March 31, 2013
By Peter Brookes
Lost in the other news from Cyprus last week was this: A Cypriot court sentenced a Hezbollah operative to four years in jail for putting together plans last summer to attack Israeli tourists on the eastern Mediterranean island.
It’s only the latest deadly Hezbollah plot in Europe over the last year — yet the European Union still hasn’t designated the Lebanon-based group as a terrorist organization. It’s time to crack down on it before more blood is shed.
In the Cyprus case, reports indicate the Hez henchman, Hossam Yaacoub, had been collecting info on flights arriving from Israel as well as noting the hotels where Israeli tourists stayed and the buses that conveyed them around the island.
Equally troubling, Yaacoub, a Lebanese-Swedish national, had also “cased” a number of other European locations for possible strikes on Israeli visitors.
Then, just shortly after he was arrested in July in Cyprus, Hezbollah operatives bombed a bus in a resort town in Bulgaria. The attack killed five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver.
Hezbollah behaving badly outside the Middle East isn’t new; its violence in Europe goes back to the 1980s, when the group joined Iran in attacking the West and its interests. Today, few experts would dispute that Hezbollah has a network of operatives that spans Europe.
So why is the 27-member EU reluctant to put Hezbollah on its terror list, which would help curtail its operations, fund-raising, freedom of movement and other criminal activities? Because key EU powers figure: If we’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to us.
The recent Hez plots seem to disprove that calculation, but some Europeans also worry about Hezbollah targeting their interests abroad. For instance, it might attack European interests or peacekeepers in Lebanon (Hez’s home turf) if the EU gets tough.
A few European countries even try to separate the “military” wing from the “political” wing of the Shia outfit, hoping that doing so will keep communications open and help stabilize always fragile Lebanese politics, where Hezbollah is a big player.
Unfortunately, “hope” isn’t a good basis for a foreign policy, especially toward the likes of Hezbollah, which has plenty of European — and other — blood on its hands.
The EU should stop whistling past the graveyard and take steps now to stand with the United States and others (e.g., Canada, Australia, Israel and Bahrain) in actively opposing Hezbollah’s terrorist scourge — before the next innocent falls victim to its ways.
Sadly, the EU works by consensus and some powerful EU countries (e.g., Germany) oppose any terror listing. But individual nations can act on their own to designate Hezbollah a terror organization, reducing the area where it can operate in Europe. The Dutch have already done this.
If even that’s too much, a European state could at leastgo after the group’s militant-related activities on its territory. The United Kingdom started doing this in 2008.
The point is that something must be done.
Considering Hezbollah’s increasingly global operations (e.g., 2012 Thailand, India and Georgia plots), doing nothing is not just a bad option, it’s potentially a fatal one.
The EU must muster the political will to send a strong, unequivocal signal to Hezbollah — indeed, to all terrorists — that Europe isn’t open for their sort of business.
Anything less will only mean more terrorism in Europe — and elsewhere.
-Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in New York Post.
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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