Vol. 13, No. 22 August 1, 2013
- The European Union’s decision to include Hizbullah’s military wing on its blacklist of terror groups ignores the basic fact that Hizbullah is a unitary, hierarchical organization. Hizbullah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem has been crystal clear on the subject: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one,” he said in October 2012.
- Notably, the EU Ambassador to Lebanon, Angelina Eichhorst, immediately reassured Hizbullah officials in Lebanon that the decision will not affect relations with the group’s “civilian wing.” She said after meeting with a Hizbullah minister in the Lebanese government that EU “financial assistance will continue,” and that Hizbullah has the right to challenge the EU decision before European courts – adding: “We will reevaluate our decision every six months.”
- Iran hastened to condemn the EU decision, which it described as serving the United States and Israel. Hassan Rowhani, Iran’s recently elected president, stressed the key role of Hizbullah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, as “the hope of the Lebanese and Palestinian people for victory against Israel.”
- Iran’s reaction shows that it views the Syrian-Lebanese front as an important part of its national-security strategy and regional aspirations. In Iran’s view, it is in this arena that the key battle over the new Middle Eastern order is being waged.
A False Distinction
The European Union’s decision to include Hizbullah’s military wing on its blacklist of terror groups ignores the basic fact that Hizbullah is a unitary, hierarchical organization. It is led by Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, to whom all of its political, civilian, military, and security institutions are directly subordinate (and, hence, to the Supreme Leader of Iran).
Nasrallah is head of the Decision-Making Council (Majlis Shura al-Qarar), the overarching body where all of Hizbullah’s decisions are taken. Directly beneath it is the Executive Council (Majlis Shura al-Tanfiz), which implements the leadership’s decisions and is headed by Hashem Safi al-Din, who is directly subordinate to Nasrallah. All the other bodies that make up Hizbullah, including the Jihad Council, are part of the organizational hierarchy with Nasrallah at the top. Thus, any separation between a “military wing” and a “political wing” is a false distinction that does not exist in the reality of Hizbullah’s activity and structure.
Speaking in October 2012, Hizbullah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem has been crystal clear on the subject: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one….Every element of Hizbullah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, are in the service of the resistance.”1 Qassem earlier clarified that “All political, social and jihad work is tied to the decisions of this leadership….The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions.”2
Hizbullah to Hold Europe Responsible for Any Israeli Operation in Lebanon
Despite the false distinction that Europe has decreed, Hizbullah and Iran reacted harshly to its decision and saw it as a “desperate” European attempt to intervene (at the behest of the United States and Israel) in both the Lebanese political arena and the regional power equation. Nasrallah said the EU’s decision would help Israel justify an armed attack on Lebanon:
This decision gives Israel legitimate cover for any attack on Lebanon. And why is that? Because Israel can now claim that it is acting in the framework of the struggle against terror. These states [the EU] are actually making themselves full partners in bearing responsibility for any Israeli operation against Lebanon, against the resistance [Hizbullah], or against the strongholds of the resistance in Lebanon.3
Iranian President Rowhani Backs Hizbullah
Iran hastened to back Hizbullah and its anti-Israel struggle and to condemn the EU decision, which it described as “ridiculous,” “rash,” “hypocritical,” and serving the United States and Israel after they pushed for its adoption. Iranian leaders lauded Hizbullah’s success in serving as the protector of Lebanon and Syria and a model of emulation for the Muslims.
Hassan Rowhani, Iran’s recently elected president, sent a message of support to Secretary-General Nasrallah in which he praised the cadres of the party “for their resistance to Israel” and stressed the key role of Hizbullah and its leader as “the hope of the Lebanese and Palestinian people for victory against Israel.”
No doubt, your tireless and dedicated efforts and those of Hizbullah warriors on the scene of resistance promise the decisive victory of the resistant Lebanese and Palestinian nations over the Zionist regime, which has always been supported by the Islamic Republic [of Iran].4
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of the Iranian parliament (Majlis), praised Hizbullah for “a brilliant and honorable historical background in anti-Israeli resistance for the Muslim world.”5
Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Rokenabadi, denounced the EU move and said Iran “fervently deplores this decision because the resistance is a deterrent to Israel.” He added that the decision would have no effect on Hizbullah’s strategy and methods.6
The chairman of the Majlis, Ali Larijani, said the EU’s decision reflected a dual approach and would be inscribed in the black history of European activities against Muslims, damaging Europe’s good name among them. He underlined that the Majlis (which published an announcement of support for Hizbullah) would continue to give Hizbullah its full backing.7 In a similar vein, senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Naser Makkarem-Shirazi said Europe had proved it was impossible to trust, just as the United States was impossible to trust.8
The Iranian press wasted no time reinforcing the line taken by the leadership. Several newspapers stressed that Europe (like the United States and Israel that had impelled it) had taken the decision after failing in its efforts to create a new, favorable balance of power in the region, particularly regarding its support for Bashar Assad’s adversaries. The EU was said to be ignoring the terror groups active in Syria as well as Israel’s operations, focusing instead on the “protectors of Lebanon and Syria.”
Europe’s Move Against Hizbullah Seen as “An Attempt to Contain Iran”
It was claimed that the move against Hizbullah only confirms Iran and Hizbullah’s might and growing influence in the region. The newspaper Javan, which is close to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, wrote that “Europe’s decision is part of the struggle to create a regional balance of power, especially in light of Hizbullah’s successes in the Second Lebanon War  and the organization’s decisive intervention in the civil war in Syria.” Javan concludes – in a strong, implicit reinforcement of the Hizbullah-Iran-Syria triangle – that “placing Hizbullah on the European terror blacklist is a move intended to contain Iran and restrict its activity in the region.”9 In this same vein, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Europe’s move was meant to influence regional developments. It was, however, an erroneous step stemming from a flawed analysis of developments and only attested to Europe’s double-standard policy.
A Decisive Battle Over a New Middle Eastern Order
In sum, the timing of the EU’s decision to add Hizbullah’s military wing to its terror blacklist, and the enraged reactions in Iran on the eve of Rowhani’s inauguration as president on August 4, are seen to create an additional obstacle to improving Iranian-European relations.
Rowhani declared during his election campaign that he would work to improve those relations. But the EU’s move, along with the ongoing crisis in Syria, will make it quite difficult to upgrade the atmosphere of those relations now that the parties are at loggerheads on one of the core issues of the region (they fundamentally disagree as well on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks). The conservative newspaper Siyasat-e Ruz has already warned that in the wake of the decision, Iran may reconsider its relations with several European countries, while referring to calls for dialogue as a “ruse.”10
Iran’s reaction also shows that it views the Syrian-Lebanese front as an important part of its national-security strategy and regional aspirations. Iran has not stinted in siding openly with Assad and making Hizbullah available to him. Unlike the West, Iran suffers no hesitations about its Syrian-Lebanese policy and its implementation. In Iran’s view, it is in this arena that the key battle over the new Middle Eastern order is being waged.
By only putting Hizbullah’s military wing on its terror list, Europe may be leaving an opening for some sort of dialogue with Iran and with Hizbullah’s “political wing” (as it did with Hamas).
Indeed, even before the EU’s decision to blacklist Hizbullah’s military wing was publicly released, EU Ambassador to Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst reassured Hizbullah officials in Lebanon that the decision will not affect relations with the group’s “civilian wing.”
Eichhorst said after meeting with Hizbullah’s Minister of State for Administrative Development in the current Lebanese caretaker government, Mohammad Fneish, that EU “financial assistance will continue, of which Minister Fneish’s ministry gets a sizeable share, and we want for this cooperation to continue.”11 In addition, Eichhorst confirmed that Hizbullah has the right to challenge the decision before European courts, saying: “We will reevaluate our decision every six months.”12
At the same time, European intelligence agencies know full well that Hizbullah is a monolithic organization headed by Nasrallah and religiously and politically subordinate to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
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4. http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/91744-iran-s-rowhani-praises-hizbullah-s-jihad-against-israel; http://abna.ir/data.asp?lang=3&id=444509