EU blacklisting a step forward on Hezbollah
Despite Hezbollah having been involved in numerous terror activities since its inception in 1982 until 2012, the idea of listing it as a terror organization remains the subject of much debate in the international community in recent months, particularly by the European Union.
Hezbollah has been accused of masterminding suicide attacks around the world, from the US Embassy bombing in Beirut the April 1983 and the hijacking of the TWA flight 847 in 1985 to the kidnapping of US nationals in Lebanon from 1982 to 1992, the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005 and the 2012 Burgas bus bombing in Bulgaria.
The prolonged debate over whether or not to list Hezbollah as a terror group could be attributed to a host of factors, some of which are related to the operative characteristics of the group itself and others to the politics of the EU.
The operative characteristics of the group can be summarized as an outright and stern denial of involvement in any terror attack, a refusal to claim responsibility and professional planning and careful execution of attacks that only lead to circumstantial rather than direct evidence.
The primary factor accounting for the EU’s complacency in listing it as a terrorist organization lies in the power of its military wing, which has been described by analysts as forming the greatest guerrilla group in the world, with 65,000 fighters who proved its effectiveness in fighting Israel in 2006.
Also prominent is the Lebanese government’s wish not to blacklist Hezbollah. This was expressed in a letter to the EU, where the group was described as “an integral part of political life in the country and represented in Parliament and the government of Lebanon.”
Second, Hezbollah has a strong presence in southern Lebanon, where European peacekeeping troops serve as part of the United Nations Interim Force (UNIFIL). Blacklisting it might embolden the group to threaten the safety of EU troops. Third, the possibility of blacklisting the organization might destabilize Lebanon since the group is part of both the Lebanese Parliament and its government.
The EU ought to decide on such a critical international matter in terms of its potential repercussions. Indeed, it must take into account all these factors.
However, from what has been reported on this issue, the EU is looking in the wrong place to determine the culpability of Hezbollah. Both EU counterterrorism experts and politicians were discussing whether or not Hezbollah was responsible for the Burgas attack in Bulgaria that killed six people in a bus bombing instead of looking at the total number of terror activities that accounted for 36 suicide attacks.
The available evidence that links Hezbollah to the Burgas attack was circumstantial.
This included DNA obtained from perpetrators who had died in the attacks and a Hezbollah operative who had confessed and was sentenced to a four-year jail term by a Cypriot court for plotting a terror attack on the island. Examining the entire terror history of this group from 1982 up to 2013 would surely reveal evidence directly implicates it.
The reluctance of the EU to list Hezbollah as a terror group could send wrong messages to similar groups with respect to the organization’s tactical operative objectives and its strategic ones. Tactically, terrorist organizations may rely on suicide and remote bombing to carry out their terrorist attacks because those methods only produce circumstantial evidence in the form of non-incriminating bodily fragments of the culprits, and as a result, the group could get away with its terror crimes.
Strategically, a group such as Hezbollah would think that possessing Katyusha military arsenal, long-ranging missiles and guided anti-tank missiles, coupled with potential plans to use this arsenal, would put them on the priority list of the international community.
Yet since May 2013, the United States, Britain and the Netherlands spearheaded a campaign to persuade the 28-member states of the EU to list Hezbollah as a terror group. Prior to that, counterterrorism experts from all over the EU failed to reach a unanimous decision to implement twice in one month.
Initially, Austria, Czech Republic, Ireland and Malta were opposed to blacklisting Hezbollah. With France shifting its stance to become in favor of blacklisting the group, the rest of the reluctant member states are slowly but unanimously following suit.
The EU’s decision to blacklist Hezbollah was carefully drafted, which only targets the group's military wing. This serves to keep the channel of political dialogue with the EU unobstructed and serves to urge the group to abandon its terror path.
According to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the EU would review the terrorist designation every six months. Meanwhile, legitimate financial transfer and EU assistance will continue.
The consequences of the collective EU decision to blacklist Hezbollah include freezing the group’s assets, curtailing fundraising activities and banning its officials from travel since they could be subject to arrest and detention. Nevertheless, the applications of those punitive actions could prove to be difficult because both the political and military wings of Hezbollah are inextricable and are hard to separate.
An effective and practical solution requires coordination and cooperation with respect to sharing intelligence and information within the EU and with the GCC states who blacklisted Hezbollah as a terrorist organization on July 17.
• Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan is a Saudi academician based in Riyadh. This article is exclusive to Arab News.