It may have taken an attack on European soil and the potential for a second to prompt the European Union to act, but last week the continent’s governments agreed to place the armed wing of Hezbollah on its terrorism blacklist.
The move by 28 nations meeting in Brussels means any assets of the Lebanon-based organization will be frozen.
Canada, which had listed Hezbollah – including its political and social wings – as a terrorist entity in 2002, applauded the step.
“Canada welcomes the EU’s courageous decision to list the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist entity,” said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
“Hezbollah’s foiled plot in Cyprus and its tragic bombing of a tourist bus in Bulgaria last year are but two examples of Hezbollah’s growing global reach. It has long played a destabilizing role around the world, and in close partnership with the regressive clerical dictatorship of Iran actively assists [Syrian President Bashir] Assad in the brutal murder of countless civilians in Syria.”
The Bulgaria bus attack killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian driver. Late last week, the government of Bulgaria named two suspects in the case, one of them a Canadian.
The Canadian, Hassan El Hajj Hassan, 25, was born in Lebanon and moved with his family to Vancouver as a child. Bulgarian investigators say Hassan, along with an Australian suspect and a third man killed in the explosion, were spotted in several nearby cities in the weeks before the July 18, 2012 attack.
Britain and the Netherlands had been pushing for the terrorist designation since May, as they cited evidence Hezbollah was behind the Bulgaria attack.
Canada too had been urging EU nations to act against Hezbollah, said David Cooper, director of government relations for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
“For us, apart from the Canadian position, we’re still concerned about the distinction the EU made between the military and political and social wings,” he said. “It’s a distinction Hezbollah does not make, and it’s completely artificial.”
Cooper said Hezbollah operatives straddle both wings. He cited a “Mr. X who one day could be recruiting people into the military wing while at the same time running a school.”
B’nai Brith Canada said the EU was moving “in the wrong direction, ignoring both the Iranian patronage and terrorist methodology of Hezbollah.”
It said that “only the listing of the entire entity of Hezbollah could hope to combat its ongoing international terrorism activities.
“While some may view this as a positive step, giving false legitimacy to Hezbollah’s supposedly non-violent wings only serves to weaken international efforts to combat terror and strengthens Iran’s global ambitions,” said Frank Dimant, B’nai Brith’s CEO.
While the EU had been urged to act against Hezbollah, others had cautioned the move could harm relations with Lebanon and perhaps destabilize the country. Hezbollah’s political branch is part of the coalition governing the country.
Cooper noted that some linked the EU blacklist to guidelines the organization announced earlier that explicitly banned any EU funding of and co-operation with Israeli institutions operating in territories beyond the pre-1967 lines.
The suggestion among some analysts is that the EU felt it could not act against Hezbollah without also sanctioning Israel, he said.
In other developments, Baird offered Canada’s support to Israel and the Palestinians as they try to restart peace negotiations.
CTV reported that Baird phoned cabinet ministers from both sides – Palestinian Authority’s Riyad al-Malki and Israel’s chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, saying Canada is ready to assist any way it can.