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.