Experts decry EU ‘delays’ on Hezbollah sanctions

Israeli analysts believe European reluctance to label Hezbollah a terrorist group stem from fear of antagonizing organization.

ZAKA worker at site of bombing 390 (photo credit: Avigdor Shatran)
ZAKA worker at site of bombing 390
(photo credit: Avigdor Shatran)
BERLIN – Hossam Taleb Yaacoub’s admission in a Cypriot criminal court on Wednesday that he was a member of Hezbollah and that a handler had assigned him to track the movements of Israeli tourists on the small island opened a new floodgate of alleged evidence that the Lebanese group had been engaging in murderous acts within the EU.
On Thursday, leading Israeli analysts weighed in on whether the new revelations in the Limassol court would push the EU’s so far hesitant approach toward Hezbollah into the sphere of sanctions.
“The details revealed by Hossam Taleb Yaacoub regarding Hezbollah’s activities in Europe surely put the final nail in the coffin of the credibility of any further equivocation regarding Hezbollah’s status as a transnational Islamist terror group,” Dr. Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya, told The Jerusalem Post by email.
“But that doesn’t mean that the EU will now add the organization to its list of designated terror groups,” continued Spyer, whose book The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict delves into the ideology and jingoism of Hezbollah. “This is because European reluctance in this regard does not relate to the facts, but rather to the fear in some European countries of antagonizing Hezbollah. Sadly the desire to avoid possible repercussions may well continue to override responsibility to the victims of the Burgas bombing [in Bulgaria], and indeed plain common sense in this regard.”
The disclosures in Cyprus have added greater urgency to the EU debate over banning Hezbollah since Bulgaria accused the group earlier this month of blowing up an Israeli tour bus in July. The terrorist attack in the Black Sea resort of Burgas killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver, and wounded over 30 Israelis.
Many European governments, particularly major continental powers Germany and France, have blocked a designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist entity, fearing Hezbollah attacks against EU troops in south Lebanon or on European soil, and a destabilization of Lebanon’s government.
Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University, told the Post that “the leaders of the European Union claim to promote moral foreign policies, but the cynical excuses used to avoid designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization are anything but moral. For years, the EU turned a blind eye to Hezbollah’s role in rocket and mass terror attacks – every one a war crime – and allowed this organization to raise funds and operate freely.”
Steinberg, who runs the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor watchdog group, added, “After the Burgas attack, and then the official Bulgarian report with the evidence of Hezbollah’s role, EU leaders still ignored the evidence and the need to take a principled position.
And now, the testimony in the Cyprus trial of a Hezbollah operative caught aiding in the preparation of yet another attack on EU territory adds to the overwhelming case for banning all activities of Iran’s main ally. Every day that the EU delays this decision further tarnishes its attempt to sell the lofty images of morality, and turns the automatic condemnation of Israeli anti-terror actions into a farce.”
Tommy Steiner, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, told the Post that “the apparent objection of some EU member-states to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is really hard to comprehend.
There is now clear evidence that Hezbollah carried out a deadly terrorist attack in one EU member-state and perpetrated another terrorist attack in a second EU member-state.”
Steiner, a close observer of EU-Israeli relations, asked, “What exactly would the objecting EU member-states require in terms of evidence for them to consent to listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization? [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah nailing an ‘I am an international terrorist’ sticker to his forehead?”
According to an Israeli source who wished to not be identified because of the sensitivity of the EU talks to ban Hezbollah, the assessment was that “for the first time, Hezbollah is in a European court to be determined as a criminal organization, not a political organization.”
Also Thursday, Israel Radio cited Dutch Ambassador to Israel Caspar Veldkamp as saying that the Burgas attack strengthened the need for the EU to brand Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
The ambassador said there were efforts among the EU nations to come to a unanimous decision on the issue. He further stressed that his country had already declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization five years ago.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.