Diplomacy

Reports: France Ready to Allow E.U. to Designate Hezbollah Military Wing

Arabic media sources report that France is ready to add Hezbollah’s military wing to the European Union’s list of terror organizations. Al-Hayat, a pan-Arab daily based in London, describes a meeting earlier this week between French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Secretary of State John Kerry, in which Fabius informed Kerry of the decision.

Paris has long resisted blacklisting Hezbollah. The French linked their reluctance to fears that isolating Hezbollah would destabilize Lebanon, a claim that caused foreign policy analysts to point out that it’s Hezbollah’s power and influence that destabilizes Lebanon. Instead, Congressional testimony and subsequent reporting linked France’s refusal to fears that Hezbollah would target their peacekeepers in southern Lebanon in retaliation.

Phillip Smyth, a research fellow for Israel’s GLORIA Center, also contextualized Paris’s reluctance by reference to the U.N. peacekeeping force.

“France doesn’t want to ‘overreact’ because they have interests in Lebanon, especially their involvement in UNIFIL,” he told The Tower. Smyth is based in Washington but has conducted political research in Lebanon for several years.

Nonetheless the U.S., U.K., Bulgaria, and Israel have consistently called on the E.U. to blacklist the Iran-backed group. Pressure on France and other holdouts, including Germany, has increased in recent weeks as Bulgarian officials promised to pile on evidence linking Hezbollah to the July 2012 bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian and Cyprus convicted a confessed Hezbollah operative of terror-related crimes.

The Tower reported yesterday that E.U. holdouts might have reached a tipping point.

Paris is also reportedly concerned about the tension between allowing Hezbollah to operate and fundraise on the Continent – which even Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah has acknowledged is critical to the group’s operations – and trying to boost rebel fighters at war in Syria against Hezbollah and the Bashar al-Assad regime with which it is allied.

According to Al-Hayat, France will seek to designate Hezbollah’s military wing but not its political wing. Analysis and debate have shown that the distinction doesn’t meaningfully exist. Smyth told The Tower that “Hezbollah doesn’t have ‘wings’ which act independently of one another,” he said. “It strikes me as going halfway.”

It is unclear how the artificial division will affect E.U. efforts to enforce sanctions against the group as a whole.

[Photo: State Department / Wiki Commons]