What so often motivated Europe’s appeasers, Winston Churchill understood, was cowardice and dishonor. “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last,” he said of the political elites who thought the best way to confront the threat posed by Nazi Germany was to avoid confronting it. “All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured.”
What would Churchill say of the European elites today who imagine that the best way to confront the threat posed by Hezbollah, one of the world’s deadliest and most fanatic terror networks, is likewise to avoid any confrontation?
For years the United States has urged Europe to designate Hezbollah a terrorist entity. Doing so would not just acknowledge an obvious truth and call evil by its name — though that alone should be reason enough to act. It would also strip away the fig leaf that Hezbollah’s “military wing” is separate from its political and social activities, an ignoble pretext that has enabled an international killing organization to freely raise funds on European soil, recruiting supporters, rallying followers, and generally being indulged as if it were a legitimate actor in Middle East politics. “In Germany alone, some 950 people have been identified as being associated with [Hezbollah] as of 2011,” reported The New York Times. “The group has always been treated as a benign force.”
It is astonishing that anyone could regard Hezbollah as “benign,” given its long history of murder, mayhem, and genocidal incitement. This year will mark the 30th anniversary of Hezbollah’s 1983 bombings of the American embassy, the US Marine barracks, and the French military compound in Beirut, acts of carnage that left 362 people dead. Just last summer, Hezbollah carried out a bus bombing in the Black Sea resort city of Burgas, killing five Israeli tourists and their local Bulgarian bus driver. In the intervening decades, Hezbollah — which was created by Iran’s theocratic regime, to which it remains intensely loyal — has shed rivers of innocent blood.
The roster of terrorist attacks that Hezbollah is known or strongly believed to be responsible for is immense. From the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 to the rocketing of Israeli towns, from the murder of US servicemen in Saudi Arabia to the bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina, from the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri to the killing of Saudi diplomats in Bangkok, from the abduction and torture of Americans in Lebanon to joining in the Assad regime’s murderous crackdown in Syria — the horrific list goes on and on. And as The Washington Post noted last week, a number of terror operations linked to Hezbollah have been foiled, “including botched bombing attempts in India, Thailand, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Kenya.”
9/11 accustomed most Americans to thinking of Al Qaeda as the quintessential terrorist organization, but prominent dissenters point unhesitatingly to Hezbollah instead. “To be honest,” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said in 2008, “they make Al Qaeda look like a minor-league team.” In 2002, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage argued that “Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists and maybe Al Qaeda is actually the B-team.”
So what can explain the European reluctance to blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and shut down its fundraising and logistical operations? As in Churchill’s day, cowardice and dishonor might have something to do with it.
“There’s the overall fear if we’re too noisy about this, Hezbollah might strike again,” Sylke Tempel, the editor-in-chief of the German foreign affairs magazine Internationale Politik told the Times last month, as the Bulgarian government was preparing its report on the Burgas bus bombing. “And it might not be Israeli tourists this time.”
The moral stench of that rationalization is almost as repellent as its stupidity. Yes, Hezbollah’s foremost targets are Jews and the Jewish state — it has always proclaimed the destruction of Israel as its goal — but have Europeans still not figure out that while Nazis and the Nazi-like start by killing Jews, they rarely end with them? After 30 years of Hezbollah butchery around the world, can Europe still imagine that pretending Hezbollah is mostly “benign” will keep them safe? That if they feed the crocodile enough, it won’t eat them just yet?
“The storm will not pass,” Churchill warned Europe’s appeasers. “It will rage and it will roar, ever more loudly, ever more widely.” Trying to appease the unappeasable is always folly. Europeans were supposed to have learned that lesson from the Nazis. Must they learn it again from Hezbollah?
Jeff Jacoby can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.