Hezbollah: a closer look at Lebanon’s Party of God

In an event, jointly organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and the AJC Transatlantic Institute, Matthew Levitt, Senior Fellow and Director of the Stein Programme on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, discussed the findings in his forthcoming book. In Hezbollah: the Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God (Georgetown University Press) he exposes the criminal activities of the organization. Ian Lesser, Director of the Transatlantic Centre of the German Marshall Fund provided a transatlantic context of the issue.

According to Matthew Levitt, scholar and former deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Hezbollah is many things – a duly elected political party, a civil society actor providing social services in poor rural areas of Lebanon, as well as a criminal and terrorist organization. The year 2013 will mark the 30th anniversary of Hezbollah’s attacks on the U.S. marine barracks in Beirut; ever since the organization has grown in size and scope, expanding its criminal and terrorist activities, such as the procurement of weapons and raising funds for hostile acts against primarily Israeli and U.S. targets. Dealing with Hezbollah, Ian Lesser comments, must be a priority for the United States and Europe, since Islamist terrorism against the West is a deadly reality for both.

Yet, among EU member states only the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have designated Hezbollah, in whole or in part, a terrorist organization. Others have not done so in order not to shut down lines of communication with the powerful political party in Lebanon. The double standard is becoming insupportable, Matthew Levitt said, even as a political party, Hezbollah openly champions the elimination of the State of Israel and engages in activities that have nothing to do with Lebanon’s interest as a nation. The EU and its members should no longer ignore Hezbollah’s paramilitary wing or the strategic partnership through which Iran and Syria finance and direct Hezbollah activities.

The act of designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization, would not only contribute to naming and shaming, an important aspect of public diplomacy against transnational terrorism, but also have legal implications. It would also empower law enforcement officials to cooperate and conduct more targeted criminal investigations and give the international community more leverage. It would tell Hezbollah’s political leaders what they need to do in order to be taken off the list of terrorist organizations.

Susan Schneider

Read more about Matthew Levitt here.