US sees EU as likely to soon designate Hezbollah

US's Daniel Benjamin tells 'Post' US has shared information with Europeans on Hezbollah's increased activities in their region.

Hezbollah supporters in Beirut 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hezbollah supporters in Beirut 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – The US State Department indicated Tuesday that it expected the EU to finally designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, following an intensive US lobbying campaign and suspected Hezbollah plots on European soil.
“We’ve been engaging with our partners in Europe and we are cautiously optimistic – at last – about the prospects for an EU designation of the group,” Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, said during an address at the Brookings Institution.
Benjamin, speaking later to The Jerusalem Post, didn’t give a specific date when he anticipated the designation to be made, but suggested the Europeans will have to “think hard about things in the next few months.”
The US and Israel have long pressed the EU to include the Lebanese group on its terror list, and recently US officials have publicly been making the case that that designation would help with enforcement efforts against the organization and its criminal activities.
Benjamin told the Post that the US has also been sharing information with European counterparts on Hezbollah’s increased activities in their region.
The US and Israel have accused Hezbollah of being behind a bombing that killed Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in July and a disrupted plot against Israelis in Cyprus less than two weeks earlier.
This month, the Bulgarian government announced it has made major advances in its investigation of the bombing and would likely be presenting findings at an EU meeting in January.
Clear Hezbollah ties to the attack could be a significant factor in the EU determination on whether to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
“Obviously if the Europeans feel that the proof is decisive then they’ll have to confront the fact that Hezbollah carried out an attack in Europe,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin, speaking ahead of his departure from the State Department, told Brookings that overall the appeal of extremist groups such as al-Qaida is diminishing.
“There are clearly indications that the al-Qaida message continues to wane in popularity,” he asserted.
He said that many of the new governments in the Middle East are also contributing to eroding the capabilities of this and similar groups.
“These governments increasingly show the will to tackle the terror threat,” he said, pointing to the attack on the US outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in September that left four American diplomats dead as an act that awoke many to the internal threat posed by terror groups.
Benjamin also assessed that the citizens of these countries were focused on bettering themselves rather than on taking down others.
“The populations that have historically produced lots of the extremists, these people aren’t interested in violent extremism but in building better lives for their families and their communities within the international system,” he said.
But he added that despite these positive developments, “This is not a reason to relax.”