The EU has said the military part of Lebanese group Hezbollah is a “terrorist entity,” but wants to keep talking to its political staff.
Two leading advocates of the move, Britain and Germany, said in Brussels on Monday (22 July) the EU did it because Hezbollah bombed a bus containing Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, last year.
“Today’s agreement … shows [the] EU stands united against terror attacks in Europe,” British foreign minister William Hague tweeted. “Terrorist acts on European soil are unacceptable,” Germany’s Guido Westerwelle told press.
The Netherlands’ Franz Timmermans noted that the move will lead to “freezing its [Hezbollah’s] assets, hindering its fundraising and thereby limiting its capacity to act.”
The decision comes after three months of internal EU talks.
Opponents – including Austria, the Czech republic, Ireland, Malta, Poland and Slovakia – previously voiced concern on lack of proof on Burgas.
For its part, the Bulgarian interior ministry told EUobserver on Monday that its police investigation “is not finished yet, it continues.”
But a compromise proposal to keep talking to Hezbollah’s politicians won support in the end.
A Slovak diplomat said Slovakia agreed “based on a commitment that the EU will continue political dialogue with all the political parties in Lebanon.” A Czech diplomat said Prague “pushed through a review clause, which means we will revisit the decision in six months.”
Israel, which suffered a rare military defeat at the hands of Hezbollah in 2006, welcomed the EU move.
“Now it is clear to the entire world that Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation,” Israeli justice minister Tzipi Livni told press.
“Their stated objectives, as explained in their founding charter, are the destruction of Israel, the elimination of Western influence in the Middle East and the establishment of a Shia [Muslim] theocracy in Lebanon,” the Israeli Defence Force said on its blog.
US secretary of state John Kerry noted: “We applaud the European Union for the important step it has taken today.”
Hezbollah itself declined to comment for now.
But some analysts criticised the EU decision.
Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer who runs an NGO in Beirut, said it is “meaningless” because Hezbollah does not depend on income from EU countries.
He added that the EU’s idea of keeping political links is unlikely to fly: “One major European state recently said: ‘We’d like to talk, but only with your political wing.’ Hezbollah said: ‘You determine your delegation and we’ll determine who we send. If you lecture us on who can be part of our delegation, we prefer not to talk at all’.”
David Hirst, a Beirut-based British writer on the Middle East, said listing Hezbollah means the EU is openly taking sides with Israeli and US interests.
He added that Israel is equally guilty of violence against civilians.
“If Europe were to take punitive action against Israeli acts, which are comparable to, if not worse than, those of Hezbollah, then I would applaud today’s [Hezbollah] decision … But they do not show even-handedness,” he said.