Drawing a distinction that Hezbollah denies, European Union foreign ministers voted Monday to list the group's military wing as a terrorist organization, while leaving untouched what the EU calls the political wing of the jihadist group and permitting it to continue fundraising in Europe.
"We don’t have a military wing and a political one," the group’s second in command, Naim Qassem, declared in October. "Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, are in the service of the resistance."
But the EU nonetheless found it useful to perceive that such a distinction exists. Ever since Hezbollah operatives were linked to the July 2012 bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, an EU member, killing six people, the organization has come under pressure to designate the Shiite group a terrorist organization. The pressure mounted further when a court in Cyprus — another EU country — tried and convicted a Swedish-Lebanese man whose duties included scouting Israeli tourists for future Hezbollah attacks.
But under EU rules, all 28 member states would have to agree to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization, and it was clear that not all of them would. Critics argued that taking such a step would complicate efforts to work with the Lebanese parliament, where Hezbollah remains a significant political force.
Another concern "was the safety of European troops serving in the U.N. peacekeeping force assigned to the buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon," Time magazine reported
. Nations with soldiers there "were concerned that their troops might be vulnerable to reprisals if Hizballah had been designated a terrorist group."
Others were concerned that retaliation could take the form of attacks inside their own borders.
"It’s kind of wonderfully paradoxical," said Jonathan Spyer, a fellow at IDC Herzliya’s Global Research and International Affairs Center. "They fear calling Hezbollah a terrorist organization for fear it’ll carry out a terrorist attack."
For now, the decision leaves Hezbollah free to continue raising money in Europe so long as it is engaged in "legitimate fund transfers" with the burden of proving they are intended for terrorist groups apparently falling on law enforcement.
"For sure this is a very bad day for Hezbollah," Spyer said. But the EU compromise "leaves a very large loophole."
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