Analysis: EU treats Hezbollah with its own logic

Political interests of some EU states dictate organization's stand on Hezbollah, which won't change because of Bulgarian report.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorists marching with flags 370 (photo credit: Jamal Saidi/Reuters)
Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorists marching with flags 370
(photo credit: Jamal Saidi/Reuters)
The inclusion of Hezbollah on the EU’s terror blacklist is no slam dunk, even with Tuesday’s Bulgarian investigation of the Burgas bombing pointing a finger directly at the Lebanese movement’s involvement.
Logically one would think that catching an organization red-handed in carrying out a terrorist act on foreign soil leading to the murder of six people, five Israelis and a Bulgarian, would be enough to qualify that group as a terrorist entity.
But when it comes to Hezbollah, the EU has a logic all its own. An example of this came last month when the EU-observer, an online newspaper devoted to EU politics, reported that the union’s top counterterrorism official, Gilles de Kerchove, said responsibility for that blast will not necessarily qualify Hezbollah for the terror blacklist.
“There is no automatic listing just because you have been behind a terrorist attack,” he said in a comment that forces a double-take.
No, de Kerchove said, it is not only “the legal requirement that you have to take into consideration, it’s also a political assessment of the context and the timing.”
And there is the rub. There are key actors in the EU, foremost among them France and Germany, that have opposed including Hezbollah on this list for nearly two decades, and that are likely to continue to do so, despite the Bulgarian findings.
As de Kerchove said, “You might ask, given the situation in Lebanon, which is a highly fragile, highly fragmented country, is listing it going to help you achieve what you want?” There will, indeed, be many inside the EU asking that exact question, foremost the French, who are fearful that if the EU places Hezbollah on the list, then Paris will lose its leverage inside Lebanon.
Placing Hezbollah on the list, these same voices will argue, could lead it to pull out of the Lebanese government, something that could significantly destabilize that country at an extremely volatile time in the region.
Besides, the issue of placing Hezbollah on the EU blacklist, something that would make it illegal to transfer funds from EU countries to the organization, was never really about evidence.
The US joined Israel in designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization years ago, so the Europeans really didn’t need the Burgas investigation to confirm that Hezbollah was much more than just a political organization.
No, for decades, since the twin bombings in Argentina in the early 1990s, there has been ample evidence of Hezbollah’s involvement in global terrorism.
The EU chose, and still continues to choose, to avert its eyes, not because of a lack of facts, but because of the interests and political considerations of some EU member states. And these interests and considerations will not change because of the Bulgarian report.
What are those interests, outside of influence inside Lebanon? For some the interests are economic, a concern that such a move could anger parts of the Arab world that invest in their economies. For others it is a fear of “provoking” Hezbollah, and a concern that blacklisting the organization would trigger a terrorist retaliation on their own territory, or against their own nationals.
The irony is that not all the EU feels this way. The Netherlands, for instance, has placed the group on its terror list, and Britain has blacklisted the organization’s military wing.
But it is precisely against that phenomenon – splitting the organization into a military wing and a political one – that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned Tuesday in responding to the attack by saying, “there is only one Hezbollah, it is one organization with one leadership.”
The Bulgarians may have opened the door to this type of division by determining that at least two of those involved in the attack were “members of the militant wing of Hezbollah.”
That could give the EU, which needs the consensus of all 27 member states, the wiggle room to ban part of the group, but not all of it.
But that would, of course, only be a partial solution. Hezbollah, as The New York Times reported Tuesday, has thousands of operatives and supporters fanned out across Europe raising money.
Declaring that the military wing is a terrorist organization will do little to hamper the activities of these fund-raisers, since they will always maintain that they are merely raising money for the “good” part of the Lebanonbased organization.