Last July, a bomb went off in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver, and wounding dozens more. After a six-month investigation, Bulgaria has confirmed what many suspected : the atrocity was carried out and financed by the Lebanese-based Muslim group Hezbollah, whose anti-Semitic and anti-Western ideology is well known. The thorough and professional investigation, which did not shy away from pinpointing the villain, reflects great credit on Bulgaria.
Until now, the European Union has refused to designate Hezbollah, founded by Iran in 1982, as a terrorist organization. Two of its member states —the United Kingdom and the Netherlands — do so designate it, as do the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Immediately after the Burgas bombing, the president of the EU said: “Should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism, the EU would consider listing the organization.” In light of the new findings, can the EU continue to bury its head in the sand?
Hezbollah’s bloody record goes back 30 years. In 1983, its suicide bombers killed 241 U.S. marines and 58 French peacekeeping troops in Beirut. Among its subsequent acts of violence, Hezbollah was identified by a U.N. tribunal as responsible for the truck bombing that killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others in 2005. Three years later, Hezbollah took over West Beirut in what the government at the time called a “bloody coup” in which more than 100 people, many of them civilians, were killed.
The group’s malevolence has even reached the Western Hemisphere. A special Argentinean prosecutor who investigated the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, which left 85 dead and hundreds injured, identified Hezbollah and its Iranian confederates as the perpetrators.
Since placement on the list of terrorist organizations would allow EU members to freeze Hezbollah’s bank accounts and facilitate cross-border cooperation in apprehending and arresting Hezbollah operatives in Europe, the reluctance to acknowledge Hezbollah’s terrorist character has made it easier for the organization to recruit, plan and carry out its crimes. In Germany alone, there are close to 1,000 Hezbollah members and supporters, according to a 2011 report issued by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
The new light shed on the Burgas tragedy should make European leaders rethink the standard excuses that have been used up to now to rationalize lack of action against Hezbollah. Now that an EU member state has been victimized, there should be no hesitancy in adding Hezbollah to the EU list of terror organizations.
While fear of reprisal against EU states might have been psychologically understandable, if not morally defensible, as long as Hezbollah appeared to be using Europe simply as a base of operations in the Middle East, this attack on European soil indicates that Western targets are already in the terrorists’ sights, and so turning the other cheek has had no deterrent effect.
Another argument for holding off on declaring Hezbollah a terrorist entity is that the organization also has a “political” wing, one that wields considerable power in Lebanon, and that weakening it would destabilize that country. But Hezbollah’s “political” presence, which includes a private army that makes it a state-within-a-state, in fact destabilizes Lebanon.
That was clearly the case in 2006, when its missile attacks on Israel started a war that led to many civilian casualties and devastated southern Lebanon. Since then Hezbollah has received new supplies of missiles from Iran, which it hides in residential areas, making Lebanese citizens into human shields in preparation for the next confrontation with Israel.
Hezbollah also maintains a large presence in Syria, where it helps prop up the Assad regime by killing his opponents. As the Syrian situation continues to deteriorate, Hezbollah intervention could well embroil Lebanon in that conflict.
The findings on Burgas are in, and so is the verdict on Hezbollah. One way to weaken its influence is for the EU to officially declare it the terrorist entity that it is.
Brian Siegal is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Greater Miami and Broward Regional Office.