Will ‘landmark’ EU decision to outlaw Hezbollah be effective?

Experts: Ban will freeze Hezbollah's fundraising in Europe.

Hezbollah members rally in Beirut 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Hezbollah members rally in Beirut 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
BERLIN – After little more than a year of zigzagging and lethargy, the EU on Monday imposed stinging sanctions on Hezbollah’s military structure.
The naysayers argue the sanctions are merely directed at Hezbollah’s so-called military wing and will not dismantle its networks in Europe. The proponents see a devastating blow to Hezbollah’s political legitimacy and new restrictions on its financial activity in Europe.The Christian Science Monitor neatly captures the limitations of the EU sanctions with its headline: “EU Blacklists Hezbollah – sort of.”
Veteran counterterrorism experts have long viewed the separation of Hezbollah into political and military wings as a bogus division that ignores Hezbollah’s monolithic structure.
It is worth recalling that Hezbollah deputy leader Naim Qassem considers the distinction to be hogwash. He told the Los Angeles Times in 2009 that the “same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.”
Shelving the debate over the wings of Hezbollah, the pressing question is, will EU sanctions impair, weaken and disrupt Hezbollah’s operational activity? Der Spiegel magazine’s Beirut-based correspondent argued against the potency of the EU measures in an article titled “EU Terror list: Hezbollah unlikely to feel sanctions.”
In an email to The Jerusalem Post on Monday, Dr. Matthew Levitt, who heads the counterterrorism program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, flatly rejects the view that EU sanctions will not hurt Hezbollah.
Levitt, the author of Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God, said the EU ban will be felt on other fronts. “First, it will enable EU governments to initiate preemptive intelligence investigations into activities that can be tied in any way to Hezbollah’s military wing. Germany and a handful of other European countries have already conducted such investigations, but the designation will spur others to do so.”
He added that “the ban is a strong means of communicating to Hezbollah that its current activities are beyond the pale, and that continuing them will exact a high cost. Previously, the group had been permitted to mix its political and social welfare activities with its terrorist and criminal activities, giving it an effective way to raise and launder money along with a measure of immunity for its militant activities.”
Levitt added that it is unlikely significant amounts of Hezbollah’s funds will be seized as they are most likely registered under non-military names, but the ban can serve to curtail its fundraising activities as well as hinder members from traveling to Europe.
Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research for the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Post via phone, “the EU lacks the bureaucratic infrastructure to make a concerted push to freeze significant assets. They do not have anything like the US Treasury counterterrorism financial capability and it is unlikely this will create significant damage to Hezbollah.”
Julien Barnes-Dacey, a senior policy fellow on the Middle East at the European Council for Foreign Relations, told The Wall Street Journal, “Technically it will now be illegal for Europeans to send Hezbollah financial support or for its diplomats to meet with Hezbollah fighters. In truth, however, this new decision will have little impact on the ground and represents more of a fudge than a meaningful attempt to sanction the group.”
Nonetheless, Lebanon’s government was filled with considerable anxiety about the EU labeling its political partner a terrorist organization. The Beirut-based Daily Star wrote that Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said placing Hezbollah’s military wing on the EU terror list  would have grave repercussions for Lebanon , adding they are an “integral part of the political system.”
He added, “Hezbollah’s political and military wings can’t be separated.”
Former Bulgarian foreign minister Nikolay Mladenov, who moved the diplomatic process forward to label Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist entity after the group murdered five Israelis and a Bulgarian national last year, hailed the EU move as “landmark” on his twitter feed.
He might very well be right if the EU cracks the sanctions whip to shut down Hezbollah fundraising organizations across Europe.
In Germany alone there are 950 active Hezbollah members and a network of at least 30 mosque and associations working overtime to raise money for Hezbollah.
Benajmin Weinthal is a European affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post and a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.