Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Burgas findings reveal Australian involved and puts EU under pressure to ban Hezbollah

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Following Bulgaria's findings that Hezbollah was involved in the 18 July 2012 terrorist attack in Burgas that killed six people - five Israeli tourists and a local Bulgarian bus driver, the European Union (EU) is now under increasing pressure to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.

Last year the EU dismissed Israel's calls to recognise Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation following the attack. Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, whose country at the time held the EU's rotating presidency, said in July that there is "no consensus among the EU member states for putting Hezbollah on the terrorist list of the organization. Should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism, the EU would consider listing the organization."

Well now that evidence is clear. Providing an update on its findings into the investigation of the bus bombing, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said:

"There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects... What can be established as a well-grounded assumption is that the two persons whose real identity has been determined belonged to the military wing of Hezbollah."

Tsvetanov also stated:

"All three people involved in the attack had fake Michigan driver's licenses that were printed in Lebanon. The two suspects with Canadian and Australian passports had been living in Lebanon, one since 2006 and the other since 2010. The third suspect entered Bulgaria with them on June 28."

Currently the EU does not list Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. However, the Netherlands has listed the entire organisation a terrorist organisation, and the United Kingdom has labeled Hezbollah's military wing only as a terrorist organisation. The Netherlands and Britain both support the move for the EU to recognise Hezbollah a terrorist organisation, but reportedly there is resistance from France and Germany where Hezbollah freely operates. According to Berlin's domestic intelligence service, there are about 950 Hezbollah members and supporters in Germany alone. However, in light of France's intervention to stop Islamists in Mali it may see fit to revise its position.

The World Jewish Committee, an international body representing Jewish communities in 100 countries said in response to France's opposition:

"We know that the French government has until now been reluctant to back other European countries with respect to Hezbollah. But Burgas has shown that Islamist terrorism is not just happening in Mali, it is not just happening in the Middle East, it is also happening right here in Europe, and it must be stopped... The European Union must stop dithering and treat Iran and Hezbollah for what they are: leading sponsors of international terrorism and a big threat to peace and the well-being of all citizens."

Why list Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation?

If Hezbollah was listed as a terrorist organisation by the EU, then the EU would be better equipped to prevent and curtail Hezbollah attacks in Europe and elsewhere. Moreover, some experts note that Hezbollah draws a considerable portion of its funding from its extensive support network in Europe. As Daniel Schwammenthal, Director of the American Jewish Committee Transatlantic Institute in Brussels noted last year August 2 in the Wall Street Journal:

"Not designating the group as a terrorist organization gives the pioneers of Islamist suicide bombings the opportunity to organize, recruit and raise funds throughout the Continent... Placing the group on the EU's terrorist list would allow authorities to freeze Hezbollah assets and increase cross-border cooperation in fighting their crimes. Raising or providing funds for Hezbollah terrorists within EU territory would become a criminal offense. Police and judicial authorities would have greater powers to work with their colleagues in other member states, for example in sharing evidence or information about movements and activities of Hezbollah operatives. Law enforcement agencies would also have more possibilities to investigate and curtail Hezbollah activities in the EU, such as by suppressing the recruitment of new members."

Meanwhile, as British commentator Douglas Murray noted last year, Hezbollah itself admits that its legal status in the EU is a major asset:

"For the leadership of Hezbollah the issue of its legitimacy within the EU is a source of considerable satisfaction. Where would Hezbollah be without the EU? The Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has already made it very clear where they would be. A few years back Nasrallah said that if the EU designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group in its entirety it would "destroy" the organization; as Nasrallah put it, "[t]he sources of our funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed."

The EU is also under pressure to take action against Hezbollah from both the US and Canada, which already list the entire Hezbollah organisation to be a terrorist organisation. John Brennan, the national security adviser to US President Barack Obama said in a statement:

"We call on our European partners as well as other members of the international community to take proactive action to uncover Hezbollah's infrastructure and disrupt the group's financing schemes and operational networks in order to prevent future attacks..."

Meanwhile, according to a Jerusalem Post report former US Counterterrorism Ambassador Daniel Benjamin told a panel last week that:

It is a "very bad thing that Hezbollah can operate in Europe regarding fund-raising and logistics"... Hezbollah's legal status in the EU "undermines security goals...If you want to put a dent in Hezbollah activities, it would be a positive thing" to outlaw the Lebanese group, and an EU terror "designation would be a blow to Hezbollah's legitimacy."

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also made a strong statement:

"We urge the European Union and all partners who have not already done so to list Hezbollah as a terrorist entity and prosecute terrorist acts committed by this inhumane organization to the fullest possible extent."

The spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs and security representative, said: "The implications of the investigation need to be assessed seriously as they relate to a terrorist attack on EU soil, which resulted in the killing and injury of innocent civilians" and developments underlined "the need for a reflection over the outcome of the investigation" and that "the EU and Member States will discuss the appropriate response based on all elements identified by the investigators."

To add Hezbollah to the EU list of terror groups requires a unanimous decision by their foreign ministers. Their next meeting is scheduled for February 18.

The case for listing the entire Hezbollah organisation as a terrorist group

There is a compelling case to be made that the entire Hezbollah organisation should be listed as a terrorist group by the EU and other countries, given that divisions between Hezbollah's social, political and military wings are artificial. Even Hezbollah itself insists that it operates as one organisation.

For example, in 2002 Muhammad Fanish, a Hezbollah leader and Parliamentarian,  stated on al-Manar TV "there is no separating between Hezbollah's military and political arms."

The reality that Hezbollah is one organisation was also emphasised in Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's response to Bulgaria's update on its investigation:

"... The Bulgarian findings announced today are clear: Hezbollah was directly responsible for the atrocity. There is only one Hezbollah. It is one organization with one leadership. This is yet a further corroboration of what we have already known, that Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons are orchestrating a worldwide campaign of terror that is spanning countries and continents. The attack in Burgas was only one of a series of recent terrorist operations against civilians in Thailand, Kenya, Turkey, India, Azerbaijan, Cyprus and Georgia. All this is happening in parallel to the deadly support given by Hezbollah and Iran to the murderous Assad regime in Syria. The attack in Burgas was an attack on European soil against a member country of the EU. We hope that the Europeans draw the necessary conclusions as to the true character of Hezbollah."

This point also has implications for Australia as well as the EU. Despite clear evidence that Hezbollah operates as one organisation, distinctions between Hezbollah's political and military wings have been made by Australia, which since 2003 lists only Hezbollah's "External Security Wing" as a terrorist group, and the United Kingdom, which lists only its "military wing" as a terrorist group. This enables Hezbollah to organise in Australia and the UK under the pretence of representing only the "political" side of Hezbollah.

Thus, there have long been media reports that Hezbollah has a significant presence in Australia and Hezbollah flags regularly appear at anti-Israel demonstrations. However, according to the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 and the Charter of the United Nations (Terrorism and Dealings with Assets) Regulations 2002, it appears to be illegal for Australians to fund any part of Hezbollah, as funds could be used for terrorist purposes.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah TV - al Manar also broadcasts into Australia via the major Indonesian telecommunications provider Indosat. The network seeks to mobilise support for the organisation, assists in its fundraising efforts, and may help to recruit Hezbollah operatives. In December 2010, an Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) report on Al Manar "International approaches to the regulation of al-Manar Television and terrorism related content" noted that themes dominant in the al Manar programming included: anti-American and anti-Israel; the resistance narrative of Hezbollah; glorification of Hezbollah martyrs and antisemitism. While ACMA found al-Manar breached Australian broadcasting regulations, it has subsequently said al-Manar remains legal in Australia.

News that one of the terrorist operatives in Bulgaria had an Australian passport should be a signal for Australia to consider revising its policy on Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, following Bulgaria's update on its investigation implicating Hezbollah in a terrorist attack on European soil, there should be an international effort to list the entire Hezbollah organisation as a terrorist group and curtail its activities, because Hezbollah has uequivocally shown itself to be an international terrorist organisation working across the world to plan terror attacks. The EU can no longer duck debate on the true nature of Hezbollah - it must face facts or be effectively complicit in Hezbollah's terrorism.

Sharyn Mittelman


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