After many months of debate, the European Union on Monday declared what it calls the “military wing” of Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The move drew both praise and criticism from officials in Israel, whose citizens have faced rocket attacks from the Lebanon-based group.
The decision was passed by unanimous vote by the EU’s 28 foreign ministers, according to an unnamed French diplomat quoted by the AP, and it means that individuals associated with Hezbollah’s “military wing” will not be able to obtain visas to EU countries and that assets associated with the group will be frozen. It also means Hezbollah sympathizers in Europe will no longer be able to legally send funds to the “military wing” of the group.
However, it is unclear how the EU is going to discern between funds raised for Hezbollah’s terrorist activities versus its political activities in Lebanon where it is a political party and a member of the government.
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said after the vote, “It is good that the EU has decided to call Hezbollah what it is: a terrorist organization.”
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni welcomed the EU decision, even though it left Hezbollah’s “political wing” outside any sanctions regime.
“Finally, after years of discussions and deliberations, [Hezbollah] have failed, and rightly so, in their attempt to claim that they are a legitimate political party,” she said.
“Now the world knows that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization,” added Livni, who called the EU move a “just and correct decision.”
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was not as generous with praise, posting on his Facebook page (Hebrew link): “As is typical of them, the Europeans were satisfied with going only half way and taking a partial and inadequate decision.”
“The military wing and the political wing of Hezbollah are two sides of the same coin. At the head of the ‘two wings’ stands one man, Sheikh [Hassan] Nasrallah and the attempt to present it as if the organization has an extreme part and a moderate part is like asking: Can a cannibal be a vegetarian?,” Liberman wrote.
“Therefore the organization in its entirety should be defined as a terrorist organization…” he added.
The AP provides some of the background leading up to Monday’s vote:
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said before the vote that evidence from last year’s attack in the Black Sea resort of Burgas in Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian, should provide enough impetus for the move. Westerwelle said that “we have to answer this, and the answer is” blacklisting Hezbollah’s military wing.
The attack on EU territory plus a Cyprus criminal court decision in March finding a Hezbollah member guilty of helping to plan attacks on Israelis on the Mediterranean island has galvanized EU diplomacy in moving toward action.
Other observers say it wasn’t the growing evidence of the Iranian-backed Shiite group’s terrorist activities on European soil that prompted the move, rather the growing participation of Hezbollah militants in the two-year civil war in Syria fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces.
President Michel Suleiman’s office in a statement called Hezbollah a “main component of Lebanese society.”
Britain and the Netherlands were the two countries pressuring the EU to blacklist Hezbollah since May.
Dutch Foreign Minister Timmermans said “We took this important step today, by dealing with the military wing of Hezbollah, freezing its assets, hindering its fundraising and thereby limiting its capacity to act.”
British foreign secretary William Hague said, “It is very important that when there is a terror attack on European soil there needs to be a reaction.”
“It is important for us to show that we are united and strong in facing terrorism,” he added.