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Hezbollah Bombing Link Re-Opens Debate Over Group’s Military vs. Political Wings

Lebanon has received a report detailing Bulgaria’s investigation into the July 2012 bus bombing at the Black Sea resort city of Burgas, Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian. Last week Bulgarian authorities linked the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah, which holds cabinet-level positions in the sitting Lebanese government, to the attack. Lebanese media reported that the country’s foreign minister, Adnan Mansour, received a memo Wednesday from the Bulgarian Justice Ministry containing evidence documenting the link, which Bulgarian officials are providing to counterparts.

Sofia’s announcement immediately led renewed calls for the European Union – within which Hezbollah conducts tax free fundraising in some countries – to follow the lead of the United States and designate the group a terrorist organization. European countries, most notably France and Germany, have in the past resisted efforts to blacklist Hezbollah, a reluctance that political analysts have linked to their fears that Hezbollah will retaliate against them.

One option reportedly under consideration is to follow the policy of the United Kingdom and designate Hezbollah’s military wing but not its political wing. A solution along those lines might prove unsustainable in light of analysis describing the group’s leadership structure, which makes no such distinction. Explicit, unequivocal, and repeated statements by Hezbollah officials seem to back that analysis:

Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem wrote in his book , is “in charge of drawing the overall vision and policies, overseeing the general strategies for the party’s function, and taking political decisions.”.. According to Hezbollah’s top officials, this unity of purpose among the group’s diverse activities is essential to its success. “If the military wing were separated from the political wing, this would have repercussions, and it would reflect on the political scene,” Qassem told a Lebanese paper in 2000. “Hezbollah’s secretary-general is the head of the Shura Council and also the head of the Jihad Council, and this means that we have one leadership, with one administration.”

Some E.U. officials, in contrast, have disagreed with Hezbollah’s descriptions of Hezbollah’s structure:

Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis… asserted that, as an organization, Hezbollah “comprises a political party [and] social services network, as well as an armed wing.” She stated further that there was “no consensus among the EU member states for putting Hezbollah on its terrorist list. Should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism, the EU would consider listing the organization.” The EU is one of the few organizations in the world that still recognizes a difference between the “political” and “armed” wings of Hezbollah. This difference is not recognized in the U.S. or Canada, it is not recognized in Lebanon and it is certainly not recognized by Hezbollah itself.

[Photo: upyernoz / Flickr]