Commentary Magazine


No, Hezbollah Isn’t a “Stabilizing” Force

Although last year’s terrorist attack in Bulgaria against Jewish tourists served to renew the pressure on the European Union to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the civil war in Syria seemed all along to be a more significant catalyst for EU action. European countries had been pressing the U.S. for more assistance to the Syrian rebels while the U.S. had been pressing European officials to blacklist Hezbollah. Both efforts had some success: the EU blacklisted Hezbollah’s “military wing,” while the Obama administration has signaled it will increase help to the rebels.

Hezbollah has been fighting on the side of Bashar al-Assad, and the West’s desire to see the fall of the house of Assad convinced both the EU and the U.S. to take steps toward that end. But in an essay at Foreign Policy’s website, RAND analyst Julie Taylor makes an unconventional–and, in the end, terribly unconvincing–argument: leave Hezbollah alone, because you won’t like them when they’re angry. Taylor’s case rests on the idea that Hezbollah is showing restraint and maintaining a precarious, mostly nonviolent, state of affairs within Lebanon. Push them too far, and they’ll be tempted to show their strength, Hezbollah-style:

Between the continued bloodshed in Syria and the military takeover in Egypt, it might be easy to overlook recent events in Lebanon. But Middle East watchers need to keep a sharp eye on the current turmoil in Lebanon because spillover from Syria could cause the security situation to flame up quickly into a full-scale sectarian civil war. Several stabilizing factors have kept the situation in Lebanon from escalating out of control, one of these being Hezbollah’s resistance to being drawn into conflict with other Lebanese. However, recent attacks on Hezbollah interests, coupled with the EU’s decision this week to blacklist the organization, are backing Hezbollah into a corner. Feeling its position in Lebanon to be under threat, the organization may change course, and decide to take up the fight against its domestic rivals. 

It should be clear why Taylor’s argument is at a disadvantage right off the bat. Taylor’s line of reasoning is based on speculation of what Hezbollah might do, while the U.S. and EU have based their actions against Hezbollah on what the terror group has already done. It doesn’t make much sense to fret that Hezbollah might get violent when this entire scenario is plausible because of the violence Hezbollah has recently been engaged in.

It’s not like Hezbollah is the victim of a witch hunt in Europe. The group has been implicated in terrorist attacks on the continent, and the EU is simply attempting to take modest steps to defend its soil. Of course, Taylor is specifically concerned with Hezbollah lashing out in Lebanon if pushed out of Europe. But the Europeans can hardly be expected to defenselessly accept and absorb Hezbollah’s murderous pursuits in the hopes that the terror group gets it out of their system by killing Europeans and feels no need to kill (more) Lebanese.

And Hezbollah, as Taylor concedes in the article, is not exactly a bystander to violence in the region right now. Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Assad’s forces is widely credited with helping Assad’s forces turn the tide and gain back the momentum by winning crucial battles. Hezbollah is therefore doing its part to keep the war in Syria going and to help Assad believe he doesn’t need to surrender or accept a negotiated exit. It is that violence that is spilling over the border into Lebanon, and it is violence that is fueled by Hezbollah itself.

As Taylor writes:

Lebanese territory is increasingly becoming an extension of the Syrian battle zone: the Syrian army is firing on villages along the border and the FSA is firing rockets into Shiite areas, including Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Beirut. There are inter-communal kidnappings both for profit and revenge for actions occurring in Syria. Assassinations, especially of Hezbollah members and Assad supporters, have become commonplace.

Need it even be said that the EU’s watered-down blacklisting is not to blame for this? Elsewhere, Taylor says that the war could provoke renewed fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. But Israel has already blacklisted Hezbollah, and that certainly didn’t stop the terror group from touching off the Second Lebanon War against Israel in 2006. The plain fact is, Hezbollah commits terrorism because it is a terrorist group. It will always attempt to justify its actions, and Western countries should not fall into the easy trap of pretending Hezbollah won’t find a casus belli if it decides it needs one.

Finally, there is another benefit of the EU’s decision to restrict Hezbollah’s operations in Europe. As Herb Keinon reports in the Jerusalem Post, in order to enforce its blacklisting of Hezbollah, European countries are now receiving the necessary intelligence briefings from Israel. That means countries such as Germany, France, and Spain are now improving their antiterrorism capabilities. Though Britain already worked with Israel in that capacity, any weak link in the EU would threaten the rest of the continent. They are now better prepared to protect their citizens thanks to “backing Hezbollah into a corner,” where they belong.

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