In about-face, Germany backs blacklisting Hezbollah
FM Westerwelle says ‘at least the military wing’ should be added to EU terror list; critics charge move ‘will not prove effective enough’
Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.
In a potentially significant reversal, Germany is now backing efforts to add Hezbollah to the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations.
Berlin’s reversal came on the heels of reports that the United Kingdom filed a request to discuss blacklisting the Shiite militia next Monday at the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels.
“Germany is in favor of the European Union listing at least the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Wednesday. “This German position is based on an increasingly clearer picture of the facts and on the progress achieved by Cypriot authorities in analyzing terrorist activities. Since the terrible terror attack in Burgas [in Bulgaria] in July 2012, we’ve been conducting intensive talks with our partners. I hope that the necessary consultations within the EU can be concluded rapidly.”
Until this week, Berlin was hesitant to openly endorse calls to blacklist Hezbollah, arguing that it had not seen enough evidence of the group’s involvement in terrorist activity on European soil. On Wednesday, German diplomats said Westerwelle’s new stance was based on “an increasingly clearer picture of the facts and on the progress achieved by Cypriot authorities in analyzing terrorist activities.”
According to the Haaretz daily, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said Berlin’s policy reversal would help other EU member states that favor the blacklisting to promote the issue.
Germany’s new stance would also likely rally other European nations to follow suit. Yet critics of a plan to blacklist only Hezbollah’s military wing said such a move would not go far enough, arguing the organization would continue to target innocent civilians.
In March, a Cypriot court convicted and sentenced to four years in prison a Lebanese-Swedish dual citizen who was arrested in the summer of 2012 on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack against Israeli visitors. The man, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, acknowledged membership in Hezbollah and admitted to having staked out areas frequented by Israelis, but claimed he did not know his work was part of a plot to kill them.
Also earlier this year, a Bulgarian police investigation blamed Hezbollah for a July 18, 2012, blast in the resort town of Burgas that killed five Israelis and a local bus driver. Bulgaria’s former interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov made the “grounded assumption that the militant wing of Hezbollah is the mastermind and perpetrator of the terrorist act in Burgas.”
Israel, the US, the UK, the Netherlands and other states, including Egypt and Bahrain, have added the Shiite group to their lists of terrorist organizations, but the EU has so far refused to do so. Officially labeling Hezbollah a terrorist entity would significantly hamper its ability to operate, but requires a consensus among all 27 member states.
Several European countries remain skeptical about blacklisting the organization, and especially its nonmilitary wing, citing political concerns.
France has long been known to oppose such a designation because of its ties to Lebanon. On Tuesday, a spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry in Paris said the French position on the British proposal would depend on various issues. “For us, all elements concerning Hezbollah must be taken into account: the result of the investigations initiated by the Cypriot and Bulgarian authorities after the bombing of Burgas, and also other considerations such as Hezbollah’s increasingly evident direct involvement in the Syrian crisis alongside the regime of Bashar Al-Assad,” the spokesperson said.
The Czech Republic seemed even more skeptical of an impending move to blacklist the organization. “Hezbollah on one side is a military organization, which does quite a lot of mischief,” Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told The Times of Israel last month, adding that, “On the other hand, it is in a theoretically sovereign state recognized as a political party.”
The fact that Hezbollah officials are members of the Lebanese government further complicates matters, he explained. “What should my ambassador do when he is in Beirut and he comes to a reception? Say ‘No minister, you’re a terrorist, I don’t speak to you’? This labeling makes not a lot of sense. It belongs to the propaganda war.”
Last month, Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said his country would accept any decision the EU takes, but that he was not willing to unilaterally declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization – despite the evidence that sent a Hezbollah operative to a prison in Cyprus.
‘Proscribing just part of the Hezbollah infrastructure will not prove effective enough and will allow this terrorist organization to carry on targeting innocent civilians’
“The fact that a Cypriot court convicted one Hezbollah operative for preparing a terrorist act alone is not enough to proclaim the group a terrorist entity, Kasoulides told The Times of Israel. “There was an indisputable fact that has taken place in the territory of the Republic of Cyprus, adjudicated by the justice system of Cyprus. But it is obvious that it was one event only — that’s the only evidence we’ve got.”
It is no secret that Jerusalem wishes that the entire organization to be added to the EU’s terror list, not just its military wing. A Foreign Ministry spokesman on Wednesday did not want to comment on the issue.
For the European Jewish Congress, the EU’s expected move was too little. “Proscribing just part of the Hezbollah infrastructure will not prove effective enough and will allow this terrorist organization to carry on targeting innocent civilians in Europe and elsewhere,” EJC President Moshe Kantor said Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, some believe that Hezbollah is an organization that has different and separate parts and that it is merely a political organization which has an armed wing and this move will squelch its ambitions. On the contrary, Hezbollah was formed as a violent terrorist organization and merely entered politics to further its maximalist aims.”