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E.U. Blacklists Hezbollah “Military Wing”, Calls Attention to Debates Over Whether Different Hezbollah “Wings” Exist

The European Union on Monday officially designated the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The blacklisting comes just over a year after the July 2012 bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian, and which Bulgarian investigators linked to the Iran-backed terror group. A Cypriot court subsequently convicted a confessed Hezbollah operative on terror-related charges, and the combination of the Bulgarian investigation and the Cypriot conviction brought significant pressure on the E.U. to formally acknowledge that a group which conducts terrorism on E.U. soil is indeed a terrorist organization for E.U. purposes.

The bloc distinguished between Hezbollah’s military wing and political wing, and only blacklisted the military wing.

Focus and analysis will now shift toward the degree to which that separation is sustainable or accurate. Hezbollah does not recognize the distinction. Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem gave a speech in 2012 on the question, during which he was quite explicit:

In his speech Saturday, Qassem rejected attempts to distinguish between Hezbollah as a political party and a resistance group, saying: “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,” he said.

Qassem had made the same point in 2009:

The buzz in Europe is that a designation is increasingly likely, but that the EU will only sanction the military wing. The very concept of a bifurcated Hezbollah is something that many other countries reject, including Israel, Canada, the United States, and the Netherlands. But it is also worth recalling that Hezbollah deputy leader Naim Qassem also rejects it. He told in 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.

U.S. counterterrorism specialists and the U.S. intelligence community have analyzed Hezbollah’s organizational structure and concluded that Hezbollah leaders are telling the truth when they deny that there are meaningful distinctions between the various parts of the organization:

And though Hezbollah is composed of multiple committees and branches, it operates as a single entity. Hezbollah, the U.S. intelligence community has determined , is “a multifaceted, disciplined organization that combines political, social, paramilitary, and terrorist elements” and is one in which decisions “to resort to arms or terrorist tactics [are] carefully calibrated.”

[Photo: Paul Keller / Flickr]