The EU decision—agreed on by the foreign ministers of the 28 member-states—was welcomed by many, including opposition groups in Syria, where Hezbollah is estimated to have deployed thousands of fighters. Conversely, the announcement was met with sharp criticism from those allied with the movement, as well as observers who consider it detrimental to regional peace and stability.
The political arm of Hezbollah, which is not directly affected by the blacklist, was quick to respond to the decision, describing it as “aggressive and unjust.”
Hezbollah rejects allegations of its involvement in a suicide bombing that took place last year in Burgas, Bulgaria, which claimed the lives of six Israeli tourists.
The attack—along with Cyprus’s terrorism-related conviction of a Hezbollah member, and the group’s overt involvement in the conflict in neighboring Syria—was ammunition for those who sought to demote the status of the military unit.
Nonetheless, Hezbollah dismissed accusations of its involvement as a US–Israeli “smear campaign”—rhetoric that was repeated by the group on Monday following the decision.
“It looks as if the decision was written by American hands and with Zionist ink,” a statement issued by Hezbollah’s media office said. “The EU only had to add its signature in approval.”
The statement continued, claiming the decision is undemocratic, and that it “does not in any way echo the interests of the people of the EU and goes against the principles of the European people, which are supportive of freedom and independence.”
“If the EU countries think they are [taking over] our locations in our Arab and Islamic countries by submitting to the logic of US blackmailing,” the statement mentioned, “we assure them that Washington had made similar decision and gained only further failures and disappointments.”
Other Lebanese political figures also denounced the decision.
Parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri likewise asserted that the decision was not rooted in clear causes and that it serves Israeli interests.
Prior to the decision being made, there were widespread concerns over the possibility of local and regional destabilisation, given the sensitive nature of the socio-political fabric in Lebanon, which was consumed by a civil war for fifteen and a half years.
“I hope the EU will reconsider its decision, because such decision contradicts the willingness of the countries of the European Union to help Lebanon overcome the complexities of its internal political situation,” Tammam Salam, Lebanon’s prime minister-designate, was quoted as saying by the Hezbollah-run news network Al-Manar.
In a similar vein, Conciliation Resources, a peacebuilding non-governmental organization, condemned the concept of blacklisting. David Newton, the organization’s director of policy, wrote in a statement that “it is far from assured that today’s decision will deter Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, but it will almost certainly make peacebuilding more complicated in neighbouring Lebanon.”
Officials within the Islamic Republic of Iran—a financial supporter of the self-declared “resistance movement”—also referred to the ruling of the supranational legislator as undemocratic, claiming that it was a “Zionist” plot.
The state-run Press TV quoted Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying Monday that the decision “runs contrary to all political and legal principles, and is shocking and unacceptable.”
“Labelling a resistance group, which has fought against aggression and invasion and has a lawful and popular presence in Lebanon’s politics and government, as terrorist indicates the unsound logical basis of the action,” Salehi said.
At the same time, Syrian opposition groups welcomed the EU blacklist, which could result in travel bans on certain figures, or the freezing of assets owned by individuals who are involved in the financing the organization.
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) praised the move as “a step in the right direction,” but called on foreign leaders to do more to combat the heavily armed Lebanese militia.
The SNC released a statement in which it stressed that “Hezbollah leaders must be bought to justice for the terrorist crimes they committed on Syrian territory,” and that European powers must take “concrete steps that would contribute to stopping the militia’s involvement in Syria.”
The United States, which has long pressured the European Union to take measures against Hezbollah in its entirety, applauded the blacklisting.
In a statement published by his department, US Secretary of State John Kerry thanked the EU “for the important step it has taken today in agreeing to designate the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization,” an organization he says has “deepened its support for the brutal Assad regime and worked to expand its global reach.”
“We call on other governments to follow the EU’s lead and to take steps to begin reining in Hezbollah’s terrorist and criminal activities,” he concluded.
The prime minister of Israel also congratulated the European legislative body for what he hoped would be “significant steps against the organization.”
Nonetheless, Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, considered the EU to have only gone “half way” in its opposition to Hezbollah, which Israel considers a terrorist organization in its entirety. He said that the political and military arms were “two sides of the same coin,” since “the same person, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, stands at the head of both wings.”