On June 24, the foreign ministers of 27 European Union states will debate a proposal to add Hezbollah, an Iranian-sponsored entity, to the E.U.’s list of terrorist organizations. The discussion comes against the backdrop of Hezbollah’s increased activities on European soil, as well as its recent decision to support the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.
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Considering how dangerous Hezbollah is to European and international security and stability, one would think that adding the organization to the terrorist list would engender broad support. Inexplicability, however, the proposal has encountered resistance from certain European countries, raising doubts about the viability of this important and principled action.
If the ministers fail to act, the E.U. will be seriously out of step with much of the world. The Arab nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the United States, some individual European countries and other nations have already acted against the grave danger posed by Hezbollah’s bloody reign of terror. Only last Saturday, Egypt’s President Morsi announced the breaking off of diplomatic relations with Syria because of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.
Founded in Lebanon during the early 1980s, Hezbollah has long served as Iran’s militant proxy around the world. It stands accused of orchestrating many acts of deadly terrorism, including the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 American servicemen and 58 French paratroopers; the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed 85 people; and the 2012 bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, which killed six and injured dozens more.
Hezbollah is also responsible for numerous attacks against Israel. Since the 1980s, Hezbollah fighters have killed hundreds of IDF soldiers and fired tens of thousands of rockets and mortars on Israeli citizens residing in the country’s northern region.
Despite all this, Hezbollah has attempted to position itself as a hybrid militant/political organization. It has run successfully in Lebanon’s national elections, currently holding 14 out of the 128 seats in the Lebanese parliament, and at times has served as part of the government.
As a result of this political cover, some nations have tacitly recognized Hezbollah’s political legitimacy, with a few, including Russia, going so far as to conduct official government meetings with representatives of the organization’s so-called “political wing.”
Such acceptance creates a false impression that the organization is of two minds – political and military – when it is in fact one entity. Hezbollah’s existence is predicated on a violent philosophy directed at those opposed to Iran’s fundamentalist worldview. Recent reports by the U.S. and Argentine governments demonstrate how Hezbollah and Iran have ramped up their activities around the globe by expanding their physical presence across South America, Africa, Europe and Asia.
Despite this, only a few countries have formally recognized the dangers posed by Hezbollah. When a government designates an organization as a terrorist entity, they do so to prevent the organization from receiving financing or other support from that country. The United States, Canada, the Netherlands and Israel have done just that, and the U.S. Treasury Department has actively pursued a policy of targeting Hezbollah through investigations and sanctions.
In 2001, the United Kingdom designated just the organization’s military wing, effectively allowing Hezbollah to receive funding as long as it is directed to its political wing.
In April this year, following reports that Hezbollah was fighting alongside the Syrian government, Bahrain’s parliament voted to blacklist the organization, and recently the Gulf Cooperation Council - comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates - announced their intention to sanction individuals and business associated with Hezbollah.
Yet, bizarrely, the Netherlands remains the only European country to have legally confronted Hezbollah. Both Bulgaria and Cyprus, which in March convicted a Hezbollah operative for terrorist activities, have failed to officially designate any part of the organization. While Hezbollah’s recent involvement in the Syrian civil war has amplified calls to blacklist the organization, the E.U. is dragging its feet. And if the E.U. does decide to act, most European countries appear only open to designating the military wing of the organization.
There is simply no convincing argument against designating the entirety of Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s open military engagement in the Syrian civil war only further debases the argument that the organization’s political and military activities are somehow separate. The goal of each wing is one in the same: To serve as an extension of Iran’s military capabilities in order to carry out terrorist activities against targets across the world.
It is important that European governments recognize this false distinction, and move quickly to officially label the entire entity as a terrorist organization. Yet even if they are unwilling to do so, efforts to designate the organization’s military wing remain vital and should be fully exhausted. The time has come for the E.U. to take a moral and principled stand against terrorism.
Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and author, most recently, of Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet.