The European Union Must Act on Hezb'allah

During his visit to Israel in March 2013, President Obama made clear his opinion on a crucial issue which went relatively unnoticed.  In Jerusalem on March 21, 2013, implicitly speaking to the European Union (EU), he said, "Every country that values justice should call Hezb'allah what it truly is: a terrorist organization."

The president is not the first American politician or official to make such a call.  The U.S. State Department designated Hezb'allah as a foreign terrorist organization in October 1997, as the U.S. government did in January 1995, and John Brennan did in October 2012.  In September 2012, more than 250 members of Congress, led by Representative Henry A. Waxman, sent letters to leaders of the EU asking them to designate Hezb'allah as a terrorist organization.  At a meeting on February 14, 2013, Waxman, speaking to Catherine Ashton, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy in Brussels, recommended that the EU take immediate action to make such a designation.

The U.S. Senate in Resolution 613, on December 21, 2012, similarly urged the governments of Europe and the EU organization to declare Hezb'allah a terrorist organization and to impose sanctions against it.

It remains disappointing that at this point the countries in the EU, apart from the Netherlands totally and Britain partially, have refused to make such a declaration.

At its origin in 1982, Hezb'allah appeared to be an umbrella organization of different groups.  But its real nature soon became apparent.  It may be a complex organization with an extensive social network and some beneficial welfare activities, but its main objective is to establish an Islamist state with close ties to Iran.  It cannot be regarded as part of a Lebanese nationalist movement or as a resistance group.

One of the arguments made by the EU is that there is no tangible evidence to link Hezb'allah to terrorism.  Yet for almost thirty years, this has flown in the face of any objective analysis.  Some of its activities have been particularly notorious.  In April and in October 1983, soon after Hezb'allah was established, it was responsible, partly as a surrogate of Iran, for the bombing of the United States Embassy and military barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in which 258 U.S. personnel and 58 French paratroopers were killed.

In July 1994 it bombed the Argentine Israelite Mutual Assistance building in Buenos Aires and killed 85 people and injured more than one hundred.  It assassinated Rafic Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, and 21 others in Beirut in February 2005.  In this case, the U.N. special tribunal investigating the murders linked them to Hezb'allah.  It was almost certainly responsible, together with Syria, for a number of bomb attacks on the members of UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) in 2011.

Besides these ruthless actions, other aggressive activities of Hezb'allah have been conspicuous.  It created a state within the formal state of Lebanon, and created an atmosphere of intimidation in the country.  It helped the Assad regime in Syria crush opponents.  It trained militants in that country and in Yemen.  It was actively supported, in training, weapons, and explosives, and received political and organizational aid from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force.  Hezb'allah is notorious for hiding its weapons near schools, mosques, and hospitals, thus putting civilians in danger.

Any doubt about the true nature of Hezb'allah should have been put to rest by the bombing by a suicide bomber associated with it on July 18, 2012 of the bus transporting Israeli tourists at the airport of the Black Sea city of Burgas in Bulgaria.  Five Israelis and the bus driver were killed.

The report on the event by the Bulgarian government on February 5, 2013 stated that Hezb'allah was responsible for the attack.  A letter by Congressmen Henry Waxman and Gus Bilirakis two weeks later congratulated Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Bulgarian deputy prime minister and minister of the interior, on the report and asked him to try to get European consensus on Hezb'allah.

Any lingering doubt about Hezb'allah had to be ended with the trial and conviction in March 2013 in a court in Cyprus of a self-confessed Hezb'allah courier who is a Swedish-Lebanese citizen.  He was found guilty of a criminal act and conspiracy of plotting to kill Israeli tourists in Cyprus.  The court held that Hezb'allah acts "as a criminal organization."  But charges against him of terrorism were dropped because Hezb'allah is not listed as a terrorist organization.

In spite of this abundant record, the EU persists in the assertion that it does not have sufficient evidence to make a decision about Hezb'allah and that the question has to be studied.  One can understand that France may hope to have some influence in Lebanon, which it ruled from 1922 to 1946.  It may remember the physical hostility against French then-prime minister Lionel Jospin at Bir Zeit in February 2000 when he condemned attacks on Israel by terrorists.  One can understand less the reluctance of Germany to make the right decision when its own intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz, announced that there were 900 active members of Hezb'allah in its country.

The EU Parliament in March 2005 found "clear evidence" of terrorist attacks by Hezb'allah and called for the EU Council to "take all necessary steps to end Hezb'allah terrorist activities."  So far the Council has not acted.  The British foreign minister, William Hague, also suggested in September 2012 that the rest of the EU follow Britain in placing Hezb'allah's military wing on the list of terrorist organizations.  This is insufficient to deal with the ongoing problem of Hezb'allah becoming more assertive in organizing in Europe, recruiting, and raising funds.  Hezb'allah must be prevented from using the territories of the EU for these activities, and sanctions should be imposed on the organization, which is linked to both Iran and Syria.

In his famous letter of August 1790 to the Jewish community in Newport, RI, George Washington expressed what should be the EU attitude to Hezb'allah: "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."