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Analysis

BICOM Briefing: EU decision on proscription of Hezbollah

Last update: 22/7/2013, 12.15pm

Key points

  • European Union (EU) Foreign Ministers have agreed at a meeting in Brussels to proscribe the military wing of Hezbollah, according to diplomatic sources.
  • The UK has been pushing the EU for several months to follow its lead and classify Hezbollah’s military arm as a terrorist entity.
  • The Bulgarian government issued a report in February accusing 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.
  • Whilst the movement has political and social as well as military functions, experts dispute the idea that it has a separate military wing, arguing that it has a unified leadership structure. The US and Netherlands are among countries which proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety.

What is being decided today?

  • European Union (EU) Foreign Ministers have agreed at a meeting in Brussels to proscribe the military wing of Hezbollah, according to diplomatic sources quoted by Reuters.
  • The UK has been pushing the EU for several months to follow its lead and classify Hezbollah’s military arm as a terrorist entity. The United States, which has long proscribed Hezbollah in its entirety, has also been pressing EU states to take action.
  • The exact details of the proscription are not yet known, but proscribing the military wing, though not as effective as a comprehensive ban on the organisation, promises to put greater scrutiny on Hezbollah activities and somewhat hamper its financial and logistical capability in Europe.
  • Some EU member states had expressed opposition on the grounds that it could fuel instability in Lebanon, or create a backlash against European states and their interests.
  • In order to assuage their concerns, there were reports that the EU may include a provision within the proposal, suggesting that EU states “should continue dialogue with all political parties in Lebanon.” This would pave the way to maintain dialogue with Hezbollah’s political representatives, who dominate the Lebanese government.
  • Last week, Bulgaria’s Interior Minister, Tsvetlin Yovchev appeared to strengthen the momentum towards blacklisting Hezbollah by announcing new evidence that Hezbollah was responsible for a bus bomb in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas, which killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver in July 2012. Bulgarian investigators had already declared in February 2013 that Hezbollah operatives were likely responsible. In March, a Cypriot court convicted a Hezbollah operative with dual Swedish-Lebanese nationality of helping plan an attack on Israeli tourists on the island.

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. According to a recent assessment by the US State Department, “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.

What is Hezbollah?

  • Hezbollah is an armed, radical, Shia Islamist group in Lebanon, whose political representatives and allies dominate the current Lebanese government. Whilst the movement has political and social as well as military functions, experts dispute the idea that it has a separate military wing, arguing that it has a unified leadership structure.
  • 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, and its troops are fighting on the side of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war. 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.
  • 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 campaign 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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