Why is the EU so reluctant to blacklist Hezbollah?

A declaration of a terror blacklist concerning Hezbollah has proven elusive, despite a decade of concerted lobbying efforts by European Jewish and Christian groups, among others.

hezbollah521 (photo credit: Khalil Hassan/Reuters)
(photo credit: Khalil Hassan/Reuters)
After six months of exhaustive investigation, Bulgarian authorities announced in early February that the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hezbollah was responsible for the bombing attack last July 18 which killed five Israeli tourists and a local bus driver and injured dozens more in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas.
Forensic evidence and information from several intelligence agencies all pointed to Hezbollah’s involvement, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov revealed, adding that the two main bombing suspects had lived in Lebanon and were members of the group’s military wing.
Given that the terror attack occurred on European soil, the findings prompted fresh calls for the European Union to finally place Hezbollah on its list of banned global terrorist organizations, but some member states continue to balk at such a move. Although Hamas was added to the EU terror blacklist in 2005, a similar declaration concerning Hezbollah has proven elusive, despite a decade of concerted lobbying efforts by European Jewish and Christian groups, among others.
One such group is the European Coalition for Israel, a pan-European Christian initiative that has been pushing to place Hezbollah on the EU blacklist since its founding some 10 years ago.
“The problem with EU foreign policy is that it requires unanimous decisions among the 27 EU governments,” ECI director Tomas Sandell recently told The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition. “The EU has trouble finding a common line on many things, and the failure to ban Hezbollah has to be seen in this context.”
Dr. Susanna Kokkonen, currently the director of the Christian Desk at Yad Vashem, pushed hard for the Hezbollah ban when she served as the ECI’s main lobbyist to the European Parliament in Brussels five years ago. She recently explained the process they tried to use to blacklist the radical Islamist militia.
“Members of the European Parliament can make parliamentary questions or motions to the European Commission and Council of Ministers, which determines who gets banned or not,” said Kokkonen. “So we first lobbied intently for the signatures of MEPs to submit some tough questions about the commission’s reluctant stand on Hezbollah.”
An EU member state would then normally initiate the effort to have a group listed as a terrorist organization, she noted, adding that it was Italy which initiated the successful campaign to have Hamas listed as a terrorist organization.
“Being blacklisted is important because within the EU, it makes fund-raising for the group illegal and makes lobbying and political activities for them difficult,” Kokkonen continued. “Complex political interests of member states play a role in all of this, so one can only speculate why one country would take a particular position.”
“Is France pro-Hezbollah or does it just want to flex its muscles as the traditional protector of Lebanon?” Kokkonen asked, referring to the EU member state widely seen as the biggest opponent to a ban on Hezbollah. “Or is there something more sinister going on because of Iran?” she added.
“France indeed is seen as blocking [a ban on] Hezbollah, but the Hezbollah presence is probably the strongest in Germany,” she noted. “There is a general fear of offending the Muslims and perhaps incurring terrorism and mayhem... and this fear paralyzes the EU unless it is directly attacked.”
Hezbollah is estimated to have about 1,000 operatives in Germany who raise funds for the terrorist group through charitable organizations purporting to help orphans and other needy sectors of the population in Lebanon.
Yet while Germany has traditionally joined France in opposing a ban on Hezbollah, there does seem to be some movement on the issue taking place in Berlin.
“It is long overdue to place Hezbollah on the EU’s list of terror organizations [because it] threatens the security of our alliance partner Israel, and is involved in countless terror activities and receives protection from the Iranian regime,” said Philipp Missfelder, deputy of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, soon after the Bulgarian indictment of Hezbollah.
Steffen Seibert, spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, agreed.
“If the evidence proves to be true that Hezbollah is indeed responsible for this despicable attack, then consequences will have to follow,” he said.
Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans of the Netherlands was blunt following the Bulgarian findings, stating that: “Hezbollah is a terrorist organization” which ought to be banned from European soil.
“Bulgaria’s findings will quickly lead to fresh consultations in Brussels on designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization,” Timmermans said. “The Netherlands has been calling for Hezbollah to be included on the EU list of terrorist organizations since 2004, and has consistently urged its EU partners to support such a move.
“We need to meet at EU level as soon as possible to discuss what consequences this should have,” he said in a statement.
“This is the first time that an EU member state has established that Hezbollah is guilty of a terrorist attack on EU territory.”
Meanwhile, former Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal outlined for The Jerusalem Post the mixed views about outlawing Hezbollah within the EU.
“There are hesitations on the part of other European countries for two reasons: They are afraid that listing Hezbollah [will cause] relations with the Lebanese government to come under pressure,” Rosenthal said. The second reason is that some countries are concerned “it would mix up the political and military departments of Hezbollah,” he added.
Rosenthal confirmed that the French have been the most hesitant about including Hezbollah on the EU terror list.
But he noted that Germany has begun to come around, which could provide the momentum needed to isolate Paris and overcome its objections.
The US, Canada and Israel have already joined the Netherlands in listing Hezbollah as a terrorist group. In the Arab world, Egypt and Bahrain have done the same. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom finally banned Hezbollah’s “military wing” in 2008 after it was caught targeting British soldiers in Iraq.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague recently stopped short of calling for a full ban of the organization, urging instead that the EU replicate the UK ban only on Hezbollah’s military wing.
This distinction between the “military wing” and “political wing” of Hezbollah was advocated heavily by retired British intelligence agent Alistair Crooke, who first argued it in connection with Hamas while assigned to the Middle East a decade ago.
Crooke began pushing this approach after Hezbollah first ran for seats in the Lebanese parliament in 2002. Having forced the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000, its popularity was on the rise, and in an alliance with the Amal party the Shi’ite factions garnered 23 out of a total 128 parliamentary seats.
Since then Hezbollah has participated in every national election in Lebanon and become a member of the coalition, holding several key cabinet positions.
But other security analysts counter that while Hezbollah may engage in political, charitable and social activities, its raison d’etre is to forcibly turn Lebanon into a radical Shi’ite state, extend Iranian hegemony in the region and engage in the armed struggle to destroy Israel.
Backed by Iran, and with a militia force of more than 20,000 troops and an estimated arsenal of more than 50,000 rockets and missiles, Hezbollah essentially holds a veto over all Lebanese government policy. The group has also been named by a UN investigation as responsible for the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.
Indeed, Hezbollah has left a trail of bloodshed and terror for more than three decades, ever since the movement emerged during the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in 1982.
Created by Iran as an extension of its Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah first gained notoriety in April 1983 for bombing the US Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people. Six months later, Hezbollah cadres dispatched on suicide missions used massive truck bombs to level the American and French army barracks near the Beirut airport, killing 241 US Marines and 58 French servicemen.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the group conducted kidnappings and airplane hijackings, most notably the bombings of the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, along with other terror attacks from Bangkok to Paris. In 1996, Hezbollah had a hand in targeting US forces again in the Khobar Towers bombings in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 Americans. Based on this record of carnage, Hezbollah was among the first groups added to the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1997.
Over the last decade, Hezbollah has tried to obscure its terrorist pedigree and present itself as a provider of social welfare services and a national liberation movement within Lebanon. But its credentials as a terrorist organization and a destabilizing force across the Middle East have been on display once again in a string of attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets abroad, and in its participation in the civil war raging in neighboring Syria.
The Burgas bombing last summer was just the latest in a long line of far-flung attacks against Israelis carried out by Iran and Hezbollah, and a terror plot recently uncovered in Cyprus – an EU member state – will likely increase the pressure on Brussels to ban the group. The case involves a Swedish-Lebanese man who has admitted Hezbollah membership and is on trial in Cyprus for surveillance activities allegedly tied to a scheme to target Israeli tourists on the island.
Thus, many security analysts now contend that Europe can no longer ignore the threat which Hezbollah poses to the continent.
Yet whether it is banned by the EU or not, the “Party of Allah” also has troubles brewing closer to home.
Recent reports indicate Hezbollah has committed an estimated one-third of its fighting force to defend the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and to secure its weapons and missiles caches inside Syria.
Once hailed throughout the Arab world for standing up to Israel, Hezbollah has managed to lose its regional popularity by siding with Assad, and is now considered an enemy by most Sunnis. In fact, many of the Sunni militiamen currently fighting in Syria have vowed that after Assad is toppled, they will turn their sights on Hezbollah in Lebanon.
There have already been reported incidents of Sunni fighters in Syria firing rockets across the border at Hezbollah positions in the Bekaa Valley. •
Herb Keinon and other Jerusalem Post reporters contributed to this report.