Reining in Hezbollah should be key part of Iran talks

Reining in Hezbollah should be key part of Iran talks

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Hezbollah fighters place Lebanese and Hezbollah flags at Juroud Arsal, Syria-Lebanon border, July 25, 2017. (Reuters)

As President-elect Joe Biden’s foreign policy team begins taking shape, one of the most-discussed topics among Middle Eastern analysts is the US strategy toward Iran. Most are expecting a return to a deal, as some members of Biden’s team were involved in the negotiations during the Obama administration. This echoes the hopes of European countries, which are eager to get a deal back in place.
It is interesting to note that the more experts predict that the US and Europeans will push for a deal with the Iranian leadership and are favorable to this scenario, the more the Iranian leadership plays hard to get and adds refusals and conditions to the way this deal should look.
On the other hand, there have been some good suggestions from the new US foreign policy team on how to avoid some of the shortfalls of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Most of these voices suggest that, this time, any nuclear deal should also include an agreement on the Iranian ballistic missile program, as well its interference and behavior in the region. If pursued, this seems like a good step — if not essential. The inclusion of Arab countries in the discussion mechanism would also be a positive and good suggestion, as the region needs stability among all its countries.
However, this more comprehensive and constructive agreement is something the Iranians do not want. They would prefer to “bucketize” each subject to maximize their gains. Mostly, they believe they can increase their control over the various countries where they are involved, from Lebanon to Iraq and Yemen, and this is mostly thanks to Hezbollah.
It is for this reason that attention toward countering Hezbollah and its illegal activities is important. Regardless of the content and nature of the expected US-European engagement with Iran, it is important to continue stopping Hezbollah’s illegal activities and designate it as a terrorist entity globally. This is for many reasons, and not for Lebanon alone, but for the security of the Middle East and the world.
Firstly, in the same way that there has long been a view that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has exacerbated violence and pushed the region to extremism, one could say the same about Hezbollah’s impunity in Lebanon and abroad. Indeed, if the Palestinian cause does not today seem to be the same symbol of injustice that might have once pushed some youths toward extremism in the region, it is a certainty that Hezbollah’s acceptance as a respectable political force by some in the Western media and European countries has pushed more Sunni youths toward extremism.
This is especially the case in countries where humiliation by Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies has been rampant. Whether in Syria, Iraq or Lebanon, Hezbollah’s actions and those of its entourage have been consistent in humiliating others, who are left to suffer and to let the wounds of injustice and inequality heal in silence. This is by no means the only reason for the rise of Daesh, but there is a symbiotic interaction between the two.
I am always puzzled as to what makes the Hezbollah model of non-state actor acceptable when compared to others. Even when it comes to Lebanese politics, how can analysts still push the argument of separation between its political and armed wings? This is all semantics. Hezbollah is just like Daesh or Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi: A dangerous non-state actor and a terrorist organization. Therefore, it should be treated as such. At the very least, this should be the focus of its regional and international presence.
Secondly, Hezbollah has been conducting illegal activities — such as drug smuggling and blood diamond trading — on a global level, from South America to Africa. Sometimes it more closely resembles a criminal organization than an ideological resistance movement, as it claims to be. This is especially true as it relies on these illegal activities to finance its operations. These illegal networks are the same ones it also uses to prepare and conduct terrorist activities, adding to the many reasons it should be blocked.
Therefore, the US Treasury should continue its efforts regardless of any negotiations with Iran. The EU should do the same. As negotiations with Tehran become evident, there should be no appeasement of the regime through looking the other way when it comes to Hezbollah’s activities, such as what happened with Syria in the previous negotiations. This would be a big mistake. There should be no silence regarding Hezbollah’s malignant activities in Lebanon and elsewhere. This focused action would be a sign of US and international strength toward getting a better and stronger deal with the Iranians for the benefit of the region. The stopping of Hezbollah should not be put on the negotiating table, it should be a fait accompli presented to the Iranians.
This organization has been a net exporter of destabilization and, while sanctions are not the best solution, surrendering to Hezbollah’s diktats and vision for Lebanon and the Middle East is even worse. Therefore, when it comes to Hezbollah’s global activities, there should be continuous and focused action to stop it and weaken it. This will not only empower stronger negotiations, but will also create a new set of rules toward the Iranian regime.

Hezbollah is just like Daesh or Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi: A dangerous non-state actor and a terrorist organization.

Khaled Abou Zahr

I am a strong believer that Arab countries are looking for stability and peaceful relations with Iran. However, one cannot accept the chaos Hezbollah is bringing to Lebanon and the region. How can we accept a non-state actor with hundreds of thousands of missiles — one that controls all sorts of illegal activities? How can we accept a non-state actor that sends troops to fight and kill the local populations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen? How can we accept that it has ammonium nitrate stocks and other explosives hiding across Lebanon and the world? How many explosions and lives lost will be enough to stop this organization? Is it because it is backed by Iran?
When it comes to the strategy of countering Iran, there has been a focus on Tehran without getting sidetracked by all the theaters it is involved in and the proxies it has deployed. This makes sense. However, Hezbollah is the symbol of Iranian destabilization and malignant interference. Hence, empowering it to continue unchecked would not only make any deal a failure, but would also destroy any regional peace agreement that could boost positive relations among neighbors.

  • Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.
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