Europe May Act Against Hezbollah After Bulgaria Terror Bombing Probe

Investigation Blames Lebanese Group in Airport Attack

Stiffer Sanctions? Hezbollah has long been a prime suspect in the Bulgaria airport terror bombing that killed several Israelis last summer. Now that an official probe has named the Lebanese group, it may face stiffer European sanctions.
haaretz
Stiffer Sanctions? Hezbollah has long been a prime suspect in the Bulgaria airport terror bombing that killed several Israelis last summer. Now that an official probe has named the Lebanese group, it may face stiffer European sanctions.

By Nathan Guttman and Donald Snyder

Published February 15, 2013, issue of February 22, 2013.
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The investigation results from Bulgaria now throw that assessment into question.

“This unwritten deal has been violated by Hezbollah,” said Clemens Wergin, a commentator and foreign editor for Germany’s conservative publication Die Welt.

In its report, a team set up by the Bulgarian interior ministry found “obvious links” between Hezbollah and perpetrators of the July attack against a bus taking Israeli tourists to the Black Sea resort town Burgas. Five Israelis and a local Bulgarian driver were killed in the attack. The six-month investigation established that two of the suspects who carried out the attack were Hezbollah members.

Release of the Bulgarian government’s report was coordinated with Israel, the United States and with Jewish organizations.

Senior Bulgarian officials visited Israel before the report was released. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee was called to Sofia, according to a source aware of his travel, to personally receive a briefing. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, was notified by email about the upcoming findings before the official release.

Hezbollah has been on the United States list of terror organizations since 1997, and American citizens and business entities are therefore prohibited from maintaining ties with the group. It is also illegal in the United States to raise money for Hezbollah or groups related to it. Canada and the Netherlands are the only other nations to fully designate Hezbollah as a terror organization. Britain has branded the group’s military wing a terror group while making clear the designation does not include the group’s political branch.

It would take an affirmative vote of all 27 member countries for the European Union to brand Hezbollah as a terror group.

The European refusal so far has allowed Hezbollah to receive much of its financial support through E.U. countries. “Hezbollah raises money in Europe today hand over fist, like the Red Cross,” said Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

While Britain has been leading efforts to take action against Hezbollah, France is viewed by Washington as the main obstacle. U.S. officials attribute France’s recalcitrance to its wish to maintain influence in Lebanon, which was under French colonial rule in the early 20th century.

Germany, with its leading role in the E.U., is considered the key player on this issue and the nation that could swing the European view. A 2009 report compiled by Alexander Ritzmann, then a senor fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy, found that Hezbollah raises funds in Germany through a not-for-profit organization called Orphans Project Lebanon. The money collected in Germany goes to support families of Hezbollah fighters, the report stated.

“The attitude towards Hezbollah here in Germany seems to be changing [since publication of]the report on the Burgas attack,” said Sylke Tempel, editor in chief of Internationale Politik, a German foreign policy magazine. Chancellor Angela Merkel and members of her party have spoken out against Hezbollah, though little action has been taken so far.


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