23rd Mar 2018

Israeli leader urges EU to blacklist Hezbollah

  • Pro-Hezbollah flag in Paris in 2008: fund-raising for the group in the EU would become illegal if it gets listed (Photo: looking4poetry)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told Italy's foreign minister the EU should designate Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. But EU diplomats are wary of the move.

"There is one ... effort that I think Europe could make to advance the cause of security and peace, and that is to declare Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, a terrorist organisation. It is exactly that. It's the world's leading terror organisation, and Europe could contribute much by declaring it for what it is," he said at a meeting with Italy's Giulio Terzi in Jerusalem on Wednesday (5 September).

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The statement is the latest in a campaign to EU-list the Lebanese group after Israel and the US blamed it for bombing Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria in July.

Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman at the time asked Cyprus, the current EU presidency, to start talks on the decision.

US state department counter-terrorism chief, Daniel Benjamin, was in August cited in the New York Times as saying: "We assess that Hezbollah could attack in Europe or elsewhere at any time with little or no warning."

The American Jewish Committee (AJC), a Washington-based lobby with an office in the EU capital, last month also sent letters to EU foreign ministers pleading for the step. "No matter who carried out this atrocity [Burgas] on European Union territory, the EU's continued refusal to put Hezbollah on its terror list is simply indefensible," its Brussels chief, Daniel Schwammenthal, said in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal at the time.

Meanwhile, a senior EU diplomatic source told EUobserver that Netanyahu did not give Italy's Terzi any evidence that Hezbollah did the Burgas bombing.

Echoing the Cypriot foreign minister, Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, who in July told Lieberman there is "no [EU] consensus" on whether to list Hezbollah, the source noted that: "Any decision needs to be discussed in depth at EU level. It's not a decision to be taken at national level."

He added: "It should be discussed in a general context of the balance of EU foreign policy, one has to consider all the factors inside Lebanon."

Another senior EU diplomatic contact told this website that Hezbollah is not on the agenda at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Cyprus on Friday. But he noted that talks on Syria are likely to stray onto Hezbollah at the informal event.

The contact said any EU decision will be taken at two levels: technical and political.

One one hand, EU countries' counter-terrorism specialists, who meet regularly at the EU Council in Brussels and who recommend actions to ministers, are waiting for their Bulgarian colleagues to say what happened in Burgas.

On the other hand, ministers will take into account the political implications for EU relations with Arab countries and for Middle East stability in general.

"Whoever calls out Hezbollah is likely to face consequences in terms of the perceptions about them in Lebanon. European nations need to make some strategic considerations. But the most important thing is to wait for the [Burgas] evidence," the EU diplomatic contact noted.

Hezbollah is the dominant military force in Lebanon and the political party of Shia Muslims in the south and east of the fragile country.

It is also admired in the wider Arab world as the only Arab force which recently inflicted military defeat on Israel, the regional superpower, after forcing its withdrawal from Lebanon in the 2006 war.

The BBC in August quoted Hezbollah chief, Hassan Nasrallah, as saying that an EU terrorist listing: "Would dry up [our] sources of finance, end moral, political and material support, stifle ... the voices which support the resistance [against Israeli occupation of Palestine]."

For his part, David Hirst, a noted British writer on the Middle East who has lived in Beirut for the past 50 years, told EUobserver by phone on Thursday that listing Hezbollah would "primarily serve American and Israeli interests."

"It is an open question whether Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation. But it certainly has a much broader political and social dimension [in Lebanon] which can't be separated from its military activities," he said.

He added that Israel's effort to stigmatise the group overlooks its own track record.

"In the 2006 war, the Israelis accused Hezbollah of using civilian areas to launch missiles which hit civilian targets in Israel. But subsequent investigations by [US and British NGOs] Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International showed that they did not typically or systematically use civilian areas ... They certainly hit civilian areas in Israel. But they were firing back at Israeli sources of fire and a high proportion of their targets were [Israeli] Arab because Israel was putting its own firing positions near Arab villages," Hirst said.

According to Human Rights Watch, Israel in the 34-day war killed 1,125 Lebanese people, including at least 501 civilians, 300 of whom were women and children. It says Hezbollah killed 119 Israeli soldiers and 40 civilians.

"You could argue that Hezbollah has in the past operated on a higher moral plane than Israel, which raises the question: can Israel itself be classified as a terrorist entity?" he added.

"In my view, Israel is a terrorist state just as much as Hezbollah is a terrorist militia. But I doubt my point of view would gain much sympathy in the EU's counter-terrorism group."

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