Europe Wants ‘Tangible Evidence’ of Hezbollah Terrorism Before Acting Against It

Patrick Goodenough | July 27, 2012 | 1:36am EDT
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Soldiers carry the coffins of five Israelis killed in a bombing in Bulgaria after their arrival at a Tel Aviv airport on Friday, July 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

( – Israeli officials and Jewish organizations have criticized the European Union’s continuing reluctance to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, warning that at a time of escalating Iranian-sponsored international terrorism and the crisis in Syria failure to do so could impact on Mideast and global security.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah last week publicly reiterated his support for the Assad regime – the Lebanese Shi’ite group’s  most important ally after Tehran – and accused the United States of fomenting the crisis it currently faces, prompting concerns that Hezbollah could mount fresh attacks in support of Damascus.

Israel meanwhile has accused Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, of responsibility for the July 18 bombing in Bulgaria, which cost the lives of five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian.

Neither Bulgaria nor the U.S. have yet publicly assigned blame, although House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) both told The Hill Wednesday they believe Iran and Hezbollah were involved.

The Israeli government, hopeful that an attack on European soil might strengthen its case, took up the matter this week at a meeting with the government of Cyprus – which holds the E.U.’s rotating presidency – but was rebuffed.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis said Hezbollah was engaged in political, social and “armed wing” activities, and told her Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, that there was “no consensus among the E.U. member states for putting Hezbollah on the terrorist list.”

“Should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism, the E.U. would consider listing the organization,” she said.

Although the main targets in attacks implicating Hezbollah have been Israelis and Americans, the organization has also been accused of carrying out attacks in Europe long before last week’s blast in Bulgaria.

They include a series of bombings in Paris in 1986, which killed 13; an unsuccessful attempt to carry out attacks in Cyprus in 1988; a plot, foiled by Spanish police, to carry out attacks against Jewish targets in Europe in 1989; an unsuccessful attempt to detonate a car bomb outside a Jewish community building in Romania in 1992; and a planned 1996 attack, also foiled by police, on an Israeli institution in Paris.

A day after meeting with Kozakou-Marcoullis, Lieberman took his appeal to Brussels where he met with E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

According to a statement from his office, Lieberman told Ashton “everyone knows who and what the Hezbollah organization is, and all are aware of the criminal and terrorist activities it perpetrates.”

As long as the E.U. fails to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, he said, “the issue will have severe implications on the stability of the Middle East and on global security.”

Designation would undercut Hezbollah’s fundraising activities in Europe by making it illegal to for any European to send money to the group.

‘Free pass’

Set up with Iran’s assistance in the early 1980s, Hezbollah has been listed by the U.S. as a “foreign terrorist organization” ever since FTO designation was first established under 1996 legislation.

Israel and Canada have also listed it as a terrorist group but the E.U. has resisted the move despite attempts by Israel for decades to persuade it to act.

The Netherlands alone among the 27 member-states has designated the group as a terrorist organization, while Britain – distinguishing between the group’s political and social welfare activities in Lebanon and its violent activities abroad – listed only its supposed “armed wing.”

A British government minister told lawmakers in 2009 that “a thorough review of Hezbollah and the extent to which various parts of the organization are concerned in terrorism … concluded that a distinction could be drawn between those parts of Hezbollah which are legitimately involved in Lebanese politics and those which are directly concerned in terrorism.”

On Wednesday, security experts told a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing that Washington should press its allies to stop treating Hezbollah with kid gloves.

“Too often Hezbollah has got a free pass from U.S. allies because it also engages in political and social welfare activity, leading some states to try to distinguish between its ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ sides,” said Brookings Institution scholar Daniel Byman.

The E.U. stance comes despite the fact Hezbollah’s very existence as an armed group violates two U.N. Security Council resolutions. Resolution 1559 of 2004 calls for “the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias,” and resolution 1701 of 2006 requires “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that … there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state.”

In a statement issued after the meeting between Israeli and E.U. officials in Cyprus, the E.U. said it “recalls the need for the full implementation of all relevant UNSC resolutions” relating to Lebanon, and cited 1559 and 1701 among them.

While European governments are reluctant to link Hezbollah to terrorism, security agencies appear to be less so.

In a speech in London last month, Jonathan Evans, head of Britain’s MI5 security agency, pointed to an Iranian plot uncovered by the U.S. last year to carry out attacks on American soil, beginning with the assassination of the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

“So a return to state-sponsored terrorism by Iran or its associates, such as Hezbollah, cannot be ruled out as pressure on the Iranian leadership increases,” Edwards said.

On an anniversary of a 1994 suicide truck bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentineans hold up pictures of some of the 85 victims. Prosecutors blame Hezbollah and Iran for the attack. (Photo: Memoria Activa memorial site)

In contrast to the ambivalence of E.U. governments, lawmakers in the European Parliament in 2005 passed a resolution – by 473 votes to eight – calling Hezbollah a terrorist group and urging “all needed measures to put an end to the terrorist activities of this group.”

Jews in various countries have been targeted over the years in attacks attributed to Hezbollah, both in Europe and in Latin America, most brutally when a Jewish community center in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires was bombed in 1994, killing 85 people and wounding 300 more.

On Thursday, World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder criticized the E.U.’s refusal to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

“Our communities in Europe expect from their governments that they guarantee safety for Jewish sites and allow Jewish life to flourish,” he said. “Terrorist attacks are not acts of God. They can be avoided if warnings are taken seriously and if terrorist organizations and their sponsors are recognized as such.”

A contrary view came from Stuart Reigeluth of the Council for European Palestinian Relations in Brussels.

“Hezbollah has been part of the State of Lebanon since the 1990s and declaring it a terrorist group would essentially give Israel carte blanche for some more carpet bombing of its northern neighbor,” he wrote in an op-ed Thursday. The article was headlined, “Israel itching for war.”

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