Mideast Media Sampler 7-22-2013
Europe vs. Hezbollah
Yesterday, the European Union’s foreign minsters voted unanimously to designate Hezbollah’s “military wing” a terrorist organization. This will give European nations the authority to disrupt the organization’s finances.
The vote required unanimity and it was a long time in coming.
Last August, an article written by Nicholas Kulish of the New York Times, Despite Alarm by U.S., Europe Lets Hezbollah Operate Openly, told how freely Hezbollah operated in Germany.
While the group is believed to operate all over the Continent, Germany is a center of activity, with 950 members and supporters last year, up from 900 in 2010, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said in its annual threat report. On Saturday, Hezbollah supporters and others will march here for the annual Jerusalem Day event, a protest against Israeli control of that city. Organizers told the Berlin police that the event would attract 1,000 marchers, and that two counterdemonstrations were also likely.
Hezbollah has maintained a low profile in Europe since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, quietly holding meetings and raising money that goes to Lebanon, where officials use it for an array of activities — building schools and clinics, delivering social services and, Western intelligence agencies say, carrying out terrorist attacks.
European security services keep tabs on the group’s political supporters, but experts say they are ineffective when it comes to tracking the sleeper cells that pose the most danger. “They have real, trained operatives in Europe that have not been used in a long time, but if they wanted them to become active, they could,” said Alexander Ritzmann, a policy adviser at the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels, who has testified before Congress on Hezbollah.
However at that time:
The European Union’s unwillingness to place the group on its list of terrorist organizations is also complicating the West’s efforts to deal with the Bulgarian bus bombing and the Syrian conflict. The week after the attack in Bulgaria, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, traveled to Brussels for a regular meeting with European officials, where he called for the European Union to include Hezbollah on the list. But his pleas fell on deaf ears.
“There is no consensus among the E.U. member states for putting Hezbollah in the terrorist-related list of the organizations,” Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, the foreign minister of Cyprus, which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, said at the time. “Should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism, the E.U. would consider listing the organization.”
However, in February of this year, when Bulgaria Implicated Hezbollah in July Attack on Israelis, the mood in Europe began to change.
The announcement could force the European Union to reconsider designating the Lebanon-based group as a terrorist organization and cracking down on its fund-raising. That would upend Europe’s policy of quiet tolerance of the group, which, in addition to operating schools and social services, is an influential force in Middle East politics, considers Israel an enemy and has extensive links with Iran. …
The United States, too, urged the European Union to condemn Hezbollah. John O. Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser and his nominee to run the C.I.A., responded in a statement Tuesday: “We call on our European partners as well as other members of the international community to take proactive action to uncover Hezbollah’s infrastructure and disrupt the group’s financing schemes and operational networks in order to prevent future attacks.”
But countries including France and Germany have been wary of taking that step, which could force confrontations with large numbers of Hezbollah supporters living within their borders.
By May of this year, 3 in Europe Now Oppose Hezbollah, now including previously reluctant France and Germany.
The shift in stance by Germany, the most populous country in the European Union and its largest economy, signals a significant change in momentum. “The German position is based on an increasingly clearer picture of the facts and on the progress achieved by Cypriot authorities in analyzing terrorist activities,” the statement said. “Minister Westerwelle hopes that the necessary consultations within the E.U. can be concluded rapidly.” …
In the past, France and some other countries, like Sweden, have opposed putting Hezbollah on the terrorist blacklist, fearing it could destabilize the Lebanese government. The Palestinian group Hamas is on the list, and a number of European countries now believe that listing Hamas was a mistake because of the important political role it plays in Gaza and in the Palestinian political world. European officials are banned from talking openly to Hamas officials, for example.
Mr. Fabius explained the changed French position by emphasizing Syria, not Bulgaria. “Given the decisions taken by Hezbollah and the fact that it has fought very hard against the Syrian population, I confirm that France will propose to inscribe the military wing of Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organizations” of the European Union, he said, according to Agence France-Presse.
In June, at a meeting of EU security specialists, a vote to designate Hezbollah’s military wing, did not achieve unanimity.
Diplomatic sources said Austria and the Czech republic led opposition at a meeting of EU countries’ counter-terrorism specialists in Brussels on Wednesday (19 June).
Ireland, Italy and Poland also voiced concerns.
Objections centre around shaky evidence that Hezbollah bombed a bus containing Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last year.
At that point, it didn’t look like another vote was going to come up on the topic until later this year.
But by the beginning of the month, momentum started to change.
Britain has argued that the militant Shi’ite Muslim group should face European sanctions because of evidence that it was behind a bus bombing in Bulgaria last July that killed five Israelis and their driver. Hezbollah denies any involvement.
Diplomats say a majority of the 28 EU member states, including EU heavyweights France and Germany, back the British proposal. But unanimity is needed and Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy have been among EU governments that have voiced reservations.
The British proposal has gained urgency – and some support – in Europe in recent weeks because of Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s deeper involvement in the Syrian civil war.
Yesterday, the EU’s foreign ministers voted unanimously to ban Hezbollah’s “military wing,” even though Hezbollah acknowledges that it has a unified leadership.
What changed in recent weeks?
The New York Times recently suggested that it was part of a “carrot-and-stick approach” that Europe was employing towards Israel. According to the article, Europe wants to show Israel that it is concerned for its security even as it issues new guidelines regarding settlements, which, of course, are for Israel’s own good.
The problem is that the reporting for the article don’t support that thesis.
But the official said he was “not aware of any connection” made between the two issues either by Mr. Netanyahu or his counterparts. …
While Israel is deeply concerned about the Union’s declaring Hezbollah a terrorist group, Europe generally views Hezbollah as part of its issue with Syria, not Israel. And because the Europeans — in contrast to outraged Israelis — view the new guidelines as a minor step reflecting longstanding policy, they do not see themselves as “owing Israel one.”
One possibility, as mentioned above, is that Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war on the side of the Assad regimes has hurt its image significantly in Europe. Another is that in the last week, Bulgaria announced new evidence linking Hezbollah to the Burgas bombing. Also last week the Gulf Cooperation Council announced that it would blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist group. While it’s true that Hezbollah claims that Israel is its main enemy, it is not its exclusive target.
After giving a summary of the Hezbollah’s activities in Europe, Matthew Levitt explains how the new designation could hurt Hezbollah:
Despite the formal focus on asset freezing, the most significant impact of the EU ban will be felt on other fronts. First, it will enable EU governments to initiate preemptive intelligence investigations into activities that can be tied in any way to Hezbollah’s military wing. Germany and a handful of other European countries have already conducted such investigations, but the designation will spur many others to do so. This alone is a tremendous change that should make Europe a far less attractive place for Hezbollah operatives.
Second, the ban is a strong means of communicating to Hezbollah that its current activities are beyond the pale, and that continuing them will exact a high cost. Previously, the group had been permitted to mix its political and social welfare activities with its terrorist and criminal activities, giving it an effective way to raise and launder money along with a measure of immunity for its militant activities. Today’s designation makes clear to Hezbollah that international terrorism, organized crime, and militia operations will endanger its legitimacy as a political and social actor.
As for the financial angle, seizing significant amounts of Hezbollah funds is unlikely because the group’s accounts are presumably registered under its nonmilitary names. But the ban will probably still curtail Hezbollah fundraising. Some of the group’s members may be barred from traveling to Europe as governments become bolder in opening new investigations, and Hezbollah leaders may curtail certain activities on the continent as they assess the ban’s full impact.
Recently it was reported that Hezbollah uses a network of German mosques to raise funds for its activities. Time will tell if the new designation will disrupt this effort.
Hezbollah has reacted predictably. With threats.
Hezbollah member of Parliament Walid Sukkarieh told reporters: “Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist group with plans to commit acts of terror in Europe – that is religiously forbidden. Our resistance is different.”
“Europe, by taking this decision, puts itself into confrontation with a segment of people – with Hezbollah and its supporters and even all the forces of confrontation in the region,” Sukkarieh continued.
Hezbollah threatens through its “FM” Adnan Mansour: “states contributing to UNIFIL, more than others, should review its calculations.” (1)
— Tony Badran (@AcrossTheBay) July 22, 2013
More Hezbollah threats via Mansour to al-Manar: “there are local factions that played a negative role in [the EU decision].” (2)
— Tony Badran (@AcrossTheBay) July 22, 2013
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