BICOM Briefing: Hezbollah implicated in Burgas bombing

Last update: 6/2/2013, 14:45 GMT

Key points

  • The Bulgarian government has issued a long-awaited report which accuses two members of Hezbollah in the bombing in Burgas in July 2012 which killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver.
  • Hezbollah, which has a long record of attacking Israeli and Jewish targets around the world, is suspected of several attempts to carry out attacks within the EU in the past year.
  • The conclusions of the report will likely strengthen the case for proscription of Hezbollah by the EU, though the issue remains contested among EU member states.

What has the Bulgarian report found?

  • The Bulgarian government has issued a report which accuses two members of Hezbollah’s ‘military wing’, carrying Australian and Canadian passports, of carrying out of a bombing which killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver at an airport in Burgas on 18 July 2012. The Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that Bulgarian investigators have information suggesting Hezbollah could have financed the attacks, according to Bulgarian news agency Novinite. According to a Europol report cited by AP, Hezbollah used a sophisticated bomb in the attack. A third accomplice was killed in the bombing.
  • The question of how to handle the report into the attack has apparently become the subject of international dispute. Israel accused Hezbollah of responsibility almost immediately after the attacks, and the US has been calling on the EU to proscribe Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. However, some EU states, reportedly including France and Germany, have argued for more nuanced language in the report, believing it is important to keep open dialogue with the group, and fearing the accusation may cause instability in Lebanon, or retaliation by Hezbollah in Europe.

What is Hezbollah’s record for terrorist and other criminal activities in Europe?

  • The Burgas bombing was not an isolated incident, but one of a series of recent plots to target Jewish and Israeli targets around the world, including in Europe. Hezbollah has a track record for such attacks, most famously the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Argentina in 1994 that killed 82.
  • In January 2012 security services disrupted separate Hezbollah plots to target Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and Greece. In July 2012, shortly before the Burgas bombing, Cypriot authorities arrested a Lebanese man they said was planning Hezbollah attacks on Israeli tourists there. According to a recent assessment by the US State Deparment, “Hezbollah could attack in Europe or elsewhere at any time with little or no warning.”
  • Hezbollah is also involved in international organised crime, including in Europe, the proceeds of which fund its other activities. According to the US government, Hezbollah has made hundreds of millions of dollars trafficking drugs in Europe.

Why is Hezbollah not outlawed by the EU?

  • Hezbollah is not proscribed as a terrorist group by the EU and there is a long running debate among EU member states about whether it should be proscribed in whole or part. Whilst Hezbollah’s terrorist and other elicit activities are undeniable, some member states, including France, argue that Hezbollah is a stabilising force in Lebanon and that the EU’s interests are better served by maintaining relations with it.
  • However, the conclusions of the Bulgarian report, which strongly indicate Hezbollah’s involvement in a murderous attack on EU territory, will make the case against proscription of Hezbollah harder to maintain.
  • In 2001, Britain proscribed the military wing of Hezbollah, making a distinction between military and political wings of the organisation which many analysts and intelligence officials regard as artificial. Britain is in favour of similarly proscribing Hezbollah’s military wing across the EU.

What is Hezbollah?

  • Hezbollah is an armed, radical, Shia Islamist group in Lebanon, whose political representatives and allies dominate the current Lebanese government.
  • The group was established in the early 1980s during the Lebanese civil war under the initiative, guidance and support of Iran. It is committed to Iran’s ideology of Islamic revolution, coordinates activities closely with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and depends principally on Iran for finance, training and arms.
  • Hezbollah, along with Iran, is a close ally of the Assad regime in Syria, to which it has provided support in the regimes conflict with opposition forces. Syria is a key conduit for arms to Hezbollah and Israel has considerable concerns that the chaos in Syria will lead to more advanced strategic weapons, including chemical weapons, falling into the hands of Hezbollah. Last week a convoy apparently including advanced anti-aircraft missiles, is believed to have been bombed by the Israeli Air Force en route from Syria to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.
  • Hezbollah is ideologically committed to the destruction of the State of Israel. It’s abduction of two Israeli soldiers on the Israeli-Lebanese border in July 2006 triggered the Second Lebanon War, during which the group fired more than 4000 rockets at Israeli towns and cities, whilst Israel launched a major military assault to try and degrade the groups capabilities. Since the war the border has been quiet but Hezbollah has rearmed and now has an arsenal of more than 50,000 rockets aimed at Israel.
  • Hezbollah uses its independent military forces, which are the most powerful in Lebanon, to intimidate and sometimes eliminate political opposition. Four of its operatives were indicted in 2011 by an international tribunal for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

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