The "live and let live" doctrine seems to be ruling relations between Hezbollah and Europe. Less than 48 hours after listing the group's "military wing" on the EU terror list, EU Ambassador to Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst visited Hezbollah's stronghold in Beirut's southern suburb and met the group's international-relations officer, Ammar Mousawi. According to well-informed sources, the meeting was "cold" and was held mainly to discuss the EU decision.
"Everyone knows that Hezbollah's political and military wings are the same,” Mousawi told Eichhorst, and added, "Blacklisting the party is an insult to all Lebanese, Arab and Islamic people who believe in resistance.” Eichhorst responded to Mousawi by stressing that the EU's decision is a political message to Hezbollah's military wing, adding, "Blacklisting the party should not justify any retaliation by a foreign country, including Israel, against Lebanon."
Eichhorst's meeting with Hezbollah came only one day after a visit by a Belgian Foreign Ministry delegate to the same official at the same stronghold.
Such meetings were seen by many in Beirut as an attempt by the Europeans to prove by example that they differentiate between the party and its role in Lebanese political life and the military wing, even if Hezbollah itself blatantly declares that there is no difference.
"In the next government, Hezbollah's ministers will be of the military wing of the party," said the group's leader Hassan Nasrallah, mockingly, in his first comments on the European decision. Addressing a group of his party's female supporters, Nasrallah said that the Europeans gave in to Israeli and US pressure, saying, "EU countries insulted themselves and their principles, interests and sovereignty when they gave in to the Israelis and Americans. They should know they are giving legal cover for Israel to launch a war on Lebanon, because Israel can claim it is waging war on the terrorists."
Though Nasrallah's comments were critical of the Europeans, the tone of his speech reflected a move by Hezbollah to contain the EU decision and keep it within the borders of the compromise that drew a dividing line in within Hezbollah's ranks.
"Why wouldn't the Israeli military be put on the terror list?" asked Nasrallah. "The EU admits that Israel occupies Arab land and does not implement international resolutions, and the whole world witnessed the Israeli massacres."
Nasrallah regards the European move as "a very bad abuse for the fighters, for their people and for their successive governments that supported the resistance in their ministerial statements. In this country, resistance fighters fought the Israeli occupation and have endured a lot of pressure and sacrificed martyrs, and then you come to their sons and daughters and say they are terrorists."
One Hezbollah official, when asked for comment by Al-Monitor, said, "Hezbollah sent a firm and clear message that you cannot designate our military wing as 'terrorist' and expect to have good relations with us."
On the reasons for and the implications of the decision, Nasrallah said that it was made to pressure Hezbollah, "to bow, to step back and to be afraid." He added, "We are nationalists even on holidays. You can retake the visas you were granting for us. We do not have money in Europe. We do not have commercial or trade projects in Lebanon or abroad. Therefore, this decision has no effect in this regard."
It was clear that Nasrallah wanted to throw the ball into the EU's court by calling on it to review its decision, saying, "This decision will not be able to achieve any of its goals, and we invite the Europeans to correct their mistake since it will not lead to any result." He concluded on this subject as in a previous speech with an Arabic proverb, "Soak your terror list and drink its water."
Ali Hashem is an Arab journalist serving as Al Mayadeen news network's chief correspondent. Until March 2012, he was Al Jazeera's war correspondent, and prior to that he was a senior journalist at the BBC. He has written for several Arab newspapers, including the Lebanese daily As Safir, the Egyptian dailies Al-Masry al-Youm and Aldostor, and the Jordanian daily Alghad. He has also contributed to The Guardian. On Twitter: @alihashem_tv