August 21, 2013 | The Australian

Hezbollah’s Other Wing Must be Clipped

Last month, when the EU decided to designate Hezbollah's military wing a terrorist organisation, it embraced a policy that Australia adopted in 2003. This is better than pretending Hezbollah is a misunderstood Lebanese political movement with a social agenda. But it is insufficient to prevent Hezbollah continuing to use European and Australian jurisdictions to conduct its nefarious activities. The time is long overdue for Australia and the EU to outlaw all of Hezbollah.

The trigger for the EU designation was the terror attack Hezbollah perpetrated in Burgas, Bulgaria, in July last year. Five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver died in the bombing. Now a further direct Australian connection to the Burgas bombing makes it urgent that Australia acts now.

Newly disclosed evidence reveals that Meliad Farah, a Hezbollah member with dual Australian-Lebanese citizenship, played a critical role in the attack.

According to Bulgarian news outlet 24 Hours, which sourced its July report to foreign intelligence services and international banks, Farah used an Australian bank account to fund his bomb-making activities in Bulgaria.

There also have been disturbing reports in the Australian and Bulgarian media about Hezbollah cells' fundraising in Australia.

In April, The Australian reported that Hezbollah has three active sleeper cells in Australia – and Lebanese sources accused Hezbollah of increasingly relying on prostitution rings and narco-traffic to finance activities such as the Burgas attack. The funnelling of such funds through the international banking system with the complicity of Lebanese dual nationals using their bank accounts in places such as Australia shows how Hezbollah's overseas “military” operations – invariably acts of terrorism against civilian targets – require support activities that are distinctly “non-military” in nature and criminal in practice.

Tragically, Bulgaria and other EU countries Farah visited were unprepared, before the Burgas bombing, to address Hezbollah within Europe.

Nonetheless, more victims were spared a similar fate as another planned Hezbollah attack was thwarted in Cyprus. In both cases, and despite member states' reluctance, the EU could no longer treat Hezbollah as a legitimate political movement once its murderous activities had been conducted on European soil against European citizens. A compromise solution was sought; by designating just its military wing, Europe probably thought it could have its cake and eat it, too.

The distinction is absurd, a Western concoction designed to accommodate Hezbollah's prominent role in Lebanese politics but whose usefulness is debatable.

EU reluctance stemmed from fear that sanctioning Hezbollah entirely would destabilise Lebanon. By limiting legal sanctions to the military wing, a door would remain open for dialogue with the political leadership.

Hezbollah clearly thinks otherwise; its deputy secretary, Naim Qassem, said in October last year: “We don't have a military wing and a political one; we don't have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other … Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, are in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”

Hezbollah's activities are neither compartmentalised nor co-ordinated by separate command structures.

Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, rose through the ranks of its militia. Imad Mughniyeh, a key player in the Hezbollah politburo until he was assassinated in Damascus in 2008, was the man credited as the mastermind of the 1983 bombings in Beirut of US marines and French paratroopers, and the 1994 terror attack against the AMIA Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aires: 241 marines and 63 paratroopers died in Beirut, 85 Argentinians died in Buenos Aires.

Treating the political and military wings as distinct entities provides a pretext for inaction rather than a balanced approach.

After all, Hezbollah's role in Lebanon since the end of the country's civil war in 1989 has hardly bred stability. Its bellicosity against Israel provoked two limited Israeli military operations (1993 and 1996) and a fully fledged war (2006). Hezbollah's strong-arm meddling in Lebanese politics on behalf of its Syrian patrons is a monument to destabilisation; the 2005 murder of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri is the most prominent in a string of political assassinations where Hezbollah's fingerprints are detectable. Now, its complicity in the Assad regime's mass slaughter of Syrians is causing the sectarian civil war in Syria to spill back into Lebanon.

Clipping both wings of Hezbollah would have a chilling effect on its ability to destabilise Lebanon, not the opposite.

Dividing Hezbollah into military and political wings highlights the dangers of overlooking the so-called “civilian” dimension of its activities. The centralised repository for Hezbollah's funding streams shows the uselessness of separating the organisation into distinct parts.

Nothing short of designating Hezbollah in its entirety as a terror organisation and barring all its activities from the territory of Australia will ensure increased security for Australians and the international community.

Benjamin Weinthal is the European correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow.


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