(April 22, 2018 / Israel Hayom)
After 70 years, no Israeli citizen can look to the northern border without a growing sense of concern over the greatest conventional threat to our security: Hezbollah, the Iran-sponsored Shiite terrorist group.
Ever since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah has been trying to rehabilitate its abilities, with Israel’s defense apparatus taking great pains to prevent this and to deter Iran, the group’s patron.
But the effort is insufficient. Deterrence and prevention alone are not enough. Israel must invest in severing Hezbollah from its main sources of funding and global deployment.
To this end, Israel has another tool at its disposal—one that is multinational, and would be effective and efficient if implemented properly, but one that has simply been ignored by Israel in recent years: the diplomatic campaign.
This entails an international effort spearheaded by us, supported by our friends across the globe, via direct and indirect diplomatic channels, overt and covert. Its objective would be to create an international chokehold around Hezbollah’s neck, effectively forcing the organization into a state of operational asphyxiation far before any Israeli soldier sets foot on Lebanese soil.
What is the diplomatic campaign? In short: We must bring the European Union to categorize Hezbollah in its entirety as a “terrorist entity,” including its “diplomatic wing.”
Today, most of Europe (aside from the Netherlands) artificially distinguishes between Hezbollah’s military wing and its diplomatic wing. Since 2013, the European Union has recognized only the military wing as a terrorist organization, leaving the diplomatic wing to act unimpeded. This is a political compromise from the European school of diplomacy, a terrible compromise at that.
The United States and some Persian Gulf states do define the entire organization as a terrorist entity, from top to bottom. Ironically, Hezbollah itself also does not distinguish between its wings.
Under the current conditions, Europe, Iran and some countries in Africa and South America have become Hezbollah’s primary sources of income. Tens of millions of dollars are transferred monthly through drug deals, smuggling, money-laundering and “charity” groups to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, money that fuels the group’s terrorist engine.
Why is labeling a group a terrorist entity significant? The moment it is classed as such, its bank accounts, businesses and finances are treated as illegal, and are heavily sanctioned. Its members are placed on no-flight lists, and law-enforcement agencies can use more effective tools. Hezbollah’s “free-trade zone” would officially be closed.
If Europe finally decides to call the child by its name, Israel and other countries in the region would benefit, of course. Less money means fewer weapons; in other words, a less menacing Hezbollah. Instead of destroying its weapons stockpiles with countless bombing sorties, we would hamper its procurement efforts in advance.
Is this even realistic? The answer is yes. In relatively short order, Europe can classify Hezbollah a terrorist organization and hinder its international activities dramatically.
Meanwhile, as in any campaign, work must be done in stages. First, targets need to be defined for the purpose of gathering intelligence about them and exposing them. We must clearly show the Europeans how much damage Hezbollah causes them by operating unrestrained on their soil. Not damage to Israel, but damage to Europe, which is considerable. We must start with a leading country—Germany, which suffers from Hezbollah’s activities and is aware of the intrinsic dangers.
In recent months, Israel has embarked on this mission in earnest. A team of researchers from the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy and the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at IDC Herzliya—helped by friends from Israel’s security agencies and across the globe—has compiled information and formulated messages ahead of the exposure stage, to be launched in coming weeks.
After this comes the mobilization stage, where the goal is to spur international action to take the steps needed to change Germany’s and subsequently all of Europe’s approach to Hezbollah.
The diplomatic campaign aimed at Hezbollah is vital and of utmost importance. Its objective is to shut down Hezbollah’s European carnival and strike a significant blow against it, before any military campaign even begins. The sooner this is done, the better.
Ron Prosor is head of the Abba Eban Chair of International Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations.