BERLIN/LONDON - The European Union has moved toward a consensus on outlawing the armed wing of Hezbollah, with its inclusion on the EU terror list slated to take place in late 2013.
The EU plans to endorse the UK’s model of proscribing Hezbollah’s military wing as a terror entity while permitting the Shi’ite Lebanese group’s political arm to operate as a legal organization, sources well-versed in the inner workings of EU discussions on the matter told The Jerusalem Post last week.
British Labor MP Michael McCann, however, said in a House of Commons debate last week that this falls short of the necessary punitive response to Hezbollah and its chief sponsor, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“And they retain a clear and present military danger to millions of Israeli men, women and children, with tens of thousands of missiles pointed at major population centers,” McCann told Parliament in a debate on Thursday. “Missiles which could be launched with one word from their venal, anti-Semitic paymasters in Tehran.
“It is clear that Hezbollah should be proscribed in its entirety by both the UK Government and the EU,” he said.
A source familiar with the EU’s anti-terror terrorism strategy told the Post that “Cyprus and Burgas are widely described with evidence” in the decision-making process to ban Hezbollah.
The UK and other EU countries are working to crystallize the consensus to ban Hezbollah before the EU’s anti-terrorism working group meets, the source added.
In February, Bulgaria’s interior ministry accused Hezbollah of last July’s bombing of an Israeli tour bus in the Black Sea resort of Burgas, killing five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. In March, a criminal court in Limassol, Cyprus, convicted Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, who admitted his membership in Hezbollah, of plotting terrorist attacks on Israelis on the island.
Judge Tasia Psara-Miltiadou said at Yaacoub’s conviction: “There is no doubt that this group [Hezbollah] has multiple members and proceeds with various activities including military training of its members...
The court rules that Hezbollah acts as a criminal organization.”
Dividing Hezbollah into military and political wings prompted McCann – MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow in Scotland – to vehemently oppose the partial listing.
“While the last government proscribed Hezbollah’s military wing, its significant role in Lebanese politics is the often cited reason for why the UK has not gone further and proscribed the whole organization, which even its own leader says operates under a single command. The misplaced belief that Hezbollah’s politicians are legitimate and independent from its deadly terrorism is also behind the EU’s inaction,” he said.
McCann continued: “With Hezbollah politicians recently responsible for collapsing the Lebanese government, one they have long dominated via military strength rather than votes, now is the time to expose its supposed role in supporting Lebanese stability for the fallacy that it is. Its evil role in perpetuating the brutal military crackdown by [Syrian President] Bashar Assad against his own people – again, as much a political as a military operation – further demonstrates that any attempts to draw some military-political distinction are naïve at best.”
The MP, a vice chairman of Labor Friends of Israel, called on the British government to proscribe the “whole of Hezbollah” as a terrorist organization.
With a view toward a European ban of Hezbollah, McCann said: “And I would go further, with cracks beginning to show in French and German opposition to proscription, I would argue now is also the time for the government to use this cross-party consensus, and make the case for tough EU action.”
According to a Post source, the German government also favors a ban of Hezbollah’s military wing.
Asked if it plans to introduce such a ban, a spokesman for Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told the Post last week: “The deliberations about Hezbollah are being addressed by the government with its EU partners. Also we are in contact with our Israeli partners in this question.”
The spokesman added that it was clear to Chancellor Angela Merkel and Westerwelle that if a connection between Hezbollah and the terrorist attack in Burgas can be proven, the EU would have to act.
Hezbollah has almost 1,000 members in Germany, and that number is rising, according to the country’s domestic intelligence agency.
The Austrian daily newspaper Kurier reported last week that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon met with his Austrian counterpart, Gerald Klug, in Tel Aviv, and urged the Austrian government to place Hezbollah on the EU terrorist list. Klug said he would raise the matter with his government.
Austria has been one of the key holdouts against the British and Dutch push to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group.
In an early May expose in the Austria daily Die Presse, journalist Oliver Grimm said that if the EU included Hezbollah on its terrorist list, its troops stationed as UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon would be vulnerable, and “Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Vienna would rather close their eyes and hope that there are no more Hossam Taleb Yaacoubs and a second Burgas.”
Not listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization has been cited by experts as one factor preventing the EU from pursuing aggressive counterterrorism investigations into the Beirut-based group and its networks across Europe. Anti-terrorism experts say Hezbollah continues to raise funds and procure weapons and technology in Europe to advance its terrorist operations.
The Brussels-based European Foundation for Democracy concluded in a 2009 report, titled “Hezbollah fundraising in Germany tax-deductible,” that the “Orphans Project Lebanon” (“Waisenkinderprojekte.V”) based in Goettingen, Germany, directly channels donations to the Lebanese Al-Shahid Association, part of the Hezbollah network that promotes suicide bombings in Lebanon, particularly by children. In Germany, financial donations to the projects are tax-deductible and thus subsidized by the German state.
Hezbollah’s funds in Europe have been funneled to the families of suicide bombers and groups carrying out terrorist attacks against Israelis.