The 27-member European Union has largely circled the wagons around the investigation into Hezbollah’s role in the July suicide bombing of an Israeli tour bus in Burgas and against including longstanding evidence of Hezbollah’s terror activities against Israelis, Europeans, Argentinians and Americans.

Spain’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gonzalo de Benito and France’s Ambassador to Israel Christophe Bigot told The Jerusalem Post this month that the outcome of the Bulgarian investigation into the murders of five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver is the sine qua non of listing the Lebanese Shi’ite group as a terror entity on the EU’s list of outlawed terrorist organizations. Critics see the limited inquiry as a grave mistake.

Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Washington- based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Post on Saturday, “It is absurd that a European decision on whether or not to ban Hezbollah as a terrorist organization comes down to the results of a single terrorist attack investigation in Bulgaria.

Hezbollah has much American and European blood on its hands after three decades of attacks against innocent civilians, diplomats and peacekeepers.”

De Benito termed the Bulgarian inquiry “essential” and relegated Hezbollah’s bombing of 58 French paratroopers in 1983 to an inferior status. Bigot agreed that the main element in determining Hezbollah’s status is the outcome of the Bulgaria inquiry.

While both diplomats are cognizant of Hezbollah’s nefarious activities in murdering Europeans and other victims, the EU ostensibly has narrowed its departure point to ban Hezbollah to Burgas — the seaside resort where, according to US and Israeli intelligence officials, a joint Iran-Hezbollah operation killed six people and injured 32 Israelis in July.

Dubowitz said Hezbollah is an Iranian surrogate, and that the Islamic Republic uses it “as the long arm of Iranian influence worldwide.

“The Iranian regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons makes it even more urgent that Europe respond by targeting all instruments of Iranian power, of which Hezbollah is one of the most uncompromising, ruthless and deadly.”

The only EU country to have banned Hezbollah is the Netherlands. The United Kingdom has merely listed Hezbollah’s military wing as a terror entity.

Veteran observers of Hezbollah’s inner workings view dividing the organization’s activities into military and political branches as deeply flawed. In fact, Hezbollah’s No. 2 leader, Naim Qassem, rejects the British separation. He said in 2009, “Hezbollah has a single leadership,” and “all political, social and jihad work is tied to the decisions of this leadership.”

Qassem added, “The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.”

Dr. Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya, said Britain has held a “fictitious separation” between the political and military wings of Hezbollah.

“If the investigation into the Bulgaria terror attack can finally nudge the Europeans toward action on this front, that is welcome,” he wrote in an email to the Post. “But lack of evidence has not been what has prevented the designation in the past, so it remains to be seen whether the results of the investigation will in fact produce this long overdue designation.”

Spyer, the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict, added that France and Germany have also preferred to avoid designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization political reasons.

“These countries ‘don’t want trouble’ with Hezbollah, and thus prefer simply to leave the situation as it is,” said Spyer.

Europe’s soggy response to Hezbollah’s terrorism prompted an angry response in late October from US President Barack Obama’s chief counter-terrorism head, John Brennan. He declared in Dublin that the European opposition to a ban “makes it harder to defend our countries and protect our citizens.”

Brennan has prioritized an EU listing of Hezbollah as a terror group because of its global murder sprees and its ongoing efforts to destabilize the Middle East. He also noted that, “We have seen Hezbollah training militants in Yemen and Syria.”

There is no shortage of Hezbollah killing fields. The spectrum ranges from setting off a van full of explosives at the headquarters of the Argentine Jewish Community Center in 1994, resulting in the murders of 85 people and scores of injured, to its attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. The bombing of the embassy in 1992 killed 29 people and wounded several hundred.

Hezbollah, which was created in 1982, launched attacks against the US Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon and its military barracks in 1983, resulting in the murder of 258 Americans.

Tony Badran, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who has written extensively about Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon, told the Post that the Burgas attack is nothing new from Hezbollah.

“We’ve seen this type of Hezbollah activity in the past against European targets and we continue to see it around the world, including recently in places like Azerbaijan, India, to name but two.”

Badran said Hezbollah is involved, with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, in the killing of Syrians, especially in the Homs area, and in Lebanon the group has been accused of multiple assassinations, and has used violence to impose its political will on the country.

“The view that holds that Hezbollah is in a process of change toward becoming a pure Lebanese political party is, simply, delusional,” he said.

The EU is at a critical juncture.

It must decide whether it wants to protect its citizens, ensure stability in the Middle East and join the US and its allies in halting Hezbollah’s killing of people across the globe, as well as the Lebanese group’s criminal and narcotics operations.

The writer is a European affairs correspondent for
The Jerusalem Post and a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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