April 17, 2007
Hezbollah’s German Helpers
By ALEXANDER RITZMANN and MARK DUBOWITZ
April 17, 2007
Hezbollah arrived in the European Union back in the 1980s, along with refugees from the civil war in Lebanon. Despite its deadly track record and a 2005 European Parliament resolution recommending the banning of the Iranian-funded group, it is still legal on the Continent. France, Spain, Belgium and Sweden prevent the EU from jointly designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
Holding currently both the E.U. and G-8 presidencies, Berlin would be in a strong position to head the fight against an organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the replacement of Lebanon’s fragile democracy with a Tehran-backed Islamic state. So far, however, Germany has squandered this unique opportunity to push for a Hezbollah ban. Berlin’s passivity is consistent with its tolerant approach toward the „Party of God“ over the past two decades.
While under the watchful eye of German law enforcement and intelligence, Hezbollah enjoys significant operational freedom. In the late 1990s, for example, it was able to recruit in Germany Steven Smyrek, a German convert to Islam, and train him in Lebanon as a suicide bomber. He was luckily arrested at Tel Aviv airport before he could blow up Israeli civilians.
German security services believe that about 900 Hezbollah core activists are in the country and regularly meet in 30 cultural community centers and mosques. These activists financially support Hezbollah in Lebanon through fund-raising organizations, such as the „Orphans Project Lebanon Association.“ This harmless-sounding charity belongs to the Lebanese „al-Shahid (the Martyr) Association,“ which is part of the Hezbollah network that supports the families of militia fighters and suicide bombers.
According to a German government report from February, the attitude of Hezbollah supporters in Germany „is characterized by a far-reaching, unlimited acceptance of the ideology and policy (of Hezbollah).“ Berlin is also aware that representatives of Hezbollah’s „foreign affairs office“ in Lebanon regularly travel to Germany to give orders to their followers.
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So why does the German government tolerate these activities?
First, the Hezbollah leadership in Beirut recognizes the value of a German safe haven. It demands that Hezbollah followers carefully obey German law, which Berlin claims they do „to a large extent.“ Experience from attacks in the U.S., Britain and elsewhere suggest, though, that terrorists follow the law up and until the point they decide to strike.
Second, too many Germany policymakers uncritically accept the idea that there is supposedly a political Hezbollah — an Islamist but legitimate movement independent of those Hezbollah terrorists who have murdered hundreds of people around the world. To believe that fairy tale, they even ignore Hezbollah’s own words. As Mohammed Fannish, member of the „political bureau“ of Hezbollah and former Lebanese energy minister put it in 2002: „I can state that there is no separating between Hezbollah’s military and political arms.“
Hezbollah’s leadership, the Shurah Council, controls the totality of its activities — social, political and what it calls „military.“ Funding for Hezbollah is fungible: Money collected in Germany supposedly for social and political causes frees up funds for terrorist attacks.
In ignoring the threat from Hezbollah, the German government puts hope above experience. While it tries to spare German citizens from the wrath of Hezbollah, it plays down the danger of a group that seeks to destroy both Lebanese democracy and the Jewish state. In the end, this approach also compromises the safety of German citizens. On July 31, 2006, two Lebanese students, Yussuf Mohammed El Hajdib and Jihad Hamad, placed bombs hidden in suitcases on two regional trains in Germany, but they failed to go off. Germany’s federal law enforcement agency concluded that a successful explosion would have resulted in a tragedy on par with the London subway attacks of July 2005. The two suspects said they wanted to take revenge for the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.
Just four month earlier, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah repeatedly urged Muslims on Hezbollah’s TV-station al-Manar „to take a decisive stand“ in the cartoon controversy. He said that he is certain that, „…not only millions, but hundreds of millions of Muslims are ready and willing to sacrifice their lives in order to defend the honor of their Prophet. And you are among them.“ The German federal prosecutor is still investigating the organizational affiliations of the two Lebanese terror suspects.
What is well established already is that al-Manar broadcasts into Germany (and the rest of Europe), the Middle East and North Africa. While eight out of 10 satellite providers (including four European) have dropped al-Manar, ARABSAT, majority-owned by the Saudi government, and Nilesat, owned by the Egyptian government, continue these broadcasts. Hezbollah TV’s deadly mix of racial hatred, anti-Semitism, glorification of terrorism and incitement to violence are popular among Arabic-speaking youth in Europe. Young Muslims in Berlin recently asked in a German TV show to explain their hatred of the U.S. and Jews cited al-Manar as one of their primary sources of information.
In the past, the German government has shown strong resolve when it saw a threat to German security. It banned the Hamas „charity“ al-Aqsa as well as the radical Sunni Islamist Hizb-ut Tahrir group. And it joined the EU in designating the PKK, the radical Kurdish group, as a terrorist organization.
Would branding the „Party of God“ a terrorist group make any difference? Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah himself gave the answer in March 2005 when he told Arab media that European blacklisting would „destroy Hezbollah. The sources of our funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed.“
With so much power comes great responsibility to act.
Mr. Ritzmann, a former member of the Berlin State Parliament, is a senior fellow at the Brussels-based European Foundation for Democracy. Mr. Dubowitz is chief operating officer of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies and director of its Coalition Against Terrorist Media project.