x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

EU's decision on Hizbollah militias is a heavy blow

Hizbollah is being isolated after aid Al Assad's regime in Syria.

Hizbollah's sphere of influence is shrinking rapidly. The decision of the Lebanese "party of God" to back the embattled Assad regime has changed the strategic environment for the group more than any other single decision since its rise in the 1980s.

The days when, after the 2006 war with Israel, Hizbollah was hailed across the Arab world for its "divine victory" are long gone. The decision to stand with the brutal Assad regime and aid it in slaughtering Syrians has lost it support in the Arab world and elsewhere.

That is the background to the decision by the European Union to blacklist Hizbollah's military wing. Having lost the sympathy of Europe and the backing of important Arab countries - it is no secret the Gulf nations are also contemplating blacklisting it - the group had few friends left.

The truth is the decision will have very little practical effect: the distinction between Hizbollah's political and military wings is not an easy one to establish and, indeed, is not one the party itself recognises. And the European Union has no interest in blacklisting the party as a whole. It knows very well that it needs dialogue with Hizbollah, which still maintains a formidable presence in Lebanon's politics and whose militias dominate the south of the country. Without cooperation, the work of the United Nation's Interim Force for Lebanon, which polices the so-called "blue line" between Lebanon and Israel, would be impossible.

The blacklisting is symbolic in this sense, but the symbolism should not be lost on Hizbollah. The world has changed dramatically for it. The group once persuaded significant numbers of Lebanese, across the religious spectrum, that it stood up for Lebanon. That is no longer the case. It is now merely a militia backed by Iran, fighting in a country that is not its own and taking orders from a foreign capital. Arab people appear to be disillusioned with groups such as Hizbollah that seek to exert influence beyond national borders.

Hizbollah will survive this, just as it has survived much worse isolation. In the end, the group is influential in its country. The end for Hizbollah will not come from Europe's capitals or indeed from any Arab country - except one.

It is only when the Lebanese tire of this militia in their midst that Hizbollah, having proved its allegiance to foreign powers, having brought brief glory but much misery to Lebanon, will be stripped of its weapons. And its military and political wings will fade away.