Europe Won't Call Hizballah Terrorists

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

( - Despite growing international awareness about the dangers posed to Mideast stability by Hizballah, the European Union has yet to outlaw the group or move to block its funding.

E.U. countries have not reached consensus on the matter, because some governments argue against treating as a terrorist group an organization that is involved in the Lebanese political system.

An E.U. terrorism list names 27 organizations, some of which have not carried out attacks for many years. But Hizballah is omitted, even though a separate list of 26 terrorist individuals does name Hizballah second-in-command Imad Mugniyah, one of the FBI's most wanted men.

The anomalous situation could pose difficulties should European peacekeepers be deployed in southern Lebanon, as proposed unexpectedly by the Israeli government at the weekend.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel may accept a NATO peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon to protect its northern flank against Hizballah attacks. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton expressed cautious support for the idea, but said there had been no consideration given to U.S. troops being involved.

If European forces were deployed, they could come from countries that do not share a common approach towards Hizballah.

The Netherlands, for example, went against the flow in 2004 when it said its intelligence assessment had found Hizballah's political and terrorist activities fell under a single coordinating council. It notified other E.U. members that it was no longer drawing a distinction between the two.

Britain does draw the distinction, but in its case has banned what it says is the "terrorist wing," the Hizballah External Security Organization, rather than Hizballah in its entirety. Other E.U. member states have done neither.

In contrast to the ambivalence of E.U. governments, lawmakers in the European Parliament last year passed a resolution by 473 votes to eight calling Hizballah a terrorist group and calling for "all needed measures to put an end to the terrorist activities of this group."

But E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana, visiting Israel last week, said there was no plan to add Hizballah to the terrorism list, since the E.U. did not have enough information to determine whether it should be designated. The issue was a legal and not a moral one, Solana was quoted as saying.

Hizballah has been linked to numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon and abroad, including suicide bombings against the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in 1983, and the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish community center in Argentina in 1992 and 1994.

It has also been active in Europe, where between 1986 and 1996 it was blamed for attacks - or foiled plots - in France, Cyprus, Spain, Britain and Romania.

The U.S. has long urged the E.U. to add Hizballah to its terrorist list, a step that would deprive the group funding from sympathizers and Islamic "charities" in Europe. France, which has historical links to Lebanon, has led opposition to the move, citing its political activities.

Election platform - 'Armed resistance'

Few dispute that Hizballah enjoys substantial political support in Lebanon. The group holds 14 seats in Lebanon's 128-member parliament and, when joined with coalition partners including the Shi'ite Amal control more than 27 percent of the legislature.

The Israeli government itself appears resigned to the fact that Hizballah will continue to be a political force in Lebanon.

The Washington Post Sunday quoted Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Daniel Ayalon as saying Israel would accept the continued existence of Hizballah as a party engaged in the Lebanese political system, but without terrorism and military capabilities.

But Hizballah, an Iranian creation, has based its identity on the fight against Israel - in last year's election, it campaigned on a plank of continued "armed resistance" against Israel.

It's a stance Hizballah maintains despite Israel having withdrawn from a narrow security zone in southern Lebanon six years ago. Since then, apart from sporadic fighting on Israel's northern border, it has also played a bigger role in Palestinian terrorism against Israel, while defying a 2004 U.N. resolution requiring that it disarm.

Senior Hizballah figure Sheikh Naim Qassem told Lebanese television in 2003: "We believe that our political endeavors are combined with our resistance operations, which cannot be separated from our political activity."

Qassem is a member of a nine-person governing body, the "Decision-Making Shura," headed by Hassan Nasrallah.

According to a 2003 report by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies in Israel, the Shura oversees sub-councils including a political council and a military council.

It said the Shura comprised seven Lebanese - including Nasrallah, Qassem, and Mugniyah - and two Iranians.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow