The Americans and Israelis’ success in pushing the EU to finally include the military wing of Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organizations was something of a surprise to the party. It would have been a complete surprise had the EU regarded both Hezbollah's military and political wings as terrorist organizations.
Within the party, there is an assumption backed by reliable data that the EU decision is at best a compromise between the unbridled desire of the US to include Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organizations, and the desire of Europeans to mitigate US pressure exerted on them in this respect.
According to an internal Hezbollah source speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity on July 23, Hezbollah believes that the decision has no practical interpretation on the ground. The party’s military wing is deployed underground, in valleys and trenches, as well as among ordinary people. How, then, can European sanctions affect them and how can they be identified?
Hezbollah is aware that the EU decision was drafted under great American pressure.
Accordingly, it seems that this decision falls within the American agenda to mobilize the largest possible political alliance against Hezbollah internationally and regionally — as well as within Lebanon — to sanction the party for its involvement in the Syrian war.
However, according to this same source, this decision not only hurts Hezbollah, but also affects Europe’s role in the region. The European continent today has only one card to play in the Arab east, that is its qualitative contribution to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 adopted by the United Nations following the July 2006 war, by virtue of which UNIFIL forces were deployed in the region adjacent to the Lebanese-Israeli border for overseeing the implementation of its provisions.
It is worth mentioning that UNIFIL is mostly comprised of European forces, which reflects a major European role. Moreover, there are opinions asserting that if the European UNIFIL succeeds in its mission in southern Lebanon, it will become a role model to be imitated for finding future solutions to border-related disputes in the region. However, the Europeans know that the most important conditions for the success of the European UNIFIL mission in southern Lebanon is maintaining the existing harmony between UNIFIL members and the popular environment in which they operate, composed of the social base of Hezbollah.
According to high-ranking sources in Hezbollah who spoke to Al-Monitor on July 23, it is unlikely that the party will respond to the European decision through threatening the work of UNIFIL in south Lebanon. Hezbollah deals with UNIFIL based on its commitment to Resolution 1701, which legalizes the forces’ presence in Lebanon. This will not change due to the EU decision. The decision, however, will have a spontaneous impact, and will decrease the European UNIFIL forces’ standing among residents of the areas where Resolution 1701 is implemented, since their countries have taken a decision that the popular base of Hezbollah considers to be unjust.
Experts in Hezbollah-European ties told Al-Monitor on July 23 that the damage that came to pass in the relationship between the two sides did not reach the point where Hezbollah will directly offend the UNIFIL presence in south Lebanon. Yet, Hezbollah can make their presence less tranquil by halting the dialogue that has been ongoing with European embassies in Beirut.
It is well known among observers of Hezbollah’s relationship with Paris that leading members of the party used to hold meetings with French Embassy officials to exchange information pertaining to protecting the UNIFIL forces from terrorism. More than once, Hezbollah halted these meetings in response to the political stance of Paris, which raised the concern of French security agencies. The latter want these meetings to continue, because they provide information about attacks against their forces. Additionally, Germany has ties with Hezbollah. This was shown when it served as a mediator between the party and Israel in regard to deals on releasing prisoners on both sides.
Europe has until now benefited from cordial relations with Hezbollah, especially as it relates to the European components of UNIFIL forces. Many in Lebanon now worry that such forces, which are essential for keeeping the peace on Lebanon's border with Israel, may soon operate in an unwelcome environment.
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