This week the Bulgarian government announced that Hizballah was behind the terror attack in Burgas, Bulgaria last July 28 that killed five Israelis, including a pregnant woman, and a Bulgarian bus driver.
Bulgarian interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the perpetrators—one of whom died in the attack—were an Australian and a Canadian who had moved to Hizballah-controlled Lebanon, one in 2006 and the other in 2010.
It was only the most lethal in a wave of attacks against Israeli targets by Hizballah and the Quds Force—both of them arms of Iran—that also occurred in Thailand, India, Georgia, and other places.
U.S. secretary of state John Kerry called EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton about the Bulgarian announcement; Kerry also said in a statement:
We strongly urge other governments around the world—and particularly our partners in Europe—to take immediate action to crack down on Hizballah. We need to send an unequivocal message to this terrorist group that it can no longer engage in despicable actions with impunity.
There were good reasons for Kerry to turn his remarks toward Europe. For one thing, the European Union—unlike the United States, Canada, and Israel—has never agreed to designate Hizballah as a terrorist organization.
But it goes beyond that. The New York Times quotes Daniel Benjamin, until December counterterrorism coordinator at the State Department, saying that Hizballah “is using [European] territory with impunity for fund-raising and logistics.” And as Daniel Schwammenthal described it in an incisive Wall Street Journal op-ed: “In recent years [Hizballah] has been able to raise funds, recruit new members and even send operatives from Europe to Israel for attacks there….”
Europe does not consent monolithically to being a staging ground for Hizballah. The Netherlands bans the organization, and Britain has blacklisted what it dubs its “military wing.”
But those are the exceptions. And the European states most resistant to altering Hizballah’s status are France and Germany. Indeed, the New York Times reported last August that “While [Hizballah] is believed to operate all over the Continent, Germany is a center of activity….”
Why is Europe so soft on the terror group, whose many exploits include killing 58 French peacekeepers and 241 U.S. Marines in their Beirut barracks in 1983, 29 people at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, 87 people at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, 19 U.S. servicemen at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, and which currently, from Lebanon, is aiming 60,000 Iranian missiles at Israel, a country it believes itself divinely commanded to destroy?
As the Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon analyzes it,
For some the interests are economic, a concern that such a move could anger parts of the Arab world that invest in their economies. For others it is a fear of “provoking” [the terror group], and a concern that blacklisting [it] would trigger a terrorist retaliation on their own territory, or against their own nationals.
Indeed, Sylke Tempel, editor of the German magazine Internationale Politik, put it pithily when he told the New York Times this week: “There’s the overall fear if we’re too noisy about this, [the group] might strike again, and it might not be Israeli tourists this time.”
As Schwammenthal notes, the Europeans also profess a concern about “losing influence” over Hizballah now that it’s part of the Lebanese government. But “there is no evidence,” Schwammenthal points out, “that decades of European contacts…have in any way moderated the group.”
Is there hope that Europe will finally wake up? Reuters reports that
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for action if it emerges that there is solid evidence linking Hezbollah to the attack.
“Chancellor Angela Merkel completely condemns the disgraceful attack in Burgas,” her spokesman said. “If there is confirming evidence that Hezbollah is responsible for this detestable attack, there must be consequences.”
“Consequences,” though, is a vague term, and the standards for “confirming evidence” seem to be particularly high since this statement was released after Bulgaria’s announcement of the findings of its months-long, U.S.- and Israeli-aided investigation.
As the Wall Street Journal reported,
EU officials acknowledged that a debate on ties with Hezbollah would be difficult and was unlikely to be settled immediately….
“We all know that the member states are divided on these issues. They always have been,” one senior official said….
That would be the same EU that responded with immediate, unanimous condemnation when Israel recently announced it was planning to build homes in West Bank settlement blocs and Jerusalem. What moral grandeur.
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