The UK Govt has stated its intention to “take the lead” in the “EU designation of the Hezbollah military wing”.
The announcement came in a House of Commons exchange on 9 May between Alistair Burt MP (Under-Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs) and Michael McCann MP (a vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel).
The debate may be read in full, here on Hansard and includes the Government’s rationale (dialogue with Lebanon) for distinguishing between Hizbollah’s “political and military wings”. There is, of course, really no such distinction, as Alistair Burt all but acknowledges, saying “it is a difficult distinction to make”.
The diplomacy-geared distinction between Hizbollah’s “political and military wings” continues the situation from the previous Government’s 2008 proscription of the military wing. Burt describes it as “…the whole of Hizbollah’s military apparatus, namely the Jihad Council and all the units reporting to it – that is, the military wing”.
The 2008 banning followed the 2001 proscription of Hizbollah’s External Security Organisation, which is Hizbollah’s outright “terrorism wing”. For example, see this Australian Govt explanation of these terrorists’ work, including their being widely blamed for the appalling 18th July 1994 truck bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires.
84 people were murdered in the AMIA bombing and Iranian Defence Minister, Ahmad Vahidi, was amongst other Iranians indicted for the attack. The antisemitic outrage in Buenos Aires exemplifies the interlinked nature of international Iranian and Hizbollah terrorism. In parallel, the political and military manifestations of the Iran-Hizbollah linkage are far more blatant and now include the shoring up of Assad’s regime in Syria.
In 2012, on the 18th anniversary of the antisemitic Buenos Aires bombing, five Israelis and a Bulgarian were murdered in a bomb attack upon a bus carrying Israeli tourists at Burgas airport in Bulgaria. The authorities believe Hizbollah was responsible. (See here for a detailed analysis by expert, Matthew Levitt of such Hizbollah activities.) In March 2013, a Cyprus court found a Lebanese-Swedish national, Hosem Taleb Yaacub, guilty of plotting terrorism on the island and of working with cells in France, Holland and Turkey. Yaacub admitted to being a member of Hizbollah and told the court:
I was just collecting information about the Jews. This is what my organisation is doing, everywhere in the world.
The cases in Cyprus and Bulgaria bring Hizbollah-Iranian terrorism to Europe and the European Union, whether that is via Hizbollah’s terrorist operations or those of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds force. Having previously committed terrorism in the Middle East, South America, Far East, Africa (including a Nairobi synagogue), India and Georgia, and Azerbaijan (including a Jewish school), their geographical creep into relatively peripheral EU states is no accident. This terrorism is not simply getting closer to the EU, it is now within the EU: posing a particular threat to the EU’s Jewish citizens and any Israeli visitors or residents.
Given the gradual approach of the Iran-Hizbollah terrorist threat (in all its guises), it is proper that the UK Govt should seek to encourage the EU to act now. Indeed, a failure to act will also send its own signal – both to the terrorists and to those whom they threaten. Alistair Burt has now laid out the UK Govt position and expects to discuss it at EU level “within the next four weeks”. CST wishes him and his colleagues every success.
Excerpts from Alistair Burt’s reply to Michael McCann MP:
I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann) for raising this important issue; for the clear and unequivocal support that he has given to the forces of stability in the middle east; for the way that he has pointed out the risks and the dangers that Hezbollah action poses in the area; for his support for the state of Israel; and for his courtesy in sending me a copy of his speech, which has helped me to tailor my response. I will make some comments for the record on the activities of Hezbollah, and on how the United Kingdom Government see Hezbollah and other Iranian-supported terrorist organisations.
…My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has asserted yet again that the EU proscription of Hezbollah, which the hon. Gentleman made a significant part of his remarks, has become a topical issue in recent months with the announcement by the previous Bulgarian Government on 5 February, implicating Hezbollah’s military wing in the atrocious bomb attack on a bus in Burgas last July, which killed five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver. The assessment of the involvement of Hezbollah’s military wing is shared by the United Kingdom. The guilty verdict in the trial of a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus, concluded on 21 March, is still further evidence of Hezbollah’s role in terrorist attacks or planned attacks on EU soil over the past 12 months.
In response, therefore, to the murderous terrorist attack at Burgas airport, and in light of the disrupted plot in Cyprus, we are calling for Europe to deliver a robust response. We firmly believe that an appropriate EU response would be to designate Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organisation.
…I believe very firmly that EU designation of the Hezbollah military wing would send out a clear message, as the hon. Gentleman stated, that we condemn the terrorist activities of the military wing of Hezbollah and that terrorist activities on European soil will not go unpunished. We believe the evidence gathered from the investigation into the Burgas attack and from the Cypriot trial into the foiled attack by a Hezbollah operative to be sufficient to warrant designation action under the EU common position 931—the EU’s designation process. We will continue to work closely with our European partners on this issue.
…We will take the lead in the EU in initiating CP 931 action in response to what we believe has been an attack on EU soil…We are sharing information with our EU partners before calling for a meeting of the common position 931 working group to discuss our proposal for a designation. We expect this meeting to take place in the coming weeks—within the next four weeks. The UK has compiled a core script to address any concerns raised by member states ahead of the working group and to explain the implications of proceeding with designation.
…Turning to other Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups, we are seriously concerned by Iran’s support for terrorist groups that undermine regional stability.
…We are also increasingly concerned by Iran’s involvement in terrorism outside its borders through the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds force, including in Thailand, India, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kenya, where two Iranian men were recently sentenced to life in prison by a Kenyan court for planning to carry out bombings in Nairobi and other cities last year. We are committed to the toughest possible international response to Iran’s support for terrorism and its refusal to operate within the bounds of international law.
I confirm for clarity that we recognise the grave concerns regarding Hezbollah and Iranian-supported terrorist groups and we are taking what action we can accordingly. We believe in particular, very much on the lines set out by the hon. Gentleman, that Europe can and must act, and I hope that I have been able to persuade him that I and my ministerial colleagues will continue to engage with our European counterparts in pursuance of that objective. What the middle east needs most desperately now is peace and stability. It is difficult to see the part being played by Hezbollah’s military wing or by Iran in relation to that. The time for ending the cycle of violence perpetuated by Assad and his regime is now, and the time to bring peace and stability to the middle east is now. We will support all attempts that aim to do that, but we will be ruthless in our condemnation of those who seek to upset it.