Hezbollah did not issue an official statement following the announcement of Bulgaria’s investigation results that have accused Hezbollah’s military wing of being involved in the Burgas bombing last July. Hezbollah did nothing more than to have its deputy general, Sheikh Naim Qassem, comment that he believes Israel is behind the accusation, because it is “the leader of an international campaign to contain the resistance.”
It was expected that Hezbollah would appear indifferent toward the allegation as a way of demonstrating the certainty of its innocence, and making it known that the accusation is merely political. This is the same way Hezbollah dealt for a long period of time with accusations that it was responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. It later, however, changed its approach and its secretary general spoke out via lengthy television appearances, taking on the role of defense lawyer as he presented evidence that he believed to offer a material basis for accusing Israel of Hariri’s killing.
Hezbollah’s reasoning in confronting the bombing or assassination allegations is convoluted. For example, regarding Hariri’s assassination, Hezbollah succeeded in infiltrating the international investigation committee led by Detlev Mehlis. They obtained information within the committee and leaked it to the media. Its intention through this infiltration was to expose the committee’s lack of integrity, evidenced by one of its members who gave confidential information from the investigation in exchange for a small sum of dollars. Hezbollah is keen to give its popular base evidence that proves that the court assembled by the United Nations to prosecute those Hezbollah members who were accused of assassinating Hariri is unjust and a political tool utilized by America and Israel aimed at damaging and distorting its image.
As it confronts allegations in the Burgas bombing, it is anticipated that Hezbollah will rely on the same preemptive defense strategy. First it will show indifference. Then, soon after, it will present to the media “shocking news” about what really happened during the bombing and the course of the investigation itself in a way that bolsters its conviction that the allegations are merely political and aim to distort the resistance’s image.
Hezbollah and Europe
On the other hand, Hezbollah is intently observing how the European Union will act regarding the request that it be put on the list of designated terrorist organizations. It is worth noticing Hezbollah’s assuredness that the EU will not take this step, if only because its member states are not united in this respect.
Hezbollah appears somewhat confident that European countries who are part of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the south of Lebanon will work to ensure that the organization is not put on the terror list. These countries in particular are concerned with maintaining at least a “minimal” relationship with Hezbollah, due to the thousands of soldiers they have working with UNIFIL in southern Lebanon. In reality, these people live at the nerve center of Hezbollah’s popular base. Paris has the greatest presence in the Resolution 1701 area, and is the most cautious among EU countries about labeling Hezbollah a terrorist organization. This is in contrast to the U.K., which supports this cause based on its NATO and not its European considerations.
There is another indicator which strengthens Hezbollah’s conviction that the EU will not list it as a terrorist organization. Bulgaria’s statement on the investigation results did not accuse Hezbollah, but rather its military wing. This is a new term in referring to Hezbollah, rarely used before in the media, politics or law.
There is a tendency within Hezbollah to believe that Bulgaria meant to level “assumed” responsibility to the military wing of the organization, and not the entire thing. The intention through this is to lay out a compromise between two movements within the EU. The first are those who want to follow in the footsteps of Washington and Tel Aviv in putting Hezbollah on the list of designated terrorist organizations. The other movement is prohibited by its own interests from supporting such an initiative. Hence, the solution may be to put the “military wing of Hezbollah” on the list, including the inherent recognition that the label of terrorism intended by the EU does not include the “political body” of the organization, represented by the government and Lebanese parliament. However, Hezbollah is expected to quickly reject this proposal out of its interest in emphasizing that it is one bloc, and that the “Jihadist [military] wing” is not exempt from the political leadership’s surveillance.
In their view, the military branch does not do what the political branch would not do. The reality, however, is that the distinction between Jihadist Hezbollah and political Hezbollah is very real. The secretary-general himself, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, may have said it best that “Hezbollah jihadists” function independently of internal political challenges in Lebanon. Most estimates state that Hezbollah is divided into “units” that work independently, which strengthens its immunity in the face of Israeli security infiltration. There is, however, a gray area between “command centers” and “implementation environments,” tying together each vital division within Hezbollah.
Nasser Chararah is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Lebanon Pulse, head of the Lebanese Institute for Studies and Publications, a writer for multiple Arab newspapers and magazines, author of several books on the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict, and has worked for the Palestinian Research Center.