Eamon Delaney: We should give full, not reluctant, support to EU's ban on Hezbollah
Published 23/07/2013 | 05:00
The EU is finally putting on its blacklist the militant organisation Hezbollah, the dominant force in Lebanon and a growing force for instability in the entire Middle East.
Hezbollah has launched attacks on Israel, has intervened in the Syrian civil war and has been linked to a Bulgarian bus bombing last year. The EU had to send a message. "It is good that the EU has decided to call Hezbollah what it is: a terrorist organisation," said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans. "By dealing with the military wing of Hezbollah and freezing its assets, we are hindering its fundraising and thereby limiting its capacity to act." This is quite in contrast with the Irish position, which was to oppose such a ban. Indeed, once again, Ireland showed its soft and often confused approach to dealing with such international security issues.
The rationale of Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore was that a ban on Hezbollah could create more instability and endanger Irish UN peacekeepers in the Lebanon, a strangely restrictive approach. His thinking was also influenced by experience of the Northern Ireland peace process and bringing the IRA in from the cold. The fear was that blacklisting Hezbollah would drive it further away, and that there was a distinction between the organisation's armed wing and its political wing, which sits in the Lebanese government and runs a whole civilian infrastructure. But Timmermans clearly believes that one wing is feeding the other.
And Defence Minister Alan Shatter believes that they are one and the same organisation and there is no "difference between the armed and political wings of Hezbollah". On a recent visit to Lebanon, he made a specific comparison with Northern Ireland, where there were 'two different wings' of the Republican movement in Sinn Fein and IRA. And surely the pertinent point here is that we only dealt with Sinn Fein in a serious way, precisely because its other wing, the IRA, had stopped violence and appeared to be on the way to decommissioning its weapons.
Hezbollah has done no such thing. Far from it. Its appetite for overseas terror has got stronger now that the Arab Spring, in its neighbourhood, has turned into a major struggle between the Sunni V Shi'ite brands of Islam. Hezbollah is Shi'ite, as is Iran, and as is the minority Assad regime, which is holding out against a popular uprising by its Sunni majority, and which has been blatantly supported by Hezbollah.
It is this which has provoked the EU ban. The other reason is Hezbollah's European 'activities', such as the bus bomb attack in Bulgaria last July, which killed five Israelis and their driver. Meanwhile, the UK, which strongly supported a ban, has cited the four-year jail sentence handed down by a Cypriot court last March to a Hezbollah operative accused of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.
So clearly we should have stood with our European allies, and the bigger EU states, in banning this evangelical terror outfit and stop this pussy-footing around with the idea that they are legitimate 'liberation movement' ready to sit down with its enemies. Hezbollah is also a total proxy for Iran, which is stoking up trouble in the region – and in Europe.
Hezbollah's interference in Syria has been so influential that it has quite possibly saved Assad's skin – for the moment. And there is a steady stream of Hezbollah martyrs returning from the unending Syrian nightmare. Meanwhile, much of the Arab world is enraged by Hezbollah's intrusion in Syria and determined to punish it – there have been car bombs in the Hezbollah strongholds of Beirut.
This has the potential to undo the fragile peace in Lebanon itself, where Hezbollah is part of the precarious political balance – and more or less holds this wounded country to ransom, with its Shi'ite militancy. It is this sort of blackmail that Ireland had been giving into.
But with instability growing, we could have expected Hezbollah to lash out and distract with yet more European attacks. And what would Ireland have done then? No, now is the time to make a stand, with our European allies, and send a clear message that there are consequences to spreading terror.
But what a pity that, once again, we seem to have been the last to agree to such robust action.