JERUSALEM/BRUSSELS (EJP)---Israel this week renewed its call on the European Union to place Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group, on its list of terrorist organisations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the request during talks this week in Jerusalem with Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi which centered on the nuclear programme of Iran, Hezbollah’s leading regional ally and funder.
"We are facing great challenges; perhaps the greatest challenge that the international community is facing is Iran's quest for nuclear weapons," he said.
"We appreciate the efforts that you have made and that others in Europe are making. There is one other effort that I think Europe could make to advance the cause of security and peace, and that is to declare Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, a terrorist organisation," he told the visiting Italian minister.
"It is exactly that. It's the world's leading terror organisation, and Europe could contribute much by declaring it for what it is."
In July, the European Union turned down a request by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who travelled to Brussels, to blacklist Hezbollah as a terror group after the bomb attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, a EU member state, in which five Israelis and their Bulgarian driver died.
"There is no consensus for putting Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organisations," said Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, in July.
The EU argument is that Hezbollah is a “political organisation” comprising a party as well as an armed wing and that it is "active in Lebanese politics" -- with representatives in the government and in parliament.
Israel, who conducted its own investigation and is cooperating with the Bulgarian authoritires, says there is “hard evidence” that Hezbollah is behind the July 18 suicide attack. Well informed sources mention in particular the nature of the explosive used in Burgas and communications of different sources between Lebanon and the Bulgarian city ahead of the attack.
But the Israeli authorities are still waiting for the completion of the Bulgarian findings.
Israel also says that Iran and Hezbollah plotted to carry out more than 20 attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets over the past two years, in various countries including in Turkey, India, Thailand, Georgia.
“All this is part of a wider strategy of terrorist activities guided by Iran,” the source said.
Two months ago, in Cyprus, another EU country, a Lebanese was arrested by the Cypriot police. He reportedly admitted to be a member of Hezbollah and to be preparing an attack on Israeli tourists on the Mediterranean island. The investigation is still going on.
The EU has said that it would consider outlawing the Lebanese group “should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism.”
While there is apparently no disagreement among EU member states on the nature of Hezbollah, a decision to put it on the EU terror list is a more a “political question” linked to the situation in Lebanon and the desire of some EU countries, most notably France, to preserve the “stability of the country.”
“It should be discussed in a general context of the balance of EU foreign policy, one has to consider all the factors inside Lebanon,” a senior EU diplomatic source said. µ
But even the French position regarding Hezbollah “is showing some cracks,” another source said.
But the EU position could change if Bulgaria comes out with the evidence that Hezbollah is behind the attack in Burgas.
According to diplomatic sources, at least three European countries are currently active in “promoting” a move to outlaw Hezbollah, including Holland, whose Foreign Minister, Uri Rosenthal, appealed this week his colleagues to follow the same line. Holland is the only country in the EU to view Hezbollah and its branches as a terror entity. Britain views only the military wing as a terrorist group. The US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand already define Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
The EU list of terror organizations, was drafted in the aftermath of September is prepared by the Council of the EU.
Putting Hezbollah on this list would deal a blow to the legitimacy of the Lebanese group and would mean the freezing of its assets in Europe as well as the closing down of banking accounts.
Another new factor that might influence the willingness of the Europeans to put Hezbollah on the list is its reported involvement of Hezbollah in the Syrian regime’s repression of the population and the rebellion. “Hezbollah is enlarging its assistance to Syria and is taking more risks in order to keep Syrian President Assad in power, notably by transferring arms to Syria via Lebanon.”
Moreover, the sources point out to the “criminal activities” of Hezbollah, notably drug trafficking which provides the group a substantial source of revenues.
A resolution on the Syrian crisis that is likely be tabled at the European Parliament next week might include the mention of Hezbollah’s support of the Syrian regime. “Hezbollah members are not fighting on the ground but they are providing logistics and information to the Assad forces,” one source said.
As the Syrian situation will be high on the agenda of an informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers this week end in Paphos, Cyprus, talks are likely to stray onto Hezbollah, an EU diplomatic source said.
The source said any EU decision to pout the Lebanese group on the terror list – along with Hamas, the Islamist movement governing in Gaza- will be taken at two levels: technical and political.
The EU countries’ counter-terrorism specialists, who meet regularly at the EU Council in Brussels and who recommend actions to ministers, are waiting for their Bulgarian colleagues to say what happened in Burgas and to provide evidence. US and European security services are also cooperating with the Bulgarians.
On the other hand, ministers will take into account the political implications of such a move for the EU’s relations with the Arab countries.