The May 12 deadline set by President Trump to “fix the terrible flaws” of the JCPOA is edging ever closer. As such, the diplomatic wheels are turning at a fast pace, in order to find a formula that both Washington and Europe can work with. As such, if media reports are to be believed, the UK, France and Germany are considering new measures which would make this possible. Reuters says that the three European signatories to the JCPOA are working hard to persuade fellow European Union members to adopt new sanctions against Iran.
Curiously though, there is apparent discord within the influential triumvirate over an issue which would appear straightforward – While London and Paris are prepared to play ball, Berlin is said to oppose US insistence that Hezbollah be recognised as a terrorist entity in its entirety. While its military wing is classified by Germany as a terror group, its political wing is not.
It is far from clear exactly why Germany is digging in its heels over this issue. German diplomatic sources are said to have commented that Hezbollah is “linked to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks” and so they don’t wish to rock the boat. This will likely come as a surprise to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. After all, Hezbollah is a Lebanese, not a Palestinian group. And its policy towards Israel continues to be clear and uncompromising – Armed conflict.
Germany is acutely aware of the dangers posed by terror, having suffered attacks on its own soil. Chancellor Merkel has routinely expressed determination in the fight against terror, pledging “it can never defeat us” after an attack in Barcelona and assuring that Germany stands by Britain’s side following the Manchester bombing. So it cannot have escaped Merkel’s notice, that Hezbollah is a prime terror perpetrator – And on European soil no less. Bulgarian authorities concluded that Hezbollah was behind a bus bomb in Burgas, which killed six people in 2012. And in 2015, a Cypriot court sentenced a Hezbollah operative to six years’ imprisonment for planning a bombing on the island. Quite why any country, especially in Europe, would give Hezbollah the benefit of the doubt over a cosmetic distinction between its political and military wings, is baffling.
As Germany must again be aware, the political and military wings of Hezbollah are merely two tentacles of the exact same beast. Hezbollah may sit in the Lebanese parliament, but like Hezbollah’s commanders in Syria, they are equally subservient to leader Hassan Nasrallah and by extension, to Tehran. Nasrallah recently admitted that his loyalty to Iran’s Supreme Leader trumps his loyalty towards anything else, including Lebanon’s constitution. In other words, Hezbollah is a unitary movement with ultimate obedience towards Tehran. After all, does anyone really believe that the estimated 100,000 rockets Hezbollah has stockpiled are the exclusive work of enterprising amateur engineers in the workshops and basements of southern Lebanon?
So the question remains, why is Germany so reluctant to recognize Hezbollah for what it so manifestly is? Perhaps Berlin is keen to preserve an image as a potential broker between Israel and Iranian interests, having helped mediate a deal to release Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit from Hamas captivity. Or perhaps the motivation is purely economic. German exports to Iran were worth 3.5 billion Euros in 2017, compared to 2.6 billion Euros the year before. Former-US National Security Advisor HR McMaster recently appealed to Berlin to review aspects of its trade ties with Tehran.
But can such bilateral trade really be lucrative enough to be worth jeopardizing possible progress on the JCPOA? Certainly the terrorists of Hezbollah are not worthy of such a high price. Far from it. All logic says that Germany should condemn Hezbollah in its’ entirety as the Iranian terror proxy it so clearly is. The only murky question which remains, is quite why Berlin refuses to take such a step?