Europe could pay high price for ignoring the Iranian/Hezbollah threat

The European media and the information provided by the various European law enforcement authorities have given ample space to the Iranian, and in a minor measure, Hezbollah.

By
July 18, 2019 22:31
FRENCH POLICE take part in an anti-terrorism drill inside Groupama Stadium near Lyon, France, last y

FRENCH POLICE take part in an anti-terrorism drill inside Groupama Stadium near Lyon, France, last year.. (photo credit: EMMANUEL FOUDROT/ REUTERS)

Since 9/11, and more so since the civil wars in Syria and Iraq, Europe has seen in the Sunni jihadi groups and organizations the major threat to its members states. The territorial defeat of the ISIS caliphate has not changed this perception.

The Europol Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2019 (TE-SAT), mentioning the horrific attacks perpetrated in 2018 by jihadists in Trèbes, Paris, Liège and Strasbourg, states that terrorism continues to constitute a major threat to security in European Union member states.

Europol executive director Catherine De Bolle, in her foreword to the report, stresses that the feeling of insecurity that terrorists try to create must be of the greatest concern because it has the potential to undermine the cohesion of European societies. The public debate about sensitive phenomena of terrorism, therefore, must be based on facts before reaching conclusions, she declares.

The TE-SAT 2019 is indeed a very well-built and well-documented paper, containing much information and analysis, with wonderful charts and maps about the jihadist, right-wing and left-wing extremist and ethno-nationalist activity and threat.

Strangely though, there is no word in this ample document about the Iranian and Hezbollah terrorist activity in Europe, just when this threat has returned in force since 2018.

The European media and the information provided by the various European law enforcement authorities have given ample space to the Iranian, and in a minor measure, Hezbollah terrorist plots and subversive activities during 2018. 

This author has described much of this reality in a November article on the subject, “The Return of Iranian Terrorism to Europe.” It analyzed in detail the arrest of several Iranian agents and operatives in Belgium, France and Germany, including an Iranian diplomat in Austria, in a plot to plant a bomb to disrupt a political rally of the Iranian opposition in Paris (probably with Hezbollah involvement); the assassination plot of an Iranian opposition leader in Denmark, with ramifications in Norway; and Iranian political assassinations in Netherlands.

In December, a large group of European parliamentarians addressed a major interpolation for written answer to the commission’s vice president/high representative on “Recent state-terror activities by Iran in the EU” as follows:

1. Does the EU acknowledge that Iranian state terrorism and Shia groups operating at the behest of Iran – such as Hezbollah – pose a threat to European security?

2. Why didn’t the European External Action Service publicly condemn the recent terror plots, or at least express its solidarity with the targeted Member States? Why hasn’t the Iranian ambassador to the EU been summoned? What, if anything, is the EU doing in order to curtail Iran’s criminal and terrorist activities in Europe?

3. Is the EU considering proscribing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah in its entirety, in order to deter Iran from carrying out further attacks in Europe?

Finally, under Danish and French pressure, the EU this January sanctioned Iran – actually only its Intelligence Ministry – over the assassination plots. The move by the 28-nation bloc was announced as the Dutch government said it believed Iran was behind the murders of two dissidents, in 2015 and 2017.

In a major development, in February, the UK decided to name Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and not only its military wing.

THE BRITISH decision was possibly influenced by the discovery in 2015, after a tip received from the Israeli Mossad, that Hezbollah has been stockpiling bomb-making materials in London. The fact that it was not made public at the time by British leaders, suggests they were keen not to reveal any information that might have damaged the flawed nuclear agreement with Iran.

In a similar case in Cyprus at around the same time, Hassan Bassam Abdallah, a member of Hezbollah’s military wing, was convicted of possessing 65,000 ice packs filled with ammonium nitrate which he admitted were for use in future terrorist attacks in Larnaca. He was subsequently jailed for six years.

In 2012, Iran and Hezbollah were behind a worldwide wave of terrorist attacks – mainly against Israeli, but also American and British targets – in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Thailand, Singapore, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Turkey. Fortunately, most of them were foiled by information from Israeli, American and local intelligence agencies or had failed operationally. Others have not been publicized until now.

In India, New Delhi Police arrested Indian journalist Syed Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi, a Shi’ite with long-standing Iranian connections, for allegedly facilitating the February 13, 2012, bombing by an Iranian cell of an Israeli Embassy car, in which the wife of the Israeli defense attaché was wounded.

In Bulgaria, the second successful attack occurred: the killing of five Israeli citizens and one Bulgarian in the bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists at the Burgas Airport on July 18 of that year. Two Hezbollah operatives were involved in the attack: Australian citizen Malid Farah and Canadian citizen Hassan al-Haj – still free, probably in Lebanon.

Unfortunately, the Burgas attack was not prevented by intelligence, although two weeks earlier, local authorities arrested Hezbollah terrorist and Lebanese-born Swedish citizen Hossam Yaakoub in Limassol, Cyprus, who was tasked with surveiling the arrival of Israeli tourists at the Larnaca Airport. Yaakoub acted as a Hezbollah courier inside Europe, in France, the Netherlands and Turkey.

But at least the trial of the Hezbollah terrorist in Cyprus convinced EU foreign ministers on July 22, 2013, to finally add “the military wing of Hezbollah” to a list of terrorist organizations. The leaders of Hezbollah at the time jested at the European distinction between the military and political branches of the organization, while they proudly declared that the military apparatus was not separate from their overall social fabric, each member being a fighting soldier.

It was recently published that Argentine President Mauricio Macri will sign a decree that designates Hezbollah as a terrorist group. This long overdue step is being taken, symbolically, in the same week as the 25th anniversary of the deadly bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, in which 86 innocent victims and one suicide bomber died, and more than 100 people were injured.

The latest Iranian and Hezbollah terrorist activities in Europe – against the backdrop of the present tension concerning the nuclear deal and the situation in the Gulf between the United States and Europe and the Iranian leadership – demand a stronger reaction from the EU – and at least a unanimous decision to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Europol for its part could publish a special paper about these nefarious activities.

The writer is a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism and the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.


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