Taken together, the recent cases in Bulgaria and Cyprus provide irrefutable evidence that Hizbollah is highly active in Europe, where it raises funds, launders money, traffics drugs, recruits operatives and plots attacks with impunity.
Even so, the new revelations are unlikely to cause the E.U. to reconsider its refusal to designate Hizbollah as a terrorist group and crack down on its fund-raising. Indeed, European officials have signaled that they desperately want to keep the peace with Hizbollah.
After Bulgaria implicated Hizbollah, John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor and his nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency, urged the E.U. to condemn Hizbollah, saying, “We call on our European partners as well as other members of the international community to take proactive action to uncover Hizbollah’s infrastructure and disrupt the group’s financing schemes and operational networks in order to prevent future attacks.”
But Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign policy, responded without even mentioning Hizbollah by name. She said only that there was now a “need for reflection” and added: “The implications of the investigation need to be assessed seriously as they relate to a terrorist attack on E.U. soil, which resulted in the killing and injury of innocent civilians.”
In Sweden, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt went so far as to express his anger at Bulgaria for blaming Hizbollah, saying in a tweet in early February, “We need to reflect seriously on consequences of Bulgaria probe naming Hizbollah as behind terrorist attack.”
Only one E.U. country has had the courage to blacklist Hizbollah’s entire organization: The Netherlands proscribed the group in 2004.
If the E.U. is eventually shamed into adding Hizbollah to its terror list, it will probably follow the example not of Holland but of Britain
In 2008, the British government “banned” Hizbollah’s military wing after the group targeted British troops in Iraq. But the Labour government stopped short of curtailing Hizbollah’s ability to operate in Britain, arguing that the military wing is separate from the political wing.
In recent weeks, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has repeatedly urged the E.U. to replicate the British model and outlaw only Hizbollah’s military wing. Although this “fix” would allow the E.U. to say that it has taken meaningful action against the group, Hizbollah leaders themselves make no such distinction.
Sheikh Naim Qassem, the second in command of Hizbollah, with the title of deputy secretary-general, has rejected Britain’s attempt to separate the group into military and political wings. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in April 2009, Qassem said: “Hizbollah has a single leadership. … The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads Jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu concurred, saying: “There is only one Hizbollah, it is one organization with one leadership.” Other Israeli officials made similar statements, including Avi Dichter, Israel’s Minister of Home Front Defense and a former director of Shin Bet, (“Asking if Hizbollah is a terrorist organization is like asking if Paris belongs to France”) and Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor (“Calling Hizbollah a charity is like calling al-Qaeda an urban planning organization because of its desire to level tall buildings”).
Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.
About the Author: The writer is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group, one of the oldest and most influential foreign policy think tanks in Spain.
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