BEIRUT: Chances are slim that the European Union will imminently blacklist Hezbollah as a terror organization after a probe accused the party of involvement in a 2012 deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria, European diplomatic sources and analysts said Wednesday.
“Placing Hezbollah on the EU’s terror list will eventually be explored after the results of the Bulgarian investigation are carefully scrutinized,” a European diplomatic source told The Daily Star, speaking on condition of anonymity. “However,” the source confided, “several EU member states view such a measure as imprudent as it cuts off all future routes of dialogue.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was also vague about Bulgaria’s Tuesday announcement of the alleged involvement of two Hezbollah members in the July 2012 bus bombing at Bulgaria’s Burgas Airport, near the Black Sea, that killed five Israelis and wounded 30.
While Ashton underscored the “need for a reflection over the outcome of the investigation,” in order for EU member states to discuss “the appropriate response based on all elements identified by investigators,” the United States, Canada and Israel reiterated calls for the EU to label Hezbollah a “terrorist” organization.
Brussels-based lawyer Gabriel Helou, who specializes in international and European law, and Brigitte Herremans, Middle East desk officer for peace-building Belgian NGO Broederlijk Delen, concur that given the current circumstances, it is highly unlikely that the EU will blacklist Hezbollah.
“There is [so far] no unanimity among EU member states on Hezbollah, which would be needed to pass an EU decision enlisting it as a terrorist organization,” Helou said.
“However,” Helou added, “that could change as a result of the latest developments in the Burgas case.” He explained that in the event the EU blacklists Hezbollah, the decision would impact the party specifically rather than the whole country, by means of sanctions and asset freezing.
The Netherlands is the only EU member state that has listed Hezbollah as a “terrorist organization.”
Other EU member states, such as the United Kingdom, differentiate between Hezbollah’s military wing, which is banned in the U.K., and the Lebanese party’s political wing.
The rest of the EU member states, including France – whose envoys to Beirut hold regular meetings with Hezbollah officials – do not consider the group a terrorist organization.
In the past 20 years, Germany has mediated major swaps between Hezbollah and Israel.
Herremans doubted that France would change its position on Hezbollah “so quickly.”
An angry article published Wednesday in The Jerusalem Post lashed out at the EU member states’ policy toward Hezbollah, saying placing the group on the EU’s terror blacklist would be “no slam dunk” even after the probe into the Burgas bombing “pointed the finger directly” at its alleged involvement.
The piece specifically slammed the positions of France and Germany, saying the EU has chosen to “avert its eyes” from Hezbollah’s practices because of “interests and political considerations,” irrespective of the Burgas investigation.
According to Helou, the EU is well aware of the fact that since the end of the summer 2006 war with Israel, Hezbollah has cooperated with the UNIFIL to restore and maintain stability in south Lebanon. Several European countries have dispatched troops to serve as part of UNIFIL.
Helou added that the EU also understands Hezbollah is an integral part of Lebanon’s political makeup and that it will no doubt be part of future Lebanese governments.
Based on this, “the EU should strike a balance,” he continued.
“I’m not sure that the EU would be ready to ignore and sacrifice these facts [about Hezbollah].”
Drawing from the Hamas experience, Herremans maintained that quite a few European policymakers regret the decision to deem the Palestinian group as a “terrorist organization” as it eliminated the chance for dialogue with the influential faction.
By banning Hamas, the EU “lost leverage “because it is very easy to put an organization on the list but extremely difficult to take it off,” he said.
Helou explained that the EU has no specific criteria for classifying terrorist organizations. “Blacklisting a certain organization in Europe is merely a political decision.”