Europe, Hezbollah and the politics of procrastination

The EU has never been good at making quick decisions and the latest effort on the part of some Europeans to block Britain’s proposal to blacklist the armed wing of Hezbollah is the latest example of EU procrastination.

The UK wants Hezbollah’s military wing to face economic sanctions because of evidence that it was behind a fatal bus bombing in Bulgaria nearly a year ago in which the driver and five Israelis died and thirty-two were injured.

But the newly-installed government in Bulgaria, as well as other European policymakers, are foolishly obstructing the British proposal amid fears that such a move would have negative political and security consequences.

Earlier this year, the center-right Bulgarian government urged European governments to take a tougher stance towards Hezbollah. But the cowardly Socialists, who are now in power, refused to back the measure fearing that such a move would expose Bulgaria to terrorist attacks.

Despite the fact that a lengthy Bulgarian inquiry found that Hezbollah was indeed responsible for the bus bombing, the new left-wing government is claiming the evidence does not make a compelling case.

“It is important that the decision be based not only on the bombing in Burgas because I think the evidence we have is not explicit,” said Bulgarian foreign minister Kristian Vigenin.

In addition to Bulgaria’s obstinacy, several EU policymakers are afraid that blacklisting Hezbollah will erode Europe’s influence in the Middle East. Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino, for example, says her government is concerned for “the fragility of Lebanon.”

This is absurd. Hezbollah has already destabilized Lebanon, Syria, northern Israel and Turkey. Backed by the lunatic regime in Iran, Hezbollah militants are busy murdering Assad’s enemies across the Levant and are trying to establish a foothold in the Golan Heights in order to attack Israel.

Luckily, the EU is not completely bereft of sanity. France has dropped its opposition to the British proposal precisely because of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. Indeed, the French government is outraged that up to 4,000 Hezbollah militants have allied themselves with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

And Germany has also reversed its position on Hezbollah, saying it will now back the UK proposal to ban the group’s military wing.

A decision over whether to implement the proscription is likely to be made within weeks. But in the meantime, Hezbollah continues to act with impunity, slaughtering Syrian civilians and acquiring conventional and chemical weapons that could be used against Israel.

But even if the UK does manage to persuade the rest of the EU to freeze Hezbollah’s assets, there is still the major problem of how to clearly differentiate between the armed and political factions of Hezbollah.

In reality, the political and armed wings of Hezbollah cannot be separated. Hezbollah is primarily a terrorist organization with political pretensions. The two factions share the same fanatical and anti-Semitic hatred of the Jewish state. And both factions are desperate to keep Assad in power. Without a Shi’a heavyweight in Damascus, Hezbollah’s future would be bleak in a predominantly Sunni region.

The easiest and most sensible solution would be to blacklist Hezbollah in its entirety. The Netherlands, Israel and the US have already done this.

A complete ban would hardly be an overreaction. Hezbollah is a very dangerous entity. Once it has finished in Syria, it will no doubt turn its sights on Israel and there will be more fighting, perhaps leading to all-out war.

And I have no doubt that Hezbollah will continue to spread terror in Europe. The bus bombing in Bulgaria, as well as the May 2011 attack in Istanbul and the plot to destroy Israeli targets and airlines in Cyprus may be the start of an Iranian-backed Hezbollah campaign to undermine security and morale in the EU.

As John Brennan, director of the CIA, said of the Bulgarian bus bombing: “[It] exposes Hezbollah for what it is – a terrorist group that is willing to recklessly attack innocent men, women and children, and that poses a real and growing threat not only to Europe, but to the rest of the world.”

In an ideal world, Hezbollah would be classed as a terrorist organization in its entirety and its assets frozen. Unfortunately, political posturing is more expedient than protecting human life, so it is highly unlikely that the EU will move for an outright ban any time soon. But I do hope that European leaders will at least do the decent thing and back Britain’s proposal to blacklist the armed wing of Hezbollah.

This in itself would be a step forward and would send a message to both Hezbollah and Iran that Europe will not tolerate terrorism.