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October 1, 2012 |  17 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Niklas Anzinger & Ludwig Jung

Gaining the Upper Hand Over the Iran-Hezbollah Axis

Niklas Anzinger & Ludwig Jung: Syria’s civil war has left the region’s revolutionary axis vulnerable. Tehran and Hezbollah are pursuing an even more aggressive strategy against their perceived enemies. Apart from putting more pressure on Tehran, designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in the EU would help Western powers dry up financial sources in several European countries.

The revolutionary axis of Syria, Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah has been undermined due to the crisis of the Assad regime. Assad´s future remains uncertain and Hamas has already loosened its commitment to Tehran. In addition to actively supporting the Assad regime against the opposition, Tehran has strengthened ties with Hezbollah, whose role, as Assad fades, becomes increasingly important.

Ever since its emergence, Hezbollah has been able to build a state within the state of Lebanon. Besides a shadow economy and all-out control over large territories in southern Lebanon, global terrorism is its business. Its strategy of violence dates back to its emergence and many attacks, including the US Embassy attack in Beirut, the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, the hijacking of planes, and assassinations, can be linked to the radical Shiite organization. In 2012 the axis intensified its global terror campaign against Israeli and Jewish targets.

The changing situation in the Middle East due to the conflict in Syria and Iran's commitment to its nuclear program are becoming key factors for a likely extension of clandestine actions carried out by the Iran-Hezbollah axis. During his recent visit in Damascus, Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, stated: "Iran will never allow the resistance axis - of which Syria is an essential pillar - to break." Tehran will continue to further arm Assad´s forces and pursue its nuclear armament program. The prestige project of the Iranian regime is drawing international criticism and more and more sanctions are imposed.

Backing down to foreign pressure seems not to be an option for the Islamic Republic. Rather, taking a more aggressive stance appears to be the most likely result. This is in line with the assessment of Matthew Levitt, Director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence of the Washington Institute: "As Iran presses on in its efforts to become a nuclear power, the regime in Tehran also employs an aggressive foreign policy that relies heavily on the deployment of clandestine assets abroad to collect intelligence and support foreign operations."

In fact, Iranian and Hezbollah leaders are facing difficult times for themselves. Assad's power in Damascus is at stake. Using Syria as a weapons hub to Lebanon will become more difficult in the likely event of regime change and other forces emerging - equipping an ideological ally on the border to Israel might therefore become a more complicated task. Moreover, public opinion has seemed to shift against Hezbollah in Lebanon. An increasing number of citizens are holding the organization responsible for the ongoing struggles with Israel. The perception of Hezbollah's arms is shifting from a measure of self-defense to a critical security threat. Ideological opponents of the group are seeing their chances rising to challenge Hezbollah's power assets in Lebanon.

Following the Dutch example

The leaders in Iran and Lebanon know that the dynamics in the region are aligning against them. Having to restore power domestically and maintain revolutionary credentials abroad has been too much of a strain. Nevertheless the threat posed by Hezbollah's sleeper cells over the world is real and European states are no exception The US State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin has recently assessed that Hezbollah attacks in Europe might be carried out at any point in time.

Counteraction against the axis can succeed at this moment. A lot depends on increased pressure towards the Iranian regime to suspend its nuclear program. Tehran knows very well that its negotiation time is running out. No matter what the result of the upcoming US Presidential election will be, diplomatic pressure will rise, since both candidates assert that the military option is no bluff. In the meantime, the main actors shouldn't allow Iranian negotiators to buy time through talks without any resolution potential. Closing Iranian embassies, as Canada recently did, should be followed as an example. Such measures highlight the protest against Tehran´s genocidal rhetoric. The suspension of the Iranian nuclear armament program is a condicio sine qua non. The European nations should demand no less than that from Iran and should continue imposing sanctions as well as work on fixing the loopholes in the existing ones until the nuclear option is denied. The Europeans have to learn from previous mistakes, otherwise they will fall for yet another Iranian subterfuge.

The European states should follow the Dutch example by declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization and pursue the earlier outlined "track against a nuclear Iran". The EU´s reluctance to put Hezbollah on the terror list is based on a murky argument: Cypriot Foreign Minister and president of the EU council Kozakou-Marcoullis stated: "(...) Hezbollah was an organization comprising a party as well as an armed wing and was "active in Lebanese politics." In fact, it seems that it is the fear of terrorist attacks that leads European decision-makers to appease Hezbollah.

As previously mentioned, Hezbollah acts like a terrorist group in various ways. Therefore it should be considered as a terrorist group in all official circles as well. The organization's clear commitment to the eradication of Israel and its outspoken and proven hatred against the USA are just two reasons to consider the very nature of Hezbollah. Putting Hezbollah on the EU's terror list would allow legal enforcement on a scale necessary to enhance the pressure on the axis. Hezbollah's leaders themselves fear the European blacklist and know of the far-reaching consequences of such a legal measure.

This would probably not only allow the Western allies to tackle the axis on a more efficient level, but also to support domestic democratic opponents to both the Iranian regime and Hezbollah by diminishing their own and their allies' legitimacy.

Ludwig Jung holds a bachelor's degree in Philosophy & Economics from the University of Bayreuth. He's currently working towards a master's in International Relations at Georgetown University, sponsored by the Fulbright Program.

Niklas Anzinger is a student of Philosophy & Economics (B.A.) at the University of Bayreuth. He has worked as an Editorial Assistant for Turkish Policy Quarterly in Istanbul.

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Tags: | EU | Iran | Hezbollah |
 
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Unregistered User

September 27, 2012

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On August 17, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared: “The Israeli attack will give Iran an opportunity to destroy Israel as it has already dreamed of doing for thirty-two years,” adding that “our missiles are prepared and aimed…we will not wait for anyone’s approval.”

http://jcpa.org/article/hizbullah-threatens-to-strike-strategic-isr...
 
John A. Hughes

September 30, 2012

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I agree with your assessment that Iran's influence is decreasing as the Assad regime is continuing to tumble and Hezbollah is starting to slowly lose influence. That is why we are observing Iran being so hostile towards Israel, as well as Ahmadinejad's high level of visibility in the U.S last week, through doing a media blitz, and meeting with students (which I was privileged to attend.)

Iran wants to be a world power, and to become one, it needs attention. The rhetoric against Israel is the perfect forum for Ahmadinejad to gain the international spot light, as targeting Israel, wins the attention of her closes allies, who are also the world's major powers. Through Iran's threats against Israel, and its nuclear program, Iran is engaging in a "last ditch effort", to not only maintain its influence in the region, but attract international attention.

The key word in Iranian foreign policy is now "leverage," and a nuclear weapon gives Iran just that. Having a nuclear weapon gives Iran a greater voice, as its threats to use a nuclear weapon become more serious. Iran is hoping to be in a position where foreign powers will want to negotiate with Iranian leadership, in hopes that Iran does not launch a nuclear strike against Israel. However, unless Iran is further along in the development process than U.S and British intelligence suggest, Iran is putting herself in a dangerous position. Yes, Iran's rhetorics may make the daily soundbite, but if it continues to fight for influence through threatening Israel, and/or using its nuclear program as a bargaining chip, and Israeli led strike could make the final headline.
 
Niklas  Anzinger

September 30, 2012

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Dear John,

thanks you for your comment. Yet I am not convinced that the explanation for Iran´s behavior is the desire to get global attention. In fact, other emerging global players like China, India or Brazil keep a low profile. You have a point that other countries in the region, like Iraq, Libya or Nasser´s Egypt tried to mobilize against Israel to unite the Arab world and set themselves as its spearhead - this was the ideology of pan-Arabism.

Rather, I would say, does Iran want to become a regional superpower and fundamentally reshape the region in favor of Shiite regimes. Regarding "leverage" and "last ditch effort" I would agree, but I would be cautious regarding its explanatory power. Inciting hatred and using genocidal rheotoric is not a usual move - and we should be careful in underestimating such rhetoric. Remember, Turkey against the Armenians, Germany against the Jews, Hutu against Tutsi in Rwanda and the Arab regime in Khartoum against Black Africans in Sudan; history gives empirical evidence that such regimes using genocial incitement are serious enough to see it as a realistic option. Gregory Stanton, founder of Genocide Watch, has a point here, I believe: http://www.timesofisrael.com/genocides-unlike-hurricanes-are-predic...

Language and the efforts to make genocide a realistic option are enough warning signs - a red line should be drawn! As mentioned in the article, we believe that the Iranian regime faces a dead end because recent events turned out to be in their misfavor. If the international community puts the right pressure buttons now, the problem can be solved without resorting to the military option.
 
Unregistered User

October 1, 2012

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Given Hezbollah’s willingness to attack Jewish and Israeli targets across the globe, and Iran’s continued support of the group, I agree that Europe must quickly label the organization a terrorist group to better counter its actions. The Western world is aligned against the likes of al Qaeda, but Hezbollah has shown that it is as much a danger as that organization – perhaps even more so given Hezbollah’s resources and position within the Lebanese government. Just last month Nasrallah boasted that Hezbollah has tens of thousands of rockets – in contravention to the UN resolution that ended the Second Lebanon War – that could kill thousands of Israelis.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said many times, Israel takes the threats of others very seriously, as nobody believed that Hitler would actually carry out genocide, despite his racist writings and speeches. Only by fully recognizing Hezbollah for what it is can the Western world truly confront and fight it and its hateful ideology.
 
Paul-Robert  Lookman

October 1, 2012

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The article of the authors is flawed in many respects. Just to name a few. Hezbollah was created as a reaction to Israeli aggression: the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. It is of course perfectly legitimate to resist a foreign occupier and to reclaim occupied territory, as we all know from WWII history. Hezbollah is a militia, but also a social movement and political party duly represented in the democratically elected Lebanese government. The organization enjoys substantial popular support. It is mischievous to refer to any “Syrian civil war” as the bulk of the fighting is between foreign fighters sponsored by Qatar and Saudi Arabia and supported by Western secret services. This is the same kind of hypocrisy that drove the Qatari emir during his UNGA address calling on Arab militaries to help stop the bloodshed in Syria, bloodshed that he himself arranges and finances. The emir is calling for an intervention not supported by a UNSC resolution which consequently is utterly illegal. The emir has his own geopolitical agenda: to kill the US$10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline and to realize the Qatari ambition to run its pipelines into Europe. That would require a compliant Syria/Lebanon. Hence...
 
Tabish  Shah

October 1, 2012

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Dear Niklas and Ludwig,

Thanks for this article on a very important issue. Banning is something that I don't like to support on the grounds of staying true to our founding values and allowing open societies to flourish- if it is to happen it should be done after due consideration and a weighing of the pros and cons and should be a measure taken only when there is no other option.

With that in mind, from my own research and experience I agree with your solution in this instance.

Pros: 1) As you say, greater success in cutting off funding sources
2) Greater chance of dealing with divisive discourse that also encourages a skewed understanding of middle east politics outside the ME from pro hezbollah individuals operating openly which has knock-on effects on our understanding of geopolitical dynamics.
3) Isolating Iran by undermining its proxy and providing an incentive for it to adopt neutrality or move towards the US sphere of influence.
4) Reduced ability for Iran to help protract syrian conflict, greater chance of Qatari pipeline further reducing Ahmadinijad's leverage and encouraging a better reception to soft power by nato states and a move towards a nato sphere of influence
5) A range of measures become available to protect our citizens as well as undermine the legitimacy of a group that is contributing substantially to unrest in its neighbourhood with potential effects on the world economy.

Cons: 1) Potentially giving kudos/ an 'anti-western' badge of honour to the group in Europe
2) Potential for front groups that are harder to trace, slippery slope/grey areas between how to identify hezbollah discourse that is under a different name and how to maintain an environment that encourages debate and doesn't allow hezbollah to make us undermine our values

 
Paul-Robert  Lookman

October 1, 2012

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The subject that the authors raise should perhaps be considered in the context of the overall political landscape of the Middle East. Last week, Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohammed Morsi, gave an historic speech at the United Nations General Assembly. As his speech received suspiciously little attention in the regular international media, I am giving some essential quotes below:

“The first issue which the world must exert all its efforts in resolving, on the basis of justice and dignity, is the Palestinian cause. Long decades have passed since the Palestinian People expressed their longing for restoring their full rights and for building their independent state, with Jerusalem as its capital. Despite their continued struggle, through all legitimate means to attain their rights, and despite the acceptance by their representatives of the resolutions adopted by the international community as a basis for resolving its problems, this international legitimacy remains unable until now to realize the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people. The resolutions remain far from being implemented.

Our brothers and sisters in Palestine must also taste the fruits of freedom and dignity. It is shameful that the free world accepts, regardless of the justifications provided, that a member of the international community continues to deny the rights of a nation that has been longing for decades for independence. It is also disgraceful that settlement activities continue on the territories of these people, along with the delay in implementing the decisions of international legitimacy.

Proceeding from the perspective of defending truth, freedom, and dignity and from my duty to support our Palestinian brothers and sisters, I place the international community face to face with its responsibilities which require the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace and the end of all forms of occupation of Arab lands, and the implementation of relevant international resolutions. I call for immediate and significant measures to put an end to colonization, settlement activities, and the alteration in the identity of Occupied Jerusalem.

The entire Palestinian leadership has charted a clear path towards the restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people, within and outside Palestine. The Arab world has given it its full support. The latter has also presented a comprehensive peace initiative based on just peace. One that restores the usurped rights of the Palestinian People, is founded on international legitimacy, and lays the foundation of an independent sovereign Palestinian state. One that also achieves the security and stability the peoples of the region have long been waiting for.

On that basis, I assure you of Egypt’s full support to any course of action Palestine decides to follow in the United Nations. I call upon all of you, just as you have supported the revolutions of the Arab peoples, to lend your support to the Palestinians in their endeavors to regain the full and legitimate rights of a people struggling to gain its freedom and establish its independent state.

I say it loudly to those wondering about our position vis-a-vis the international agreements and conventions that we have previously adhered to: we are committed to what we have signed on. We also support the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and are determined to pursue all efforts side by side with them until they regain their rights.”

Specifically on Syria issue, Morsi said:

“Egypt is committed to pursue the sincere efforts it has been exerting to put an end to the catastrophe in Syria, within an Arab, regional and international framework. One that preserves the unity of this brotherly state, involves all factions of the Syrian people without racial, religious or sectarian discrimination, and spares Syria the dangers of foreign military intervention that we oppose.”

On Iran, his comment was:

“The will of the people, especially in our region, no longer tolerates the continued non-accession of any country [namely, Israel] to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the non-application of the safeguards regime to their nuclear facilities, especially if this is coupled with irresponsible policies or arbitrary threats. In this regard, the acceptance by the international community of the principle of pre-emptiveness or the attempt to legitimize it is in itself a serious matter and must be firmly confronted to avoid the prevalence of the law of the jungle.

Cognizant of the danger that the status quo entails on the security of this important region, with its natural resources and trade passages, Egypt stresses the necessity of mobilizing international efforts to hold the conference on achieving a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction before the end of the current year 2012, with the participation of all concerned parties without exception. And I say it very clearly: the only solution is to get rid of nuclear weapons, and all weapons of mass destruction. But we also emphasize the right of all countries of the region to the peaceful use of nuclear energy within the framework of the NPT, with a commitment to honor their obligations in this respect and provide the necessary guarantees to the countries of the region so as to remove any doubts surrounding their intentions.”
 
Tabish  Shah

October 2, 2012

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I've written on this previously, however to re-state, tangible actions such as mobilisation by the non-elite level of populations occurs only as a result of socio-economic factors. When we apply this to palestine, at the grassroots level, palestinians would accept a one state solution. Self-interested palestinian/arab elites that do not distribute the millions of dollars of aid provided to the palestinian state to that grassroots population, remain a significant stumbling block. If used correctly, the palestinian population could be similar to other de-militarised territories that experience higher living standards due to substantially reduced defence budgets e.g post war japan. Those elites, with the luxury of foreign travel and education not shared by their grassroots constituency ie the majority of palestinians, then monopolise the discourse to present the illusion that a two-state solution is the only or even a possible solution, in order to maintain that cash cow and a self-interested power agenda. Palestinians within Israel are in the Knesset and if we take indicators of current treatment and potential development, the palestinians would be less better off with a two-state solution.

So in this instance, designating hezbollah a terrorist organisation along with pursuing soft power via Turkey would make it easier to contain and therefore reduce the influence of Iran and Russia and make any intervention in Syria easier for the reasons stated in my previous post. This is alongside longer term benefits in terms of making inroads into rectifying the distorted discourse concerning the ME region that has been commonplace.
 
Niklas  Anzinger

October 2, 2012

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Dear Tabish,

thank you for your interesting and insightful comments on that matter. Indeed, we discussed the issue of banning Hezbollah according to the points you mention. As we know, the open society has its enemies. We came up with the conclusion presented in our article and we also linked some references which convinced us of the ban-argument.

Nevertheless, as these cases are hardly comparable it is of great complexity to weigh the arguments of banning and leaving it in the open. As you have some experience in that field, I would like to know what you think of the following argument: more important than the question of ban or not ban is the question of awareness. As in this case awareness towards clandestine Hezbollah activities in the public is relatively low, a ban would not cause much damage to the open discourse but enable possibilities for legal counteraction. It matters then, if the group we are talking about acts in clandestine ways or uses the public discourse. If this is true it makes the pros you listed stronger and the cons weaker because Hezbollah´s activities in the European states fall under the clandestine-category.
 
Paul-Robert  Lookman

October 2, 2012

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Tabish Shah: a one-state solution would involve the granting of the same political and civil rights for the Palestinian as the Israelis enjoy. That would thwart the concept of the political Zionists who want a purely Jewish state. That is the uttermost stumbling block. So back to the drawing board for a two state solution. To quote from president Obama’s Cairo speech (June 4, 2009): “The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”

A state of their own. That includes Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, negotiations if required over adjustments and the creation of a viable, sovereign Palestine. With its own airspace, sea port, adequate water wells and a corridor between Gaza and the West Bank. With full rights to the Gazan off-shore oil wells. A state with its own border control, its own police and its own defence. With US guarantees for Israel's security and if necessary a UN peacekeeping force. The Palestinians will not settle for “a de-militarised territory warranting a somewhat higher standard of living”.

Finally your observations about Palestinian elites: Mahmood Abbas’ term is long overdue, so he has long lost any legitimacy. High time for elections for a new authentic president and a new united (Hamas-Fatah) Palestinian government.
 
Tabish  Shah

October 2, 2012

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Dear Paul,

Thanks for your reply. You're way of thinking is based on this notion that grassroots level palestinians care more about territory for territories sake than their own welfare and standard of living, if at all. That is not empirically proven in any scenario and palestine is no exception. It is no good misquoting me and simply saying "the palestinians will not settle" without evidence. Again, a top-down discourse created to maintain the cash cow and a badly run palestinian state. To re-iterate: Palestinians mobilise for the same reasons that other individuals mobilise for political change. You're post epitomises what I mean about palestinian elites benefiting from the cash cow and self-interested agendas monopolising the discourse speaking on behalf of "the palestinians" and creating a skewed understanding of ME dynamics. If you remove the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran stumbling block from the equation, that substantially lowers the ability for the Israeli population to see the point of voting for a government such as that.

What you've listed makes the point even clearer. All unnecessary expenditure handled by elites that have shown they cannot distribute resources with any degree of fairness or efficiency and a high likelihood of continued cross-border skirmishes and protracted insecurity in the ME. Do palestinians or anyone without a vested interest in the power or money behind the issue of secession genuinely care about who is providing them with a better standard of living? No, but that's not what the discourse created by cultural and political elites from the region that claim to speak on behalf of the average palestinian would have you think.

Cash cow and axe to grind is a summary of the situation.

Niklas, I like that argument you've put forward there - i'll expand more next week.

 
Paul-Robert  Lookman

October 2, 2012

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Ms Shah: you misrepresent my take. To improve the intolerable “situation for the Palestinian people”, they must either be integrated in a one-state situation with full rights, or granted a full-fledged “state of their own” in which they can develop their own economy. That is what I said. As there is no Palestinian state, there is neither a poorly run state. The current Palestinian Bantustans are hampered in every conceivable way by the occupier and Gaza is under continued siege. No people can develop an economy under the circumstances.
 
Niklas  Anzinger

October 3, 2012

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Dear participants of the discussion,

Josh Lipowsky raised a good point before:

"Israel takes the threats of others very seriously, as nobody believed that Hitler would actually carry out genocide, despite his racist writings and speeches."

Josh (if he is the same?) recently published an article about attending a dinner and briefing session with Ahmadinejad in New Work. He quotes him saying:

Western governments are unwilling to rein in the Zionists, he said, calling on the international community to "officially and severely" condemn threats against Iran, which is “committed to eradicating fundamental reasons that give rise to these tensions.”

In the article one can see what we mean by the term "subterfuge". To me it is pretty clear what he means and he made it clear repeatedly.

Further, as we claimed, Iran intensifies support for Assad´s war against his own people:

"The London-based Times newspaper reported Monday that Tehran has transferred some $10 billion in support of Assad's war against Syrian rebels."

http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/09/28/3108271/dinner-with-ahma...

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4287276,00.html

What do you think?
 
Niklas  Anzinger

October 3, 2012

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http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/09/28/3108271/dinner-with-ahmadinejad

Forgot the link to Josh´s article. Maybe the admin can include it in my previous comment ... ?
 
Unregistered User

October 5, 2012

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Yes, that's my article. Thank you for the plug.
 
Unregistered User

October 9, 2012

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You are claiming that "...Hezbollah acts like a terrorist group in various ways." Please be more clear about these ways. I mean that you may provide some proofs on these ways. By this way, you may be more persuasive for the EU side which has not achived to be a fully-fledged political actor yet. But, I think you should not give this much concern to the EU as a global player. Besides, one of your responses to the commenters you are labelling the atrocities between Turkish-Armenians in 1915 as genocide.Please also do not forget these are claims and dealing with the past brings nothing to the attempts for normalisation of the relations between Turkey and Armenia.
 
Tabish  Shah

October 11, 2012

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Paul - You have repeated the same baseless platitudes.

Niklas - There are trade-offs to every decision, but with our current situation, the fact that the open discourse doesn't reach individuals that would mobilise as a result of it in Europe means that the cons are weaker. Secondly, the open discourse is weak and not based on fact so its something that can be easily countered by sound arguments and creating greater awareness in the public spere that this a group that flies in the face of our rights and values and blocks giving the average palestinian access to these rights and values as well. Essentially, even if the ban simply means the individuals don't mention hezbollah explicitly, it can allow Hezbollah and the type of societies such elites create to be a template of what we distance ourselves from and a greater appreciation of what it is that makes our societies better places to live.

All in all, we get greater measures to identify and stop any monetary flows and clandestine activity, and it can have a neutral or positive effect on the open discourse. A ban will be a step towards awareness of the standard rhetoric and baseless information purported by pro- Hezbollah cultural and political elites from the region operating in Europe that monopolise the information we get concerning the region.
 

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