Europe’s Hezbollah Dilemma

by MARK SILVERBERG February 12, 2013

The long-awaited results of the Bulgarian investigation into the Burgas terrorist bombing last July 18th  has placed enormous pressure on the European Union to proscribe Hezbollah as a terrorist organization - a classification repeatedly called for by the US, Canada and Israel, but so far rejected by EU member states except the Netherlands.

Hezbollah's involvement in the Burgas tragedy should make European leaders rethink the standard excuses they have made to rationalize their lack of action against Hezbollah. One often-quoted EU excuse maintains that since Hezbollah in Lebanon has both a military aspect and a political/social aspect, clamping down on the former would cripple the latter and destabilize the Hezbollah-dominated government of the country.

While this hair splitting gives Hezbollah the wiggle room it needs to carry on its nefarious activities in Europe, the argument has no validity given that the EU's terror list already includes Hamas, which won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, as well as the Communist Party of the Philippines, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and other radical organizations that are involved in their countries' political systems. And given that the EU has already sanctioned individuals and entities "responsible for the violent repression against the civilian population in Syria", there is no logical reason to exclude Hezbollah as it clearly falls into this category given its continuing support of the Assad regime.

This argument is especially vacuous given that Hezbollah's second-in-command Naim Qassem has already rejected the British separation of his organization into political and military wings. Qassem told the Los Angeles Times in 2009: "The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work (in Lebanon) also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel."

Stripping away all this double-speak, EU member states, most notably France and Germany, fear that proscribing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization could potentially lead to the activation of Hezbollah terror cells across the continent. According to Matthew Levitt, the Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's counterterrorism and intelligence program, the Europeans are afraid to stir up a hornet's nest. "Hezbollah" he writes, "is not very active in Europe and the Europeans feel that if you poke Hezbollah or Iran in the eye, they will do the same to you. If you leave them alone, then maybe they will leave you alone."

France is particularly apprehensive given the exposure of its UNIFIL forces in Lebanon to Hezbollah fire, and it is even more concerned that designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization would, once again, bring Hezbollah/Iranian-directed terrorism back to its streets.

Their fear is not entirely unjustified. Since its inception by Tehran in 1982, the organization has been committed to the anti-Semitic, anti-Western goals set out by Ayatollah Khomeini for the global expansion of Shia Islam. Even former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage considered Hezbollah the "A-Team of terrorism." Prior to 9/11, it had murdered more Americans than any other terrorist group. It has attempted and/or perpetrated terror attacks in Argentina, Britain, India, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus, Israel, Thailand, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon, and has been involved in illegal albeit lucrative activities in Latin America and West Africa.

In the Middle East, Hezbollah has acted as a proxy for the Syrian and Iranian regimes, receiving money and weapons from both in return for "services rendered" including its complicity in the assassination of the anti-Syrian former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, in 2005.

In Europe, however, Hezbollah has maintained a relatively low profile since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, quietly holding meetings and raising money that goes directly to Lebanon not only for  building schools and clinics, and delivering social services, but for financing its global terrorist activities on behalf of its Iranian masters. In January 2010, Der Spiegel noted that Hezbollah was "using drug trafficking in Europe to fund part of its activities." In one case, the German police arrested two Lebanese citizens after they transferred "large sums of money to a family in Lebanon with connections to Hezbollah's leadership." German authorities also found 8.7 million Euros in the bags of four other Lebanese men at the Frankfurt airport in 2008.

According to intelligence officials, Hezbollah operatives, using Europe as a base for money-laundering and fundraising, are deployed throughout Belgium, Bosnia, Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and Ukraine with an estimated 950 members in Germany alone according to a 2011 report issued by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

While European security services maintain surveillance on Hezbollah's political supporters, experts say they are ineffective when it comes to tracking Hezbollah sleeper cells that pose the greatest danger. According to Alexander Ritzmann, a policy adviser at the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels, who testified before Congress on Hezbollah: "They have real, trained operatives in Europe that have not been used in a long time, but if they wanted them to become active, they could."  And therein lies the EU dilemma.

In the final analysis, however, while fear of reprisal is both psychologically understandable and perhaps even morally defensible, turning the other cheek will not deter and has never deterred this terrorist organization. The EU's anti-terror policy cannot be based on the false hope that Hezbollah will try to avoid killing European bystanders at home and abroad as it carries out its terrorist attacks. Without a strong reaction to the Burgas attack, Hezbollah will understand that it can attack any group, European or otherwise with impunity, so long as it is feared.

It has already done so. In 2007, James Phillips, writing for The Heritage Foundation, noted that Hezbollah terrorist attacks against Europeans began decades ago and could easily begin again: "The October 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; the December 1983 bombing of the French Embassy in Kuwait; the April 1985 bombing of a restaurant near a U.S. base in Madrid, Spain which killed 18 Spanish citizens; a campaign of 13 bombings in France in 1986 that targeted shopping centers and railroad facilities, killing 13 people and wounding more than 250; and a March 1989 attempt to assassinate British novelist Salman Rushdie that failed when a bomb exploded prematurely killing a terrorist in London."

On the other hand, freezing Hezbollah assets in Europe and imposing EU sanctions would deprive the organization of its European funding sources and operational freedom. It would enable the freezing of Hezbollah's European bank accounts and facilitate cross-border cooperation in apprehending and arresting Hezbollah operatives in Europe.

Weakening Hezbollah, which is already terrified by the prospect of losing its Syrian ally, would advance the EU's policy goals in the Middle East. It would be a blow to Assad's regime and increase the chances of re-establishing a truly democratic Lebanon free of Hezbollah's political and military stranglehold, not to mention a strategic victory over Iran and its plan for Shiite hegemony in the Middle East.

Alternatively, the failure to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization will provide it with the opportunity to further organize, recruit, raise funds, and carry out additional terrorist attacks across the European continent and throughout the world.

At this point, it should be clear to the Europeans, based upon their past experience, that terrorism cannot be appeased, nor can organizations that perpetrate it be defeated unless and until their supporting infrastructures have been shut down especially their political and financial front organizations. 

Europe's anti-terrorism policy should not be based on the false hope that, if left alone, Hezbollah will better calibrate its future terror attacks to avoid hurting European bystanders. This attitude is no different from that expressed by Winston Churchill when he said: "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last." The Hezbollah crocodile has already consumed half of Lebanon and has sown seeds of destruction around the world. Contrary to their prevailing attitude, the Europeans will not be the last to be eaten. They will be among Hezbollah's first victims. Inaction on the part of the EU will transform Europe into a free-fire zone and Europeans will not be exempt from the slaughters that will ensue regardless of how long they continue to bury their heads in the sand.

Mark Silverberg is a foreign policy analyst for the Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel). He is a former member of the Canadian Justice Department, a past Director of the Canadian Jewish Congress (Western Office) based in Vancouver, a member of Hadassah's National Academic Advisory Board and a Contributing Editor for Family Security Matters, Intellectual Conservative and Israel National News (Arutz Sheva). He also served as a Consultant to the Secretary General of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem during the first Palestinian intifada. His book "The Quartermasters of Terror: Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Jihad" and his articles have been archived under www. marksilverberg .com.


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