany are against listing Lebanon’s Islamic resistance, and led an aggressive campaign to convince the Bulgarians not to name Hezbollah as the culprit. The Netherlands, on the other hand, has been pushing for designation and has blacklisted Hezbollah separately from any EU actions. The UK meanwhile has designated Hezbollah’s “military wing,” an action taken largely because of Hezbollah fighters that squared off against UK troops in Iraq, and intended to distinguish it from the outfit’s “political wing,” a distinction that the Bulgarian report made implicitly.

In a statement following the report, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued against this idea, saying that “there is only one Hezbollah, it is one organization with one leadership.” As it turns out, Netanyahu’s interpretation is backed by Hezbollah itself. "All political, social and jihad work is tied to the decisions of this leadership," senior Hezbollah official Naim Qassem told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. "The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel."

The distinction between the two “wings” is simply a convenient fiction invented by European policymakers. No one is fooled against his will, and the reality is that the Europeans aren’t even fooling themselves with their hairsplitting. The effect of separating the two “wings” is to give Hezbollah some wiggle room. If only the “military” side is listed then the “political” group can still raise money on the continent. The purpose of the distinction is to give European diplomats an advantage over their American counterparts. Because U.S. officials are not allowed to deal with a designated foreign terrorist organization like Hezbollah, the Europeans are able to step in and fill the gap. But if Hezbollah is designated as a whole, and not simply its “military” wing, then the Europeans will lose one of the few cards they have to play in their Middle East policy. 

Spilling blood on European soil should make it much more difficult for the French and others to avoid designating Hezbollah, but “we’re not at a place yet where designation is certain, there’s a lot left to be done. There is no longer a debate over the facts,” according to Levitt. “The debate now is over policy—is it a smart move to list them?

Indeed, the Europeans were already pushing back even before the report. EU counterterrorism official Gilles de Kerchove argued the day before the announcement that there “is no automatic listing just because you have been behind a terrorist attack… It's not only the legal requirement that you have to take into consideration, it's also a political assessment of the context and the timing."

If de Kerchove seems to be making room for some sort of justification that Hezbollah might offer for the attack, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was even more mealy mouthed. "The EU and Member States will discuss the appropriate response based on all elements identified by the investigators," said Ashton, noting “the need for a reflection over the outcome of the investigation.”

The Europeans are primarily worried about losing their diplomatic prerogative, but are also, understandably, concerned about winding up in Hezbollah’s crosshairs. Hezbollah and Iran were effectively at war with France in the 80s, often in Paris itself, and with French troops and civilians filling the UNIFIL ranks in southern Lebanon, they’d prefer to avoid shaking the hornets’ nest. However, the fact is that Hezbollah has already targeted French UNIFIL troops, and those of other EU members, including Spain and Italy.

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