European Union governments have agreed to declare the military wing of the Lebanese party Hizbollah a terrorist organisation, in a major reversal of policy driven by concern over the group’s activities in Europe.
The move followed a campaign spearheaded by Britain after the group was accused of involvement in last year’s attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. It will welcomed in Washington, which has long pressured Europe to bring its policy towards the group in line with that of the United States.
“It is good that the EU has decided to call Hezbollah what it is: a terrorist organisation,” Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers who decided on the blacklisting.
“We took this important step today, by dealing with the military wing of Hezbollah, freezing its assets, hindering its fundraising and thereby limiting its capacity to act.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague had urged EU governments to blacklist the organisation despite concerns from Lebanon that the move could bring further instability to the region.
“When a terrorist attack takes place on European soil, there have to be consequences. Europe has to recognise that and face up to that,” Mr Hague told reporters ahead of Monday’s meeting.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that evidence from last year’s attack in the Black Sea resort of Burgas in Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian, should give enough impetus for the move. Mr Westerwelle said that “we have to answer this, and the answer is” blacklisting Hizbollah’s military wing.
The attack on EU territory plus a Cyprus criminal court decision in March finding a Hezbollah member guilty of helping to plan attacks on Israelis on the Mediterranean island has galvanized EU diplomacy in moving toward action.
“We should name names because time comes to tell the truth,” said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Antanas Linkevicius, who chaired Monday’s meeting. “What was done by the military wing in the region and elsewhere I would say, there should be some reaction.”
Hizbollah has denied involvement in the attack on the bus in Bulgaria.
The blacklisting means imposing visa bans on individuals and asset freezes on organizations associated with the group. But the implementation would be complicated since officials would have to unravel the links between the different wings within Hizbollah’s organisational network and see who could be targeted for belonging to the military wing.
The Iranian-backed group plays a pivotal role in Lebanese politics, dominating the government since 2011, and has since sent its members to bolster Syria’s President Bashar Assad forces in their assault of rebel-held areas.
Even though evidence from Bulgaria and Cyprus will be key in the decision, several EU nations also have pointed to Hizbollah’s involvement in Syria as a reason for the move.
Mr Hague said that blacklisting Hizbollah’s military wing would not “destabilize Lebanon or have serious adverse consequences”.
“It is important for us to show that we are united and strong in facing terrorism,” Mr Hague said.