Last July, the then–foreign minister of Cyprus, Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, whose country held the European Union’s rotating presidency, stated, “Should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism, the EU would consider listing the organization” on the EU’s list of terrorist organizations.
A criminal court in Ms. Kozakou-Marcoullis’s country delivered such evidence in late March by convicting Hossam Taleb Yaacoub of criminal activity. The dual Swedish-Lebanese citizen admitted he was a member of Hezbollah and had engaged in the surveillance of Israeli tourists. His aim was to lay the groundwork for terror attacks against Israelis visiting Cyprus.
According to Yaacoub’s sworn deposition to the court in the Cypriot city of Limmasol, he “was just collecting information about the Jews. . . . This is what [his] organization [did] everywhere in the world.”
It is worth recalling that in January 2007, Hezbollah operative Ali Mussa Daqduq played a crucial role in the murders of five U.S. soldiers in Iraq. In 1983, Hezbollah executed a double-suicide attack against U.S. and French military barracks in Beirut, killing 241 American servicemen and 58 French paratroopers. The U.S. designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization in the 1990s.
The chief Cypriot judge handling the Yaacoub case said, “The court rules that Hezbollah acts as a criminal organization.”
But why isn’t Europe classifying Iran’s main proxy, Hezbollah, a terrorist organization?
After all, just a few weeks after the arrest of Yaacoub in early July, Hezbollah operatives detonated 3 kilograms of TNT in an Israeli tour bus in the Black Sea resort of Burgas in Bulgaria. The terror act caused the deaths of a Bulgarian bus driver and five Israelis in addition to severely injuring 32 others.
Europe now has concrete proof that Hezbollah — a legal political organization within the EU — is launching terror attacks against EU citizens and visitors. But the key European powers — France and Germany — have blocked a terror listing of Hezbollah. Recent media reports suggest that the Germans (950 Hezbollah members operate in Germany) and the French are entertaining the idea of outlawing merely Hezbollah’s so-called military wing. But this compromise would still allow Hezbollah to continue fundraising in Europe.
The Dutch outlawed the entire organization in 2004, making no separation between the group’s political and military branches. The Netherlands’ Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans urged his fellow foreign ministers in late February to follow a similar course and list Hezbollah as a terror entity.
The British designated Hezbollah’s military wing to be a terrorist organization in 2008 because the militia targeted British soldiers for death in Iraq. Put simply: The distinction is nonsense. Hezbollah’s top leaders consistently reject the separation of its organization into political and military wings. Irish defense minister Alan Shatter agreed; while in Lebanon, he said that it is not a “valid distinction” to make.
President Obama told Israeli students during his visit to Jerusalem last month that “every country that values justice should call Hezbollah what it truly is: a terrorist organization.” But the EU seems to view Obama’s call to act as empty rhetoric without consequences.
The EU is interested in a bilateral free-trade agreement with the U.S. If the Obama administration is serious about the business of protecting U.S. interests, it should demand that a sine qua non of a free-trade deal be the removal of Hezbollah from European territory.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.