Is slicing the Party of God into good elements and bad elements a sensible policy?
How central is the “military wing?”
Today, the British Home Office banned “the entire military wing of Hezbollah” from the UK, supposedly as a rebuke over their disruptive role in Iraq. In the British decision, there was an implied message: There is a good Hezbollah, and a bad Hezbollah, and we don’t like the latter. But can Hezbollah really be divided as such?
It is understandable why the hair-splitting Brits have made that distinction. After all, as Lebanese, we all know at least someone who supports Hezbollah. Our friend-in-yellow wouldn’t hurt an insect, let alone engage in terrorism. For all we know, that person’s life could be devoted to helping the poor and teaching orphans, so why should he be banned from traveling to the UK and be a productive member of Society?
But to think of Hezbollah’s weapons as an externality would be seriously misleading. Hezbollah’s weapons (and hence its armed faction that the Brits have banned) are an integral part of Hezbollah’s self image and identity and the main source of the party’s influence and popularity. The very appeal of Hezbollah lies in its perceived ability to militarily defeat Israel. Take that away and they become just another political party in Lebanon, hardly a recipe for popularity.
Hezbollah itself would never let go of its weapons. For the last two years, Lebanese politicians, journalists, elites and bloggers have attacked Hezbollah in every single way imaginable, but failed to provoke them. It took a government decision with a potential to disrupt their military effectiveness for them to react in a bloody and ruthless way in the streets of Beirut.
In other words, trying to separate Hezbollah from its armed faction is an exercise in futility. As the release of prisoner Samir Kuntar has shown, to Hezbollah and all of its supporters, the gun will always be mightier than the pen.