Bulgarian FM to EU colleagues: Sanction Hezbollah

Presenting evidence from Burgas bombing probe in Brussels, Nikolay Mladenov urges Europe to finally blacklist the Shiite group as a terror organization

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov (left) with UK Foreign Minister William Hague in Brussels (photo credit: Yves Logghe/AP)
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov (left) with UK Foreign Minister William Hague in Brussels (photo credit: Yves Logghe/AP)

A senior Bulgarian official on Monday called on the European Union to adopt harsher measures against Hezbollah in light of his country’s finding that the Lebanese Shiite group was responsible for a terror attack that killed five Israelis and a local bus driver in the coastal town of Burgas last summer.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of the EU’s foreign ministers in Brussels, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov implicitly but unmistakably urged the union to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group.

Asked whether the EU should blacklist Hezbollah, he responded: “Given the fact that we’ve already made quite firm statements about where we believe the responsibility for that attack lies, I think the answer is quite obvious.”

Mladenov was scheduled to present to the union’s Foreign Affairs Council a detailed report on the Bulgarian police investigation into the July 18 attack in the Black Sea resort town.

On February 5, Bulgaria announced that Hezbollah bombed the bus, with its investigators describing a sophisticated attack carried out by a terrorist cell that included Canadian and Australian citizens. Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said one of the suspects entered the country with a Canadian passport, and another with one from Australia. “We have well-grounded reasons to suggest that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah,” Tsvetanov said.

In an op-ed in the New York Times on Monday, the US National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon urged the EU to act against Hezbollah. “Now that Bulgarian authorities have exposed Hezbollah’s global terrorist agenda, European governments must respond swiftly,” he wrote. “They must disrupt its operational networks, stop flows of financial assistance to the group, crack down on Hezbollah-linked criminal enterprises and condemn the organization’s leaders for their continued pursuit of terrorism.”

Officially labeling Hezbollah a terrorist entity would significantly hamper the organization’s ability to operate. But doing so requires unanimity among the EU’s 27 member states, and France and Germany have thus far opposed such a move. In Europe, only the Netherlands and Great Britain have added the organization to their terror lists.

But following the official Bulgarian report that suggested Hezbollah was behind the attack, calls on the EU to rethink its stance have been mounting.

Israel, the UK and senior US lawmakers and administration officials said the evidence from the report, which was released earlier this month, clearly calls for the EU to change its policy vis-à-vis Hezbollah.

Such a move remains unlikely, yet some European officials have said some steps that fall short of blacklisting Hezbollah, such as asking EU policing agency Europol to coordinate investigations into the group’s activities on the continent, would be a possible first stage, according to Reuters.

Officials also reportedly indicated that Paris might have softened its traditionally staunch opposition to listing Hezbollah as a terrorist group. If the evidence coming from Sofia is strong, “all options” are on the table, officials said.

European Jewish Congress President Dr. Moshe Kantor expressed deep concern following the meeting in Brussels. 

“It is deeply disappointing and inexplicable that the EU Foreign Affairs Council is continuing to prevaricate over a decision proscribing Hezbollah, particularly since the Bulgarian government confirmed evidence proving Hezbollah was behind the murderous terror attacks which took place in Burgas during July last year,” Kantor said. “It is very hard to find any reason other than the fact that this issue has been inexcusably politicized.”

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