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the United States in 1995 declared that Hezb’allah was a terrorist organization, the countries of the European Union so far have been unwilling to do so.
This fact ought to be universally recognized. Hezb’allah’s two objectives have been clear from the start: establishing an Islamist-style political regime in Lebanon; and eliminating the State of Israel. It has been responsible for assassinations, suicide bombing, terrorist activity, and missile warfare against Israel. Its terrorist activity appeared dramatically in the bombing on October 23, 1983 of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut where 299 U.S. and French servicemen were killed. It then took part, together with Islamic Jihad, in the hijacking of TWA flight 847 from Cairo to Beirut on June 14, 1985.
Two weeks after the arrest of the Hezb’allah operative in Cyprus who is now on trial for, among other things, planning a bombing attack, such an attack occurred in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian foreign minister, Nikolay Mldenov, on February 17, 2013 informed the European Union members that Hezb’allah had been involved in this terrorism on European soil. Two Hizb’allah operatives who apparently used Australian and Canadian passports planned the suicide terrorist bus bombing in July 2012 at the airport in Burgas, the Black Sea resort in Bulgaria, when five Israeli tourists and a bus driver were killed, and many were injured. Mldenov urged his European colleagues to take collective measures to make sure similar attacks would never happen again in Europe.
Israel has long been familiar with and exposed to such attacks. Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezb’allah has made no secret of his intentions. In 2006 he declared, “there is no solution to the conflict in this region except with the disappearance of Israel.” He boasts of the weaponry in the hands of the organization: accurate missiles and rockets, including, more than 600 missiles with electronic guidance systems acquired from Syria capable of hitting Tel Aviv and Israeli installations, advanced anti-tank missiles and mortars, and also special military units to launch raids on Israeli territory.
Though the United States in 1995 declared that Hezb’allah was a terrorist organization, the countries of the European Union so far have been unwilling to do so. In spite of the clear statement of Mr. Tsvetanov on the Burgas atrocity, the EU’s foreign minister Catherine Ashton called only for “reflection” and “serious assessment” of the outcome of any investigation of the attack. Her advice was, “we have to consult and come back.”
The EU, and others, has argued that there are two wings to Hezb’allah: one military, the terrorist militia; and the other a political organization which provides social services for the Shi’ite population in Lebanon and is interested in participating in an electoral process to gain power. In making this argument the EU refuses to acknowledge that Hezb’allah had created a “state within a state” in southern Lebanon, and has persisted in and continually threatened to continue terrorist activity against Israeli civilians.
Some members of the U.S. Congress have understood the real nature of Hezb’allah. In September 2012 a letter to Ashton signed by 75 members of Congress cited Hezb’allah’s links to Iran and the fact that it was engaging in terrorist acts. Again, on February 18, 2013 more than 100 members of Congress called on her to declare that Hezb’allah was a terrorist organization “to prevent further attacks in Europe and around the world.” They might have also mentioned this would prevent Hezb’allah from fundraising in Europe, as well as deter its money laundering, drug smuggling, and interference in the Syrian civil war.
However, the EU as a whole has not yet made a similar statement, though there are some tentative calls for it. The French foreign ministry spokesperson has said that France was officially going to make such a statement though President François Hollande has been unwilling to do so, and is still “studying the evidence” of the Burgas investigation. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, in January 2013 urged British Jewish leaders “to make a noise” and lead a grassroots campaign for the EU to proscribe Hezb’allah, a decision which requires consensus of all 27 members of the EU.
To date, the only countries that list Hezb’allah as a terrorist organization are the U.S., Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands; Britain and Austria list only its military wing as terrorist. Clearly, the EU has not responded sufficiently robustly to the threat of Hizb’allah, including its inadequate response to the conclusions of the investigation of the Burgas attack.
The question now arises of whether John Brennan, adviser to the President on counterterrorism and homeland security, and head of the CIA, is sufficiently robust on the issue in view of his ambiguous or ambivalent statements in the past. One such statement was made in 2006 on C Span when he asserted that Hezb’allah should not be understood as an evil force, but as a very complex organization that had a terrorist arm to it but also a social and political nature. Another was his statement in August 2009 in Washington that Hezb’allah had a terrorist core but “a lot of Hezb’allah individuals are in fact renouncing that type of terrorism and violence.” In May 2010, after Brennan had visited Lebanon, he was quoted as saying that Hezb’allah had “moderate elements” and that President Obama should help build these up.
There has in fact been a noticeable difference between the present American administration and its predecessor. During the Bush administration annual reports always included a statement that Hezb’allah was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist group. From the start of the Obama administration this statement was omitted from the reports.
One indication of a possible more forthright American position is the recent statement by Secretary of State John Kerry that “We need to send an unequivocal message to this terrorist group (Hezb’allah) that it can no longer engage in despicable actions with impunity.” He intended this to be aimed at the Europeans.
Part of the reason for the supine attitude of Europeans and their indifference to Hezb’allah’s raising money in Europe is the fear that Hezb’allah might engage in terrorist activity in their own countries. Now that Hezb’allah has shed blood on European soil it is time for the EU to end its obfuscation on the question. It should explicitly recognize and designate Hezb’allah as a terrorist group and should stop its operations in European countries.