Sunday

1st May 2016

Opinion

Hezbollah at Europe's doorstep

  • Security experts in America and Israel agree with Bulgaria that Hezbollah was behind the Burgas attack (Photo: the half-blood prince)

What further evidence does the European Union need to declare Hezbollah an international terrorist group?

The latest proof comes from Bulgaria.

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After a six month investigation, Bulgaria has concluded in a new report that Hezbollah was behind the July 2012 bus attack in Burgas that killed five Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian bus driver and wounded more than 30 other Israelis.

The report finds the bomber, who died in the attack, was part of a Hezbollah cell that included two members using Australian and Canadian passports.

Interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told reporters: "There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects."

Security experts in America and Israel also agree Hezbollah was behind the attack.

The attack occurred on the 18th anniversary of the Hezbollah bombing of the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association building (the Jewish center in Buenos Aires) that killed 85 people and wounded 300, sending a chilling reminder that the terror group’s reach is far and wide. That was the second Hezbollah attack in Buenos Aires, following the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy that left 29 dead and 242 injured.

The United States has first hand experience of Hezbollah’s terror. The group is responsible for the 1983 suicide bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, that killed 241 American service members. At about the same time, another Hezbollah suicide bomber also attacked a French military base in Beirut killing more than 50.

In the decade after its founding, Hezbollah kidnapped and killed some 30 Westerners, including the president of American University in Beirut in 1982, as well as the 1985 kidnapping and murder of a CIA station chief in Beirut.

Hezbollah attacks in Israel, Great Britain and Spain have also left scores dead.

The United States, Canada, Israel and the Netherlands already list Hezbollah as the terrorist organization that it is.

But so far, the European Union has refused to declare the obvious, often defending its intransigence by claiming Hezbollah has two distinct faces: a "political" wing and a "military" faction.

But using Hezbollah's seats in Lebanon's government is a false excuse to grant these terrorists any semblance of legitimacy. Does anybody believe that the "military" and "political" branches of Hezbollah are located on different planets?

There can be no doubt about the fungibility of funding within terrorist organizations. Hezbollah has effectively hijacked a sovereign government in Lebanon. In fact, isolating Hezbollah would contribute to freeing Lebanon from the grip of intimidation.

Striking at Europe's doorstep

Now that Hezbollah has struck right at Europe’s doorstep with the Burgas attack, will this be the final bit of evidence to propel the EU to act? It should be.

Sadly, it seems even the attack in Bulgaria may not be enough for the EU to do the right thing.

Gilles de Kerchove, the top terrorism expert for the EU, told the EUobserver in recent weeks that: “First, we need to reach conclusions with strong evidence that it was the military wing of Hezbollah [which bombed Burgas]. That's the prerequisite, even in legal terms, but then, as always in the listing process, you need to ask yourself: 'Is this the right thing to do?'."

He also told the publication: "There is no automatic listing just because you have been behind a terrorist attack. It's not only the legal requirement that you have to take into consideration, it's also a political assessment of the context and the timing."

Why is the EU dithering on this?

European Union members who have indicated reluctance to label Hezbollah as a terrorist group are allowing it to hide behind its "political" face - the one with the seats in the parliament of Lebanon. When in reality, it is one organization responsible for a global reign of terror going back 30 years.

Hezbollah has become especially adept at hitting soft targets, as in its Burgas murders.

It has also become skilled in siding with those who carry out state-sponsored murder, such as lending assistance to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he continues his ruthless campaign to silence his own people’s opposition to his rule.

The Bulgarian investigation’s conclusion that Hezbollah was behind the Burgas attack is courageous. It is not the first time Bulgarians stood up to do what is right.

Next month marks the 70th anniversary of a bold move by Bulgarians from every element of society - everyday citizens united to prevent some 48,000 Bulgarian Jews from being deported to Nazi death camps.

The inspiring story of the rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews is a study in bravery and determination. Today in the face of the Hezbollah attack inside its borders, Bulgaria is standing up and speaking out again.

Will Europe heed its call?

A terror designation from the European Union could help cut off vital funding that Hezbollah receives from extremists and other supporters around the world. The terror label could limit the ability of Hezbollah operatives to move freely in Europe.

But perhaps most important, it would send a message, finally, that the global community will not tolerate terrorism.

Daniel S. Mariaschin is the executive vice president of B'nai B'rith International, a Washington-based international group for the fight against anti-Semitism founded in 1843

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