Will EU heed Washington’s calls to ban Hezbollah?

Analysis: Hezbollah "not just Israeli issue" but also affects Americans, Syrians, Europeans, says US expert.

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Sharif Karim)
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Sharif Karim)
WASHINGTON – US senators urged the European Union last week, in a resolution sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut), to take sanctions action against Hezbollah in Europe.
The contentious difference of opinion between the Europeans and the Americans on a ban of Hezbollah has not evaporated from the media and political radar screens in the United States. Sensing shifts in Europe’s openness to outlaw the Lebanese Shi’ite organization, over 50 senators joined Lieberman to push European governments to criminalize Hezbollah.
The US effort to persuade the EU to ban Hezbollah is taking the shape of a similar spat in 2003, when Washington exerted pressure on a reluctant Europe to outlaw Hamas. Responding to a Hamas suicide bomb attack in Jerusalem that year, which murdered 22 people, then-British foreign secretary Jack Straw said “given the outrage perpetrated by Hamas and which killed so many innocent people and for which there was no conceivable justification, we’ve taken a political decision to freeze the assets of Hamas and other actions.”
France and Germany initially resisted the EU ban of Hamas in 2003. The two countries both – following the pattern of 2003 – show no appetite for listing Hezbollah as a terrorist entity.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post in Washington, Mark Dubowitz, executive-director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said “European leaders do not fully grasp the extent to which American policy makers, counter-terrorism officials, military personnel and the general public see Hezbollah as a severe danger to our national security.
“This is not only an Israeli or Jewish issue. Hezbollah is seen here in America as a murderous terrorist organization and as a partner of an Iranian regime which has waged war against the West and its own people,” he said.
“Americans have not forgotten the American and European blood that Hezbollah and Iran have shed and the continued threat that they both still represent to our safety.”
Dubowitz, a leading expert on transatlantic counter-terrorism policies targeting Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, added, “If Europe is unwilling to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, after the Obama administration and Democrats and Republicans in Congress have implored their European counterparts to recognize the nature and gravity of the Hezbollah global threat, it raises reasonable concerns that a transatlantic partnership that defeated previous threats to Western democracies in the 20th century may not be capable of defeating the deadly ones of the 21st century.”
With the exceptions of a small number of continental European politicians, there has been no groundswell of members of parliament across Europe – in contrast with the US – looking to outlaw Hezbollah within the borders of the EU.
The notable exceptions are Italian MP Fiamma Nirenstein and German MP Philipp Missfelder, the spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in the Bundestag, who have both advocated that the EU include Hezbollah into its terror list.
Josh Block, a former Clinton administration official and CEO of The Israel Project, a US pro-Israel organization based in Washington, told the Post “Iran’s terrorist army Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group except al-Qaida, and according to intelligence officials, in the past year has been more active in plotting and conducting terrorist attacks outside of the Middle East than in the last 20 years, including in Europe, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Thailand, and North America.
“When the White House counterterrorism chief says that the EU’s ‘failure to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization makes it more difficult to defend our countries and protect our citizens,’ one wonders if the European Union understands or cares,” he said.
“The EU’s failure to define the global terrorist organization for what it is calls into question the EU’s commitment to fighting terrorism and supporting peace in the Middle East, their interest in the welfare of innocent Syrian victims of Hezbollah, Iran and [Bashar] Assad’s sadistic partnership, and general ability of the EU to function in a serious manner.”
European diplomats from Spain and France have told the Post that blacklisting Hezbollah is contingent on the outcome of the Bulgarian investigation into a July bombing in Burgas which killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. American and Israeli intelligence officials believe a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation executed the suicide bombing. Europe has held the line on its ban of Hamas in 2003. Hezbollah’s terrorism is equally deadly and there are no shortage of compelling reasons to evict Hezbollah from European soil.
Benjamin Weinthal is a European affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post and a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.