Netanyahu: EU Should Blacklist All Hezbollah Wings, Not Just Its Military

Israel says it views Hezbollah as a unified organization and sees no distinction between its military and political wings; MK Lieberman slams decision as 'only going half way'; U.S.: EU decision exposes Hezbollah for the terror group it is; Hezbollah responds, saying move won't affect 'the resistance.'

Barak Ravid
Reuters
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday welcomed the European Union's decision to label Hezbollah's military wing as a terror organization, but criticized the distinction that was made between the armed and political wings of the group.

"Israel sees Hezbollah as a unified organization with no distinction between its wings," Netanyahu said. "I hope the decision will bring about significant steps against the organization."

Netanyahu added that Hezbollah has imposed terror in large parts of Lebanon and turned them into Iranian-backed regions in which thousands of rockets are held at the heart of population centers.

The White House backed the European Union's decision, saying it sends a strong message that the group cannot operate with impunity.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the decision should have an impact on Hezbollah's fundraising, logistical activities and "terrorist plotting on foreign soil."

"The EU's decision today sends a clear message that Europestands firmly against Hezbollah's terrorist activities. The United States is proud to stand with the European Union on this front," said Carney.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Syria was an important factor behind the EU vote. "A growing number of governments are recognizing Hezbollah as the dangerous and destabilizing terrorist organization that it is," he said.

European Union governments agreed on Monday to put the military wing of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on the EU terror list, diplomats said, in a major reversal of policy driven by concerns over the group's activities in Europe. They cited evidence Hezbollah was involved in last year's terrorist attack in Bulgaria which claimed 5 lives. 

"Agreement [was] reached to list Hezbollah," one EU diplomat told Reuters. Three other diplomats confirmed that.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said earlier that ''the great majority" of the 28 EU member states supported the plans and hoped for the necessary unanimity during Monday's meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers.

Under the plan, European governments will bar certain individuals from receiving visas and freeze assets of organizations associated with the Hezbollah.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said the apparent European consensus on Hezbollah's terrorist credentials will help prevent future attacks.

"The tightening of the ring around [Hezbollah] will enable increasing intelligence cooperation among countries against Hezbollah."

President Shimon Peres welcomed the decision on his official Twitter page, saying, "I welcome the EU's decision regarding Hezbollah, a significant and necessary step towards putting an end to the spread of terror."

MK Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, criticized the EU decision as "only going half way" calling the Hezbollah's political and military wing "two sides of the same coin."

"The same person, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, stands at the head of both wings" Lieberman said in a statement. "The attempt to make it appear there is an extremist side and a moderate side is like asking whether a cannibal can be a vegetarian."

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was also pleased with the outcome. "Finally, after years of discussion and debate, the effort to label Hezbollah is a legitimate political party has rightly failed. It is clear to the whole world today that Hezbollah is a terror organization.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that evidence from last year's attack in the Black Sea resort of Burgas in Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian, should give enough impetus for the move. Westerwelle said that ''we have to answer this, and the answer is" blacklisting Hezbollah's the military wing.

The Zionist Federation UK lauded the move to recognize Hezbollah's military wing as a terrorist organization, but stated that the European Union should go further, to blacklist the entire organization.

Hezbollah does not formally divide itself into armed and political wings, and Amal Saad Ghorayeb, who wrote a book on the group, said identifying who the ban would apply to will be difficult.

"It is a political, more than a judicial decision. It can't have any real, meaningful judicial implications," she said, adding it appeared to be a "a PR move" to hurt Hezbollah's international standing, more connected with events in Syria than with the case in Bulgaria.

Hezbollah parliamentary member al-Walid Soukariah said the decision puts Europe "in confrontation with this segment of people in our region".

"This step won't affect Hezbollah or the resistance. The resistance is present on Lebanese territory and not in Europe. It is not a terrorist group to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe, which is forbidden by religion."

The attack on EU territory plus a Cyprus criminal court decision in March finding a Hezbollah member guilty of helping to plan attacks on Israelis on the Mediterranean island has galvanized EU diplomacy in moving toward action.

"We should name names because time comes to tell the truth," said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Antanas Linkevicius, who chaired Monday's meeting. ''What was done by the military wing in the region and elsewhere I would say, there should be some reaction."

Hezbollah has denied involvement in the attack on the bus in Bulgaria.

The blacklisting would mean imposing visa bans on individuals and asset freezes on organizations associated with the group. But the implementation would be complicated since officials would have to unravel the links between the different wings within Hezbollah's organizational network and see who could be targeted for belonging to the military wing.

The Iranian-backed group plays a pivotal role in Lebanese politics, dominating the government since 2011, and has since sent its members to bolster Syria's President Bashar Assad forces in their assault of rebel-held areas.

Even though evidence from Bulgaria and Cyprus will be key in the decision, several EU nations also have pointed to Hezbollah's involvement in Syria as a reason for the move.

Hague said that blacklisting Hezbollah's military wing would not "destabilize Lebanon or have serious adverse consequences." "It is important for us to show that we are united and strong in facing terrorism," Hague said.

Hezbollah members holding Hezbollah and Lebanese flags during a rally in Dahiyeh, south of Beirut. Credit: Haaretz Archive