(May 8, 2020 / JNS) On April 30, Germany officially banned all Hezbollah activities in Germany. In a dramatic demonstration of its execution, authorities raided four mosques believed to have ties to the Lebanese terror group.
Critics of Germany’s reluctance to make a distinction between the political and military wing of Hezbollah, such as the German Jewish community and the Israeli government, praised it as a long-overdue policy. Others called it a partial step.
“Germany has taken a major step, and we’re glad they’ve done so,” U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell told JNS. Along with his embassy staff, he has made blacklisting Hezbollah a top priority. The U.S. State Department designated Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has long pushed for Germany to outlaw the group.
The road to banning Hezbollah
The move to ban the Iranian-backed Shi’ite terror group was over a decade-long process in the famously bureaucratic Germany.
The first move to sanction the organization came in 2008, when Germany restricted Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite station. In 2014, the country banned an alleged charity that was a front for the Martyrs Organization of Hezbollah and the following year, Germany’s Supreme Court ruled that Hezbollah was an organization that “disrupted global peace.”
Despite this, the Germany government and its major political parties seemed to delay a full ban on the terror group.
At a Bundestag debate last June led by the right-wing Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), which introduced a motion to ban Hezbollah’s political arm, German lawmakers stated collective disdain for Hezbollah’s genocidal, anti-Semitic aims but argued the ban might cause instability in Lebanon (where Hezbollah is a central political player) or that it should be a pan-European initiative. The E.U. only recognizes Hezbollah’s so-called “military wing” as a terror organization. Yet other European and E.U. countries, such as the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, list the entire organization as a terror group.
However, the push to outlaw began to gain momentum in December 2019, when the ruling coalition parties, the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Socialist Union and the Socialist Democrats, as well as the Free Democrats (FdP) passed their own non-binding resolution calling on the government to ban Hezbollah’s activities.
“It’s good that, following the clear decision of the joint motion in the Bundestag in December 2019, the Federal Ministry of the Interior has finally become active and brought about the ban on activity,” said MP Strasser, who said he and his party, the Free Democrats (FDP) spearheaded and pushed the motion.
Ban on Hezbollah had to be ‘legally airtight’
Behind the scenes, Grenell and his embassy staff were also working to encourage the Germans to make the ban. Ultimately, the decisive logic employed by the U.S. embassy focused less on ethical, historical and political considerations, but on legal ones.
According to a U.S. official, embassy personnel had extensive discussions with German officials about how the ban fits under the parameters of German federal law, the same laws that justified the banning of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Any ban on Hezbollah had to be legally airtight to avoid being challenged in court, which could effectively, and permanently, overturn it.
“They did everything that they could under the law, and they’re not going to operate outside the law,” said the U.S. official.
Keeping the letter of the law—i.e., freedom of assembly—has ostensibly prevented Berlin authorities from forbidding the annual Hezbollah-affiliated Al Quds march, which is permitted under strict prohibitions against hate speech, the burning of Israeli flags, and the waving of Hezbollah flags. One the same day that Germany’s Interior Ministry banned Hezbollah, the Al Quds organizers canceled the scheduled May 14 anti-Israel rally, conveniently blaming the Corona pandemic.
According to Berlin’s Interior department, the office had already begun examining, prior to the cancellation, which legal measures could be invoked to get it off Berlin’s streets.
Berlin’s Interior Senator, Andreas Geisel, who participated in counter-demonstrations, said in a statement: “I do not want such anti-Semitic events to take place in Berlin. We are therefore exhausting all constitutional possibilities to make something like this impossible in our city.”
The true test of Germany’s application of the 40-page Hezbollah ban towards the Al Quds rally will therefore be next year (assuming no pandemic).
The AfD, which credits itself as the parliamentary champion of Hezbollah’s demise in Germany, called the move insufficient.
“The German law makes the difference between a ‘Betätigungsverbot’ (Prohibition to Act) and an ‘Organisationsverbot’ (Prohibition of the Organization),” said AfD’s MP Beatrix Von Storch, the sponsor of the June anti-Hezbollah motion. “The German government introduced only a ‘Betätigungsverbot’ for the Hezbollah. That prohibits the Hezbollah to act, but this will not lead to the end of the Hezbollah organization in Germany. But it is necessary to destroy the Hezbollah organization, seize the property and force its extremist members to leave Germany.”
According to the U.S. official, a ban on the activity and the organization are essentially one and the same given that Hezbollah does not exist as a legal entity in Germany (as is the case with ISIS and Al-Qaeda.) The Hezbollah ban on activity subsumes any and all legally incorporated associations, transactions, and assets with proven links to Hezbollah, including those in the digital sphere.
‘Not the beginning of the end’ for Hezbollah in Germany
The question now becomes how vigorously Germany will enforce the ban, said Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute specializing in Iran.
“Hezbollah will play Three-card Monte with shell organizations and front groups, much like the Muslim Brotherhood does,” Rubin told JNS. “This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. German authorities will need to show their seriousness by continuing to close front groups as they try to open.”
“I consider it absolutely necessary that the Federal Government does not now sit back and do nothing,” said FDP’s Strasser. “It must use the German E.U. Council Presidency in the second half of 2020 to arrive at a new assessment of Hezbollah at European level as well.”
According to Benjamin Weinthal, fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has covered the matter extensively, the next step would be to sanction Hezbollah’s chief sponsor, Iran. “That means pulling out of the deeply flawed Iran nuclear, joining U.S. sanctions targeting Tehran, and not agreeing to allow Iran to buy arms after the weapons embargo on the rogue nation expires in October,” he said, adding that Germany should next outlaw the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, another U.S.-designated terrorist entity.
While Israel and the Jewish community, in addition to several German lawmakers, have rallied for the ban, the credit, said Weinthal, goes to Grenell’s efforts, which won’t stop here. Next up: the European Union.
“But now it’s time for the rest of the E.U. to follow through and take a similarly strong stance,” said Grenell. “There can be no doubt Hezbollah is a global threat. Germany has recognized this, and it’s time to make sure this terrorist organization doesn’t have safe haven anywhere in Europe.”
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