Will EU do Israel’s Bidding on Hezbollah?
Recently renewed Israeli efforts to ensure that Hezbollah is on the European Union (EU)’s list of designated terrorist organizations have not achieved the desired result. They have, however, succeeded in reopening the question, making it a topic of debate and controversy in Europe, and getting some countries, notably the Netherlands and Britain, to take strongly anti-Hezbollah stands. Yet these have not been translated into action.
At a meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu demanded the EU take action and adopt a clear stand against Hezbollah, which he described as “the world’s leading terrorist organization.” His guest sufficed with expressing an “understanding” of the Israeli demand and made no promises.
This was preceded by a campaign by the Israeli foreign ministry aimed at persuading EU states to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization on the strength of Israel’s accusation that it was involved in the bombing in the Bulgarian town of Burgas in July in which five Israelis and a Bulgarian were killed. Israel’s lobbies and supporters in various European countries continue to be highly active in this regard, with some success. Most notably, the parliamentary foreign policy spokesman of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party, Philipp Missfelder, publicly endorsed its demands. He said Hezbollah “threatens the security of our alliance partner Israel and is involved in countless terror activities,” and that “it is long overdue that Hezbollah be placed on the EU’s list of terror organizations” and “the EU should not allow any more time to elapse” before doing so.
Bulgaria continues to be put under particularly heavy Israeli pressure to accuse Hezbollah of the Burgas bombing. The ultimate aim of this is to get the Lebanese party indicted in a European court in order to facilitate its designation by the EU as a terrorist group. An indictment, and the possibility of a conviction, would embarrass the influential member-states – including France, Italy, Spain, Germany and others – who have been holding out against such a move out because of their interests in Lebanon and the region.
The Bulgarian authorities also appear to be holding out. They have steered clear of implicating Hezbollah in the bombing, and stressed they do not have enough evidence to accuse anyone of it, thus denying Israel the legal precedent it seeks. The Israeli pressure is unlikely to desist, and its effect will only become apparent once the investigations are complete, which Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladinov has indicated should be within the next two months.
In the meantime, the EU position remains unchanged, and falls short of meeting Israel’s demand, at least for now and the foreseeable future. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’ statement declaring that his country is not prepared to take such a step reflects a longstanding French policy of avoiding provoking Hezbollah. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has adopted the Dutch extreme anti-Hezbollah position in theory, but in practice this seems to have enabled Britain to appear to strike an aggressive posture against the party without actually changing policy. Britain continues to draw a distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political wings. This was conceived of as a way of pre-empting the US and Israel and preventing them from foisting decisions on the Europeans that would damage their interests in the region. There has thus been no change in Britain’s policy, despite the hawkish turn it has appeared to take against Hezbollah recently.
Israel’s failed efforts have shown that it is not enough for it to demand Hezbollah’s inclusion on the EU terrorism list for the member-states to comply. For the major European capitals, there are interests and facts on the ground to consider before making any move against Hezbollah, including the likely impact on European interests in light of the party’s standing and influence in Lebanon and the region.
If the EU does end up submitting to Israeli pressure, it would signal something else. It could mean that the confrontation has begun. Yet the signs continue to indicate that no such decision has been taken, at least not at this stage.
Yahya Dbouk is Israeli Affairs Columnist at Al-Akhbar
- EU turns down Israel call to put Hezbollah on terror list (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- UK Calls to Add Hezbollah’s Resistance to EU’s Terror Watch List (alethonews.wordpress.com)