The new Syrian war death toll of over 100,000 coincided last week with the EU’s postponing a decision to include Hezbollah’s military wing in its terror list until late 2013. Hezbollah’s fighters have coalesced into the main fighting and training force for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s efforts to wipe out rebel insurgents.
Hezbollah, an Iran-backed terror organization, has long used European territory to fundraise and procure sophisticated Western technology and weapons for its nefarious goals. The Netherlands is the only EU member to have outlawed Hezbollah’s entire organization. Britain merely banned Hezbollah’s military wing in 2008, because the Lebanese Shiite group targeted U.K. troops in Iraq. The remaining 26 EU countries permit Hezbollah to function as a legal political organization, allowing it to fundraise and recruit.
But the results are far from “political.” Consider the “Orphans Project Lebanon e.V.” based in Göttingen, Germany. According to a report published by the Brussels-based European Foundation for Democracy, the so-called “charity” funnels its donations to the Lebanese Al-Shahid Social Association. The report notes:
The Al-Shahid provides financial support to so-called ‘martyr families’ in Lebanon, for the purpose of relieving militiamen and assassins of the responsibility to provide for their families’ future. In this way, the ‘Orphans Project Lebanon e.V’ encourages engagement in military and terrorist activities.
Back to continental Europe. Five Israelis and a Bulgarian national were killed in July of last year when a pair of Hezbollah operatives bombed the Bulgarian seaside resort of Burgas. Bulgaria’s former interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said the bombers “were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah.”
That same month Cyprus police arrested Hezbollah member Hossam Taleb Yaacoub for planning an attack on Israelis and Jews. The dual Swedish-Lebanese citizen used Lyon, France — among other organizing locations in Europe — to meet with his Hezbollah handlers. He confessed that his mission was “collecting information about the Jews. This is what my organization is doing, everywhere in the world.”
A Cypriot court convicted Yaacoub in March for plotting to kill Israelis and participation in a criminal (read: not terrorist) organization. The court gave him a mild four year sentence.
Europe has, in short, turned into Hezbollah’s enabler during the Syrian civil war.
Nonetheless, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are pushing their EU counterparts to ban Hezbollah’s military wing. Austria, Finland, Italy, and — to the surprise of many observers — the Czech Republic have expressed opposition to banning Hezbollah. The effort to partially outlaw Hezbollah is largely a symbolic beginning. What’s needed are punitive measures to suffocate Hezbollah’s European fundraising and recruitment — namely, a full ban.
The United States and Canada already classify Hezbollah’s entire organization as a terrorist entity.
When European countries refused President Reagan’s request to use Continental bases for airstrikes against then-Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi in 1986, Margaret Thatcher (who welcomed the U.S. to British bases) observed, “They’re a weak lot some of them in Europe, you know; weak, feeble.”
Sadly, some EU countries are now showing a similar cowardice.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based Fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter at @BenWeinthal.