BEIRUT — In what was essentially a dare to the European Union to sanction the government of Lebanon, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday that the militant Shiite Muslim organization would demand to be included in any new Lebanese government, despite the EU’s designation earlier this week of Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization.
In a televised speech, Nasrallah also mocked the EU’s careful distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political wings, a distinction that Hezbollah itself doesn’t make. Nasrallah leads both components.
“A government without Hezbollah will never be formed,” Nasrallah said. “Just as a joke I propose that our ministers in the next government be from the military wing of Hezbollah.”
But in keeping with his reputation as Lebanon’s most skilled, and often wry, orator, Nasrallah’s joke was received by many as doubly amusing – or ominous – because the group already considers its members of Parliament and ministers to be the political representatives of a military organization.
Lebanon currently has a caretaker government after the resignation earlier this year of Prime Minister Niqab Miqati. Another Lebanese politician, Tamam Salam, has been designated prime minister and is trying to form a new Cabinet.
The EU’s designation of Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization was widely hailed by the United States and Israel as a step toward isolating the organization, Lebanon’s most powerful political group. Under the European action Monday, EU diplomats are prohibited from talking to officials from Hezbollah’s military wing, and the group is prohibited from maintaining offices and raising money in Europe.
But by drawing a distinction about the group’s activities that Hezbollah itself rejects, the EU has put itself in the awkward position of having to ignore dozens of statements from the group since it first ran candidates for Parliament in the early 1990s. With several EU members already having troops in southern Lebanon as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force, no EU member appears willing to cut off communication with the group completely, let alone cutting ties to the fragile Lebanese government, which also includes Hezbollah’s bitter political opponents.
Still, Lebanese officials are concerned that the EU move could hurt their country’s relationship with Europe.
“This will have a negative impact on visas and the transport of people and financial transactions,” caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour was quoted Wednesday as telling Beirut’s Safir newspaper.
Highlighting the obtuse nature of the decision, Belgian officials already have told Hezbollah officials that they will not end contact with the group.
Ammar Mousawi, a member of Hezbollah’s international relations office, met on Wednesday with the Belgian ambassador to Lebanon to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria – where Hezbollah fighters are openly fighting on behalf of President Bashar Assad.
The decision by the EU came after heavy pressure from the United States and Israel in the wake of last year’s bombing of an Israeli tour group in Bulgaria that both Israeli and Bulgarian authorities have blamed on Hezbollah. A slew of similar plots in Cyprus, Thailand, Georgia, India and other nations have been broken up or had limited success over the past few years and are widely regarded as Hezbollah and its patron Iran’s response to an assassination campaign against Iranian scientists.
Prothero is a McClatchy special correspondent. Twitter: @mitchprothero