Last week, Germany finally caved in to US and Israeli pressure to ban Hezbollah outright by outlawing the Lebanese movement’s political wing. Berlin declared the group to be a “Shiite terrorist organisation”, despite it being a legitimate part of the Lebanese government and having no official branch in Germany.
The fact that just two weeks before this move German security forces broke up a Daesh cell in North Rhine-Westphalia which was plotting attacks on US bases in the country, suggests that the government in Berlin has misplaced counterterrorism priorities, not least because Hezbollah’s military wing has been at the forefront of fighting Daesh in Syria.
In imposing the ban, Germany has allowed its supposedly independent foreign policy to be dictated by others. Although it is clear that it had been mulling such a ban for a while, it was only last year that Minister of State Niels Annen countered US criticism by insisting that Berlin’s foreign policy remained committed to finding a political solution in the wake of Britain’s ban on Hezbollah. Reports in late 2019 based on claims by “government circles” that Germany was set to impose the ban were denied by a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry.
With support from Israel’s murderous Mossad spy agency, the announcement of the ban was followed swiftly by insensitive raids by German police which desecrated Shia mosques in Berlin during the holy month of Ramadan, prompting Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah to condemn them as “barbaric”. In reality though, the ban is largely academic, as Hezbollah is a foreign organisation so the legal restrictions extend mainly to issues of finance or expressions of support within Germany.
This is inside the Al-Irshad Mosque #Berlin #Germany – They raided an empty mosque during #Ramadan with dogs! This is a disrespectful disgrace to defile our place of prayer with dogs! This is like raiding a church on Christmas! Look at the Quran on the floor! #Hezbollah pic.twitter.com/PNTBbZKGZV
— Sayyid Ali Amirli (@AmirliAli) April 30, 2020
With Iranian assistance, Hezbollah emerged as a social movement reaching the needs of the then marginalised Shia community in Lebanon during the country’s Civil War (1975-1990). The military wing developed to resist Israel’s 1982 invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah’s immense political clout grew during a successful protracted guerrilla war campaign which forced the Israeli army to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000, as well as the movement’s political victory six years later in the war launched by Israel.
Naturally, Israel was the first country in the world to designate Hezbollah as a whole to be a terrorist organisation from its inception in 1985. The US followed suit in 1997 as did Canada in 2002. Gulf States and the Arab League outlawed the movement in 2016 due to Hezbollah’s active support for the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad.
However, the EU has had a long-standing position not to regard the movement as a terrorist organisation. The Netherlands became an early exception in 2004 while the EU moved in 2013 to distinguish between the political and the military wings in the wake of the Burgas bus bombing attack in Bulgaria that killed five Israelis. Although the government in Sofia at the time linked Hezbollah to the incident, its successor backed away from implicating the movement, citing insufficient evidence and claiming that the EU’s change in stance was not justified. That being said, most European countries have not moved to designate Hezbollah individually; they rely on the EU position.
— Mohsin Abbas (@CertifiedShiaa) April 30, 2020
In following Britain with its terrorist designation of Hezbollah, Germany has demonstrated that it is simply another compliant state bowing to US and Israeli demands. According to Nasrallah, “[This] reflects Germany’s submission to America’s will and to pleasing Israel.” Iran’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, accused Germany of being compelled by its “historical debt” owed to Israel based on its Nazi past. In an attempt to clarify Berlin’s actions, Germany’s Ambassador to Lebanon was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Beirut this week and “clarified” that, “The decision does not classify Hezbollah as a terrorist [group], but rather prohibits its activities on German soil.”
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Hezbollah does not pose a threat to Germany nor even the Western world. It is fundamentally concerned with defending Lebanese territorial integrity and protecting the interests of Lebanon and its allies. It also maintains its commitment to Palestinian liberation and its armed wing has maintained an effective deterrence over Israel ever since 2006.
Very real security threats to Germany and elsewhere come from the takfiri-jihadi ideology of Daesh and Neo-Nazism. According to German intelligence agency the BfV, since 2013 over 1,000 German-based Islamists have joined Daesh, and approximately a third of them have returned to Germany. At the beginning of this year, Germany announced the repatriation of 122 its citizens from Syria and Iraq who were members of Daesh.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said in the aftermath of February’s terrorist attacks on shisha bars in Hanau that it is far-right extremism which is “the biggest security threat facing Germany”. He was joined in this view by Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht when she said that, “Far-right terror is the biggest threat to our democracy right now.”
Before German ban After German ban pic.twitter.com/RkVkjkPfXp
— SA for Freedom (@SAforFreedom) April 30, 2020
Germany’s closer alignment with US and Zionist interests, while welcomed by some, has been questioned by others in terms of actual effectiveness. One Tehran-based analyst, Hadi Borhani, said that the ban is of no importance: “The designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group at this time is just a hollow and baseless move with zero significance or weight.” The gesture by the government in Berlin appears to be symbolic at best and, at worst, indicative of its lack of independence; it will have no strategic impact on Hezbollah in the long term.
Overshadowed by the global economic downturn and heath crisis as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, in addition to its domestic terrorism problems, Germany clearly has its priorities wrong. The move to ban Hezbollah is a politically-motivated manoeuvre that has nothing to do with protecting its national interests.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.