EU unlikely to declare Hezbullah a designated terrorist organizationwelcomed the Bulgarian government's report on this past summer's terror attack in Burgas.
In a statement issued after the Bulgarians released their report implicating Hezbollah in the July 2012 attack in Burgas, Netanyahu – apparently noting that Bulgaria referred to Hezbollah’s “militant wing” – stressed that “there is only one Hezbollah, it is one organization with one leadership.”
Netanyahu said the findings are additional proof of what Israel has long known, that Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors are waging a terrorist war that “spans borders and continents.”
He said that the attack in Bulgaria was just one of many that Hezbollah and Iran have planned and carried out, including attacks in Thailand, Kenya, Turkey, India, Azerbaijan, Cyprus and Georgia.
“All this is happening in parallel to the deadly support given by Hezbollah and Iran to the murderous Assad regime in Syria,” Netanyahu said.
“The attack in Burgas was an attack on European soil against an EU country,” Netanyahu said.
“We hope the Europeans will draw the necessary conclusions regarding the true nature of Hezbollah.”
Netanyahu thanked the Bulgarians for what he said was their “thorough and professional” investigation of the bombing.
The prime minister’s remarks were echoed by John Brennan, US President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism top adviser.But Hezbullah continues to deny involvement in the attack and accuses Israel of a 'smear campaign.'
Deputy Hezbollah leader Naim Qassem said the accusation was part of "allegations and incitements and accusations against Hezbollah" pursued by Israel after it had failed to defeat Hezbollah militarily.
"All these accusations against Hezbollah will have no effect, and do not change the facts," Qassem said. "We will not submit to these pressures and we will not change our priorities. Our compass will remain directed towards Israel."The Europeans apparently agree with Hezbullah. They do not plan to declare Hezbullah a designated terrorist organization.
“Hezbollah is part of Lebanon’s government,” said Moniquet, the founder of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, a Brussels-based think tank. “Calling it terrorist would limit France’s ties with Beirut and put French targets and personnel in Lebanon at risk of retaliation. The Bulgarian report doesn’t alter this realpolitik. There were always plenty of smoking guns.”
Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, took "note of the results of the investigation," adding that it required further "reflection." And the union's top counterterrorism official, Gilles de Kerchove, told a Belgian news agency that being behind a terrorist attack did not automatically result in a terrorist designation.
“It's not only the legal requirement you have to take into consideration, it's also a political assessment of the context and the timing,” de Kerchove said.
While the refusal to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group is widespread in Europe, France is considered to be a major impediment to any changes. Lebanon is a former French colony, many French soldiers serve in the country under U.N. auspices, and there is extensive trade and cultural exchange between the two countries.
The Bulgarian investigation traced a money trail leading from Hezbollah’s military wing, which perpetrated the attack, to Hezbollah’s leadership in Lebanon. That revelation could make the British distinction between Hezbollah's political and military activities harder to defend.
“It implicates the much bigger financial structure that facilitated the attack,” said Nuno Wahnon Martins, director of European Affairs at B'nai B'rith. “[It] means Hezbollah’s entire drug-smuggling and money-laundering operations are serving the organization’s terrorist activities.”
Like other Eastern European countries, Bulgaria tends to be more closely aligned with U.S. foreign policy than countries in the West. Moniquet attributed the country's “courageous” statement this week to precisely that inclination, and to the fact that it has fewer strategic interests in Lebanon.
European Jewish groups recognize the the tangle of interests at play in Europe, but generally have little sympathy for it. European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said the decision to label Hezbollah a terrorist group “should not be subject to political considerations but whether proscribing Hezbollah will hinder its continuing efforts to murder innocent civilians.”
Analysts say a European lifeline is crucial for Hezbollah, which holds several seats in the Lebanese parliament. Wim Kortenoeven, a former Dutch lawmaker and author of a book on Hamas, says Europe is Hezbollah's “money laundromat and piggy bank.”
David Suurland, a lecturer at Leiden University’s school of law and an expert on radical Islam, believes the Bulgarian report can be used by jurists to force the E.U. into severing ties with Hezbollah-affiliated bodies, including the Lebanese government. This, in turn, could remove incentives to shield the terrorist group from being labeled as such, Suurland said, since it would violate a number of international treaties.
It also would violate the 2002 bilateral trade agreement between Europe and Lebanon. Article 2 of the pact states that the relationship is “based on democratic principles and fundamental human rights” -- not Hezbollah’s forte, Kortenoeven says.As a lot of you know, I often change planes in Europe on the way to the US. It's cheaper.... But the only place I feel that I could be an obvious target - God forbid - is in the airport where it's clear who is arriving from and departing to Israel. European airport security is not great.
But most Israelis who travel on vacation travel the same way those people in Burgas did last summer - in groups of Israelis. About a year and a half ago, I changed planes in Berlin, and I had a few hours and wanted to know if there was sufficient time to go see the city. Once I was out of the luggage claim area (which you had to go through anyway if you were changing terminals, which I was), it took about 30 seconds to find the Hebrew speaking tour guide who told me that I did not have enough time to go into the city.
Israelis are sitting ducks in European airports and stick out like sore thumbs. And Hezbullah would God forbid love to murder us.
If the President of the United States had the junk, he could lean on Europe really hard to make that declaration. But he's gutless.
What could go wrong?