Amb. Ron Prosor and Dr. Ebtesam Al Ketbi
In the world of Foreign Relations and global security, one rarely gets the opportunity to help two different continents at the same time. Today France has such an opportunity, as with one combined move it can defend Europe against violent radicalization and save Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries from the collapsing and falling into the hands of Iran and Hezbollah.
Radical elements are getting stronger and stronger. Just a few years after the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, France have witnessed a similar murderous attack, which cost the life of Samuel Paty, who was murdered by the same radical elements that attacked the magazine, for doing his job – educating France’s future generation and teaching one of the core universal values of the French republic, the freedom of speech. Speaking at Paty’s funeral, President Macron said “"He was killed because the Islamists want our future. They know that with quiet heroes like him, they will never have it."
No one will be surprised that this comment was met with great opposition from radical Islamist officials. In an official statement Hezbollah expressed “categorical rejection of the French official position that persists in encouraging this serious offense to the Prophet “ and added "All false claims of freedom of opinion and expression cannot justify the unacceptable offense to the Holy Prophet and insulting the divine religions and beliefs". Turkish President Recep Erdogan said that President Macron “lost his mind” and Iran’s foreign Minister tweeted that “Muslims are the primary victims of the ‘cult of hatred’ – empowered by colonial regimes & exported by their own clients”.
Those radical elements did not grow out of thin air. They originated in the Middle East and slowly made their way to Europe, where they grew more and more powerful, by using the continent’s own liberal and open values against it. Abdelhakim Sefrioui, the islamist activist who led the social media campaign against the teacher that had a « direct causal link" to his killing according to French anti-terrorism prosecutors, is a member of an organization affiliated with the Terrorist organization Hamas. It’s sister organization, Hezbollah, has been running rampant throughout Europe and the Middle East and together with Iran has already brought one country to its knees, Lebanon, which is in the lowest point in its history.
Given the joint history of these two counties, it is clear why France is eager to help Lebanon, which was its Middle Eastern outpost. To this day, wherever you go in Lebanon you can still hear the French language spoken. President Emmanuel Macron has already assumed a leading role towards this goal and has crafted a road map to Lebanon’s recovery, starting with a complete overhaul of its political system. Concerned about their future leverage in the country, Iran and Hezbollah would not let that happen and thwarted that plan.
They have a good reason to be afraid of change. Hezbollah’s hostile takeover of Lebanon has been a slow and methodical process that’s been going on for many years. First, it took control over South Lebanon and it continued to swallow the entire country. As the international community in general, and Europe in particular, looked the other way, Hezbollah’s military might grew significantly. While its military apparently is now more powerful than that of the Lebanese army, it still has more firepower than most NATO members have. The explosion in Beirut’s port showed Hezbollah’s cavalier approach to the lives of the Lebanese people, as it did not hesitate to stash tons of explosive materials within civilian population.
For years Iran nurtured Hezbollah, not only by expanding its military strength but also its political one, by helping it craft governmental and economic mechanisms and structures of power that enabled them to rule Lebanon first from behind the scenes and more recently in the open.
We realize that France has historical and present interests in Lebanon. We also realize that France’s allies have built bridges and alliances with Hezbollah. So, we do not want Lebanon to slip into chaos like Syria and Yemen. However, the practical outcomes of Hezbollah’s control over the political landscape is undermining the Lebanese state and civil peace in the country.
While all that was happening, the Middle East was trying to deal with Hezbollah’s threat. Israel, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League have identified Hezbollah as a destabilizing force and designated it as a terrorist organization years ago. The United States did the same, yet Europe decided not to do so.
By banning only Hezbollah’s military wing, this gave the organization de-facto “cart blanche” to operate on European soil under the guise of the “political wing”. This allowed the organization to run a continent-wide crime network, which was involved in drug smuggling, money laundering and fake charity organizations. The proceeds from these activities were used to fund Hezbollah’s global terror attacks, where some of them were even carried out on European soil.
This European policy, of “Two Hezbollahs” has clearly failed. Its European activities allowed the organization to gain more and more ground in Lebanon, throughout the Middle East and far beyond, including in the continent itself.,
Now it seems that the winds are changing and the time to act has come. Hezbollah’s involvement in the Beirut Port explosion was evident. The blast happened in an ammonium nitrate storage facility, similar to the ones that Hezbollah previously had in Germany and the UK. The explosion came at a sensitive time for Lebanon, as the country is going bankrupt, which can also be attributed to Hezbollah’s control over governmental budgets.
While we call on France to reconsider its attitude towards Hezbollah in Lebanon, we already know the following facts:
a. Hezbollah as an entity runs counter to French republican principles and values that Paris has strongly sought to develop in Lebanon.
b. Hezbollah’s behaviors are contrary to the interests of France’s friends in the region: GCC countries and Israel.
Europe, and especially France, recently acknowledge this and said that the country is in dire need of comprehensive political reforms. In other words – keep the helm away from Hezbollah’s hands.
This of course did not sit well with the organization’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah. He did everything he could to prevent the country’s designated Prime Minister, Mustafa Adib, from forming a new government. By doing that, Hezbollah failed not only Adib, but failed Lebanon as a whole. Consequently, President Macron said Hezbollah has betrayed the Lebanese people, adding “it must show that it respects all the Lebanese. And in recent days, it has clearly shown the opposite.”
Germany has already got the ball rolling by designating Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist group earlier this year and Estonia and the Czech Republic has done the same a few weeks ago. Now it’s up to France to lead the EU designation act. This will allow Lebanon to start its rebuilding process and send a strong message to the Lebanese that Europe will not accept Hezbollah in any way, shape or form.
By designating Hezbollah, France can defend itself, defend Europe and help release Lebanon from Hezbollah’s stranglehold. For that to happen, bold steps and leadership are required, and there’s no better time to do that then now.
Amb. Ron Prosor is the Chairman of the Abba Eban Institute for
Dr. Ebtesam Al Ketbi is the President of the Emirates Policy Center
Read the op-ed in French: