On 18 July last year, news of a bomb attack on Israeli tourists at Burgas airport broke. Information provided to CNN said the bomb – concealed in a backpack – went off in a confined space between two buses, instantly killing four of the tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver, as well as the bomber. A total of five Israelis were killed, and over 30 injured. Israel pointed the finger at the Shia militia group Hizballah.
Last week the Bulgarian authorities released the findings of their official enquiry into the attack and Bulgarian Minister of Interior Tsvetan Tsvetanov confirmed Israel and the United States’ suspicions, blaming the Iranian-backed group, Hizballah.
In response to the Bulgarian enquiry, Representative Ed Royce (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement where he said that failure to proscribe Hizballah “will only give these killers the opportunity to further organise, recruit, raise funds, and carry out additional terrorist attacks across the continent”.
Indeed, Hizballah has a long record of terrorist activities against, amongst others, European and Jewish targets around the world. Despite this, Hizballah has not been listed as a terrorist organisation – as it has by Israel and the United States – by the European Union. In fact, Hizballah remains remarkably free to operate in most of Europe. The starkest example of this is Germany, whose annual threat report in 2012 determined that nearly 1,000 Hizballah members and supporters lived there, allowing it to raise money in several European cities.
The Netherlands is the only country in Europe to ban Hizballah, in its entirety. In the UK, an absurd distinction – one that has even been rejected by Hizballah’s own leaders – is made between its military and political wings, proscribing only the former.
However, in spite of the evidence, many EU countries are hesitant to ban it. The EU’s top counter-terrorism official, Gilles de Kerchove, stated that the decision to proscribe an organisation is political. “For Hizballah, 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”, going on to say that just because an organisation is behind a terrorist attack, the political context needs to be accounted for.
The EU’s position seems nonsensical but is deeply rooted in European realpolitik and fear of causing destabilisation in an already volatile region. The mind boggles as to how Hizballah, who has risen to power through terrorism, who is guilty of assassinating a former prime minister, and who is causing disruption on its border with Israel and now Syria, can be anything but a destabilising force in Lebanon.
For his part, Foreign Secretary William Hague has called on the EU to reopen discussions on Hizballah’s status, asking for it to adopt the UK position. We recently asked Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander if he agreed with the distinction between the two wings. Responding that he had not yet resolved it in his own mind, he highlighted his concern that Hizballah commands the support of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese, and this uncomfortable truth could have implications with respect to Israel’s security. The opposition is clearly in lock step with the Government on this point.
This is not just a question of Israel. The attack in Burgas was only one of a series of recent terrorist operations against civilians in Thailand, Kenya, Turkey, India, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, and Georgia. Hizballah is also committed to defending Assad’s bloody endeavour in Syria, using its tools of ‘resistance’ not ‘just’ on Israelis, but Europeans, Jews, and fellow Muslims.
There can be no denying the evidence that money flows from Europe supporting Hizballah’s activities , and Hassan Nasrallah himself has accepted that EU terrorist classification would seriously damage the organisation as it “would dry up the sources of finance, end moral, political and material support, stifle voices, whether they are the voices of the resistance or the voices which support the resistance, pressure states which protect the resistance in one way and another, and pressure the Lebanese state, Iran and Iraq, but especially the Lebanese state, in order to classify it as a state which supports terrorism”.
Hizballah is weakened by the prospect of losing its regional ally in Damascus and its source of funding in Iran. EU sanctions would deny it operational freedom. The time is ripe for the EU’s indefensible policy on Hizballah to be put right so that the world can be that bit more secure from the threat of Iranian-backed terrorism.
The CST contributed to this opinion piece. It is running a campaign with the JLC to urge the EU to proscribe Hizballah.