Lacking unanimity, EU again refuses to brand Hezbollah a terror organization

Europeans say they need ‘tangible evidence’ that Shiite group, blamed by Israel for last week’s Burgas bombing, engages in terrorism

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The Hezbollah flag flying in Lebanon. (CC BY-upyernoz/Flickr)
The Hezbollah flag flying in Lebanon. (CC BY-upyernoz/Flickr)

The European Union on Tuesday quashed a request by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman to blacklist Hezbollah as a terror group, citing a lack of consensus on the issue.

The stance was consistent with EU’s stated policy in the past, though the group said it would reconsider its position if it could be proven that Hezbollah head Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah was indeed involved in terrorist attacks.

The decision was made at a meeting of the EU Council in Brussels, where Liberman is visiting. The EU has for years rejected requests by Israeli and other officials to blacklist Hezbollah, because of objections from one or more of its members.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Thursday publicly blamed Hezbollah, directed by Iran, for the terror attack in Burgas the previous day, in which five Israelis and a Bulgarian were killed.

“The decision to put Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organizations requires unanimity in the Council,” said Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, the foreign minister of Cyprus, which presently holds the EU presidency.  Kozakou-Marcoullis chairs the EU Council in Brussels.

“The Lebanese Hezbollah is an organization that comprises a political party and a social services network as well as an armed wing,” she said at the conclusion of the annual European Union-Israel Association Council in Brussels, during which the two parties reviewed bilateral relations. “Hezbollah is active in Lebanese politics, including the parliament and the government, and plays a specific role with regard to the status quo in Lebanon.”

EU entities or individuals are prohibited from making financial transfers to an organization blacklisted as a terrorist group.

However, Kozakou-Marcoullis signaled flexibility: “Should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism, the EU would consider listing the organization,” she said.

During a press conference in Brussels, Liberman said he expected the EU to place Hezbollah on its list of terrorist organizations. “It’s necessary and crucial to give the right signal to the international community and to the Israeli people.”

The foreign minister also reiterated Israel’s claim that Hezbollah and Iran were behind a number of terror attacks and attempted bombings targeting Israelis and other nationals, including a suicide attack in Bulgaria last week that killed five Israeli tourists. “We think that we know, and we have real hard evidence that the one who stands behind these attacks is Hezbollah and the Iranians,” he said.

Arms seized from a Hezbollah military vessel in 2009 (photo credit: IDF/Flash90)
Arms seized from a Hezbollah military vessel in 2009 (photo credit: IDF/Flash90)

The US and other countries, including EU members, list Hezbollah as terrorist groups, but the EU has so far rejected several requests by Israeli and other officials to do so as well. In 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, the foreign minister of Finland, which at the time held the EU presidency, said, “Given the sensitive situation where we are, I don’t think this is something we will be acting on now.” He added that blacklisting Hezbollah “could happen later on when we will see the outcome of a future political agreement.”

For a consortium of close to 30 countries, defining a common foreign policy is a daunting task, which explains why the EU has so far not been able to agree on labeling Hezbollah a terrorist organization, human rights activist Muriel Asseraf wrote in 2007. France is a key player in this issue, she argued. If Paris were to advocate for Hezbollah’s inclusion in the EU’s terror list, she said, other countries would likely follow suit.

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