March 21, 2013
If an organization talks like a terrorist group, walks like a terrorist group, and behaves like a terrorist group, is it?
If the question is posed to, say, the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands, the answer is clear. For these countries, Hezbollah is a terrorist group, and they have designated it as such.
But for the European Union, the answer is different. For many years, some EU countries have pressed other member states to join together in adding Hezbollah to the EU terrorism list, alongside Hamas, but to no avail.
As a result, Hezbollah is free to recruit and raise funds on much of European territory.
But how can that be on a continent that knows all too well the cost of terrorism in general – and Hezbollah's record in particular?
After all, Hezbollah is not a new face on the terrorist map.
In 1983, Hezbollah's deadly attacks on French and American targets in Lebanon killed hundreds. As Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert has noted, Hezbollah was then implicated in plots across Europe – from France to Italy, Germany to Greece, Denmark to Spain.
It has also been fingered in the terrorist attack in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people and wounded 300.
The Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted four Hezbollah operatives wanted for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others in Beirut.
Last month, the Bulgarian government completed its investigation into the killing of six people in Burgas in July, and named two Hezbollah agents as wanted in this deadly assault on EU soil.
The trial in Cyprus of a suspected Hezbollah operative, who entered the country with a Swedish passport, has just been completed. The court's verdict is expected shortly. Meanwhile, the defendant has admitted to monitoring flights from Israel to Cyprus, as well as charter buses and hotels, in what many suspect was a plan for a Burgas-like attack.
While the EU anguishes about Syrian violence that has resulted in over 70,000 fatalities to date, the evidence is overwhelming that Hezbollah has been assisting the Assad regime in its desperate effort to hold onto power, even as it literally destroys the nation.
Why has it proved so difficult, in the case of Hezbollah, for the EU to call a terrorist a terrorist?
Three answers are most commonly offered in European chancelleries.
For some, it is presented as a legal question. If the EU were to list Hezbollah as a terrorist group, the designation could be challenged in the European court system.
But Europeans have been investigating Hezbollah for years and have developed quite a hefty dossier, including the result of the most recent Bulgarian investigation. If all these results cannot stand up in court, pity the legal system.
For others, the primary concern is the safety of their troops stationed with UNIFIL in Lebanon. They fear that an EU move could put those soldiers at risk.
But to make this point is to acknowledge that Hezbollah is in the driver's seat, and that it has succeeded in intimidating European countries into inaction borne of fear. Moreover, while UNIFIL troops have served commendably, they have not prevented Hezbollah from substantially increasing its arsenal of missiles since 2006. This suggests that the terrorist group may well have an interest in seeing the troops remain for now. Otherwise, without the buffer, they could face Israel directly.
And for still others, the main issue is a concern that labeling Hezbollah a terrorist organization could “destabilize” Lebanon.
But that is turning the argument on its head. In fact, Hezbollah has been destabilizing Lebanon for years.
What was the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri, if not an effort to destabilize the country? What was Hezbollah's creation of a state-within-a-state, with its own army, if not a destabilizing act? What were the cross-border attacks against Israel in 2006 but a destabilizing act that drew Lebanon into a costly war it did not seek? And what will be the impact if Syrian arms, especially long-range missiles and biological and chemical weapons, end up in Hezbollah's hands? Will that not prove destabilizing?
It is high time for the EU to listen to the pleas of the Dutch, support the Bulgarians, and take heed of the Obama administration's persistent request that the EU do the right thing.
Brussels should show the world that when a group talks like a terrorist, walks like a terrorist, and behaves like a terrorist, it warrants designation as a terrorist.
David Harris is executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).