Prospects for Adding Hezbollah to the EU Terrorist List

Prospects for Adding Hezbollah to the EU Terrorist List

Muriel Asseraf

In July 2007, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted what its officials termed an “inter-Lebanese meeting” at Celle Saint-Cloud, near Paris, under the auspices of Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. The conference brought together members of all Lebanese political factions, including representatives of Hezbollah.

This conference, which the Foreign Ministry pointedly refrained from calling an international or regional conference – but rather a “rencontre” or meeting – to avoid giving it an official name, was an attempt at breaking the stalemate among the competing Lebanese political and military forces that have brought the country to the brink of war in recent months. Needless to say, France’s invitation and hosting of Hezbollah officials was severely criticized on this side of the Atlantic. Ninety-one U.S. Congressmen signed a letter sent to the newly elected French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, urging him to rethink plans for the meeting – and to advocate for the addition of Hezbollah to the European Union’s list of terror organizations. The Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL), convened a hearing on the urgent need for the European Union to add Hezbollah to the terrorist blacklist.

These events highlight the longstanding divide between the U.S. and EU on their respective policies toward Hezbollah. They also underscore the central role played by France in EU policy toward Lebanon. While the U.S. designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in 2001, the EU as a whole has long refused to do so. Over the past few years, U.S. officials have repeatedly, and to no avail, called on EU governments to implement a similar ban. In fact, certain countries within the EU – until recently, France chief among them – actively opposed the initiative. As the situation in Lebanon worsens, and violence among the different Lebanese factions increases, the role of Hezbollah as a destabilizing force in the region becomes increasingly ominous, and the need for a concerted transatlantic policy becomes more and more critical.

Hezbollah’s Presence in Europe

Hezbollah cells have been found across the Western Hemisphere, and there is widespread concern over the organization’s growing presence on European soil. Intelligence experts say Hezbollah operatives are located throughout the continent, including Belgium, Bosnia, Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.(1) By setting up charities and front organizations in the countries it has infiltrated, Hezbollah is able to raise funds and recruit from local sympathizers. Some of these funds may indeed be used for charity work; but if all the funds raised in Europe are not directly used to sponsor terrorist activity, they undoubtedly help strengthen the organization, build its legitimacy, and increase grassroots support among Lebanese communities.

Hezbollah also uses Europe as a launching pad from which to infiltrate operatives into Israel to conduct surveillance and carry out attacks.(2) There have been a number of occurences of Hezbollah operatives traveling to Europe to pick up a European passport, which has then been used to facilitate entry into Israel or to continue on to the West Bank or Gaza to train and assist terrorist groups.

In Germany, in particular, and in spite of close monitoring by German law enforcement and intelligence, Hezbollah enjoys significant operational freedom. “German security services believe that about 900 Hezbollah activists are in the country and regularly meet in 30 cultural community centers and mosques,” according to expert testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “These activities financially support Hezbollah in Lebanon through fundraising organizations.”(3)

Although recent terrorist attacks in Europe have not been attributed to Hezbollah, the organization has targeted European countries and their interests abroad in the past, and could decide to do so again. Attacks against French interests have included the 1983 bombing of the French contingent of the multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon (on the same day as the U.S. Marine barracks bombing), which killed 58 French soldiers, and the bombing of the French embassy in Kuwait the same year. In 1985, Hezbollah was responsible for the bombing of a restaurant near a U.S. base in Madrid, which killed 18 Spanish citizens.  

Through its television station, al-Manar, which is available in Europe via satellite, Hezbollah is also gaining access to European minds, especially those of the disenfranchised Muslim populations. “[Hezbollah] owns a satellite television station that is said to be watched by ten million people a day in the Middle East and Europe,” writes Jeffrey Goldberg. “The station, called al-Manar, or the Lighthouse, broadcasts anti-American programming, but its main purpose is to encourage terrorism.”(4) Al-Manar is Hezbollah’s “true propaganda engine.” Certain countries, notably France and Spain, have banned al-Manar from broadcasting in Europe, but because satellite signals are not confined to national boudaries, and because of the lack of EU-wide regulation on television broadcasting, the channel remains available – particularly on ArabSat and NileSat.

Recent EU Member State Action and Implication of the Designation

The United States is not the only country that has officially designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Individual European countries have taken similar steps. In 2001, Great Britain designated Hezbollah’s External Security Organization (its “military” arm) as a terrorist organization, claiming that “Hezbollah is committed to armed resistance to the state of Israel itself and aims to liberate all Palesitnian territories and Jerusalem from Israeli occupation. It maintains a terrorist wing, the External Security Organization (ESO), to help it achieve this.”

In 2004, the Netherlands designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, making no distinction between its political and military wings. The Dutch 2004 General Intelligence and Security Service Annual Report highlights: “Investigations have shown that … Hezbollah’s political and terrorist wings are controlled by one coordinating council…. The Netherlands has changed its policy and no longer makes a distinction between the political and terrorist Hezbollah branches.”(5) Canada, Australia and Israel also have acted to designate Hezbollah as a terror organization.

The designation of Hezbollah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) – an action taken by the State Department – is considered one of the most effective ways of curbing terrorism financing. It increases public awareness – foreign and domestic – of the threat the terror organization represents, and stigmatizes and isolates it in the public’s mind.  But the designation also bears a concrete cost: it makes it unlawful for a person or an entity in the U.S. – domestic or foreign – to knowingly enter into any kind of financial or material transaction with Hezbollah.

In Europe, analysts predict that applying such a designation would have a significant impact, both symbolic and practical, in weakening the organization. It would allow law enforcement officials and European intelligence to step up efforts to curb Hezbollah’s criminal activities and funding. It would also likely improve European coordination in this regard. Indeed, “until now, Europe has been a permissive environment for the group, in large part because there were no EU-wide restrictions.”(6)

In fact, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s Secretary General, himself admitted in a widely publicized interview on al-Manar in 2005, that this action would “destroy” the organization, as “the sources of our funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed.” Responding to these and other remarks and actions, lawmakers in the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution branding Hezbollah a terror organization, and urging EU governments to place it on their terrorist blacklist: “The European Parliament … believes that there are irrefutable proofs of Hezbollah’s terrorist actions, and that the Council must therefore strictly monitor all of that movement’s activities and take the measures needed to put an end to its terrorist activities, in particular by adding it to the EU list of terrorist organizations.”(7) This resolution was unfortunately ignored by most EU governments, and therefore never made it into EU law.

Why are Certain EU Countries Opposed to Hezbollah’s Designation?

In spite of a large Hezbollah presence in Europe, European governments have denied the multiple requests from the U.S. and Israeli governments to add Hezbollah to the EU blacklist. The obstacles reside both in European bureaucratic processes and in the resistance of particular countries that have actively opposed such a move.

In order to add Hezbollah to the list of terrorist organizations, consensus must be found among all 27 EU members. The European Council, comprised of representatives of all member states, must unanimously agree on a “common position.” Achieving consensus is, not surprisingly, a more difficult endeavor as the EU continues to expand.(8) Furthermore, the proceedings of the designation process are kept secret, and so it is difficut to know exactly each country’s position, except for those countries that have voiced their opposition forcefully, such as France. 

Given its close relationship with Lebanon, France has long opposed any move to label Hezbollah a terror organization, claiming that such a designation would only destabilize the country further. In 2005, President Chirac rebuffed a request made by Israel and the United States to add Hezbollah to the EU terrorist blacklist, arguing that Hezbollah is an important part of Lebanese society. The French argue that Hezbollah’s political involvement and social welfare programs make it a legitimate political movement – viewing Hezbollah as a political party with a military wing, rather than a terrorist organization also involved in politics. Despite recent hopes that the new French government led by President Sarkozy, who on multiple occasions publicly called Hezbollah a terrorist organization, might reverse this trend, recent declarations made by the Foreign Ministry indicate that the French line will not shift any time soon. During the recent visit of Hezbollah officials to France, a Foreign Ministry spokeperson declared: “Our position is unchanged. Hezbollah is an important political group in Lebanese political life, and we like to see it fully integrated into the political scene.… Hezbollah, as you know, is a major political force in Lebanese political life.” As a party that has democratically elected representatives sitting in Parliament, Hezbollah’s addition to the EU terrorist list would only further aggravate the situation in Lebanon, in the view of French officials. 

Italy is also believed to be one of the forces blocking the designation. In August 2006, Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema declared in a Time Magazine interview: “Our objective is not to destroy Hezbollah, which by now is an important part of Lebanese society. We hope Hezbollah transforms into a legitimate political movement….”(9) Italy is one of the leading countries behind the new UNIFIL force deployed in southern Lebanon. Italy took command of the force, and has committed 3,000 troops, who are currently serving the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1701 (which includes the disarmement of Hezbollah). As such, Italy may also fear the possibility that an EU designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization could put its soldiers in danger. “Countries such as France, Spain, Belgium, and others which have deployed troops to UNIFIL might be concerned that a designation could destabilize the country further, putting their own military forces more at risk.”(10)

If other countries, such as Poland, the Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain, have either lobbied for, or would support, a move toward the EU designation of Hezbollah, there is contradicting or little public information about the actual position of other EU member states. It is believed that the majority of countries do not have a strong position one way or another, and would follow a move to designate the organization.

Conclusion

Over time, different factors have contributed to the diverging policies between the United States and the European Union vis-à-vis Hezbollah. Certainly, there is an important lack of information about Hezbollah in Europe, and for most European nations, the issue has never been a foreign policy priority. For others, its political involvement and charity work make Hezbollah legitimate, and untouchable. As the EU has expanded to 27 countries, it has rendered the task of defining a common approach to foreign policy issues more difficult than ever; labeling Hezbollah a terrorist organization is one such challenging decision. However, it appears clearly that France is a key player in this issue. If France were to launch a campaign for the inclusion of Hezbollah on the EU terror list, it is likely that other European countries would follow suit. However, in spite of the strong rethoric against Hezbollah emanating from the Elysée since the election of President Sarkozy, recent French diplomatic activity in Lebanon fails to indicate a change in France’s general stance toward Hezbollah.

September 2007

Muriel Asseraf is the AJC Program Specialist for North Africa and the Middle East

(1) Dr. Matthew Levitt, “Adding Hezbollah to the EU Terrorist List,” Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, June 20, 2007                

(2) Dr. Matthew Levitt, “Adding Hezbollah to the EU Terrorist List,” Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, June 20, 2007                

(3) Alexander Ritzman, “Adding Hezbollah to the EU Terrorist List,” Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, June 20, 2007

(4) Jeffrey Goldberg, “A Reporter at Large: In The Party of G-d  (Part 1),” The New Yorker, October 14, 2002, p. 3

(5) General Intelligence and Security Service, Annual Report 2004, p. 19

(6) Michael Jacobson, “Adding Hezbollah to the EU Terrorist List,” Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, June 20, 2007, p. 3

(7) European Parliament, Resolution B6-0181/2005, March 2, 2005

(8) Michael Jacobson, “Adding Hezbollah to the EU Terrorist List,” Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, June 20, 2007, p. 2

(9) Time Magazine: “10 Questions for Massimo D’Alema,” August 27, 2006, at http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1376190,00.html

(10) Michael Jacobson, “Adding Hezbollah to the EU Terrorist List,” Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, June 20, 2007, p. 2

Date: 10/1/2007
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