Hezbollah's behavior is often frustrating (to its Lebanese
rivals as well as to Western governments), and it has been credibly linked to
violent plots, political assassinations, and pedestrian organized crime like
drug dealing and money laundering.
Naturally, the European Union would like to find ways to
curtail Hezbollah's reach, especially after the group was found responsible for
a deadly bombing in Bulgaria and a foiled attack in Cyprus.
But what does a terrorist designation achieve, and at what
First, it eliminates communication with Hezbollah, putting
even further out of reach meaningful diplomacy on the Syrian conflict and on
Lebanon. It also necessitates foolish gymnastics for states that continue their
relationship with the Lebanese government as if Hezbollah weren't the primary
power within that government. Effectively, it amounts to a blanket ban on
dealings with Hezbollah, since the Party of God does not make any distinction
between its military, political and social work; the organization is seamlessly
unified, its fighters as distinct from the supreme leadership as America's
Pentagon is from the White House.
Second, it ties the EU's hands in acting as a regional broker.
How can the EU leverage its power across the Levant's many conflicts if it
won't talk to one major player, and in fact has taken the step of branding it a
terrorist group while leaving alone other factions who engage in similar
In a reality where Hezbollah is a key central player, it
makes little to no sense to erect a cone of silence around them (already some governments, like
Britain, don't talk to Hezbollah officials, following the U.S. lead). Any
significant political accord in Lebanon must include Hezbollah, just as any
political resolution of the Syrian conflict will have to include Iran and
Hezbollah, along with the other states that sponsor the rebels and the
government. Any other approach is simply a denial of reality and doomed to fail.
Third, the designation will hardly dent Hezbollah. Already
Hezbollah operatives linked to violence or terror plots in the West are subject
to prosecution in Western courts. Already, Hezbollah's operations in the West
are underground. If agents of Hezbollah are raising money for the group by
trafficking narcotics in South America, or are training sleeper cells in
Germany, how will the designation stop them? These already are secret, illicit
operations; law enforcement and intelligence work might thwart them, but not
Logic and experience both teach us that politics requires
buy-in from the major stakeholders; that's even more true in conflict
resolution. You don't make peace with your friends. You can't influence a war -- or an unstable polity like Lebanon -- without points of entry to all the major
players. It simply doesn't work.