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Germany Bans ‘Terror Group’ Hezbollah—Relations With US & Iran Affected? (www.forbes.com)

Counter-terror police swept into mosques, homes, and religious institutions across Germany this morning, intent on rounding up individuals linked to a group the government had until recently tolerated: Hezbollah.    

Now officially recognized as a terror organization, the Lebanon-based outfit has been banned in its entirety on German soil. In effect, that means public support for the groupchanting slogans or waving its flaghas been criminalized.

“Hezbollah openly calls for the violent elimination of the State of Israel and questions the right of the State of Israel to exist,” the German interior ministry said in a statement.

“The organization is therefore fundamentally against the concept of international understanding, regardless of whether it presents itself as a political, social or military structure.”

Hezbollah is widely seen as the Middle East’s most powerful non-state actor, commanding both political influenceit holds a majority with partners in the Lebanese parliamentand military might. The Islamist group has tens-of-thousands of fighters at its disposal, as well as a modern arsenal of long-range missiles.

Still, despite the organization’s evident militarism, Germany initially resisted calls to have Hezbollah proscribed. But persistent pressure from Israel and the United States took its toll, and facing the prospect of being seen as a safe haven for the group in Europe, Berlin decided to act.  

It is “a significant step in the global fight against terrorism,” declared Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz, while the American Jewish Committee welcomed what it called a “much-anticipated” decision.   

There’s unlikely to be such positive sounds from elsewhere in Europe, however. While official E.U. policy—spearheaded by Franceis to ban Hezbollah’s military wing, Brussels is generally happy to tolerate the group’s political operations. Indeed, aside from Britain and the Netherlands, Germany is now the only European state to outlaw the Lebanese organization. 

That’s likely going to put strain on relations between Berlin and Tehranthe latter having exceedingly close diplomatic and material ties with Hezbollah. (The US Department Of State estimates that Iran provides the group with over $700 million a year, around two-thirds of its budget). 

The Iranian regime is pragmatic, however, and knows the value of European support. Buckling under the weight of US sanctions, President Hassan Rouhani must entice E.U. sympathy at every turna necessity reinforced by Brussels’ recent delivery of much needed medical aid to the pandemic-hit Islamic republic. 

And this, perhaps, is another rationale behind Berlin’s Hezbollah crackdown. In keeping with its E.U. partners, Germany wants to offer Iran a level of assistancebut not at the expense of good relations with Washington. In targeting Tehran’s Lebanese proxy, Berlin wins plaudits with the Americans without endorsing their Iranian sanction regime, or confronting Iran directly.     

So, in sum, it’s a smart piece of diplomacy by the Germansone that might even have Brussels big-wigs rethinking their next move. 

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