According to EU officials, this move comes with two conditions: members states are allowed to maintain dialogue with Hezbollah’s political leadership and it should not affect EU’s bilateral aid to the Lebanese government.
Though the group is already listed as a terrorist organization in the UK and the Netherlands, the rest of the EU was reluctant to take action for fear of destabilizing Lebanon. When the resolution—agreed by the foreign ministers of the 28 member states at a meeting in Brussels—comes into effect, it will be illegal for any funds within EU member states to be transferred to the organization, among other measures.
Analysts point to the recent claims by the previous Bulgarian government that Hezbollah was behind a bomb attack in Burgas, Bulgaria, last July, as one of the primary reasons for the change in attitudes within Europe. The attack—a suicide bombing—targeted a bus containing 42 Israeli tourists. 32 were injured, and six killed.
Hezbollah has rejected allegations of involvement, calling them a smear campaign by Israel and the United States.
The decision was also likely prompted by claims of Hezbollah’s involvement in terrorist activity in another EU member-state, the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
On Thursday March 28 of this year, a Cypriot court in Limassol sentenced Hossam Taleb Yacoub to four years in prison after he was convicted of plotting to kill Israeli tourists.
Yacoub had been collecting information on the locations and movements of Israeli tourists, which he then passed on to a handler, who went by the code-name ‘Ayman.’
Yacoub, who admitted he was a member of Hezbollah, was convicted on five charges of “serious crimes, which could have potentially endangered Israeli citizens and targets in the republic,” according to court officials.
The Lebanese foreign minister, Adnan Mansour, warned Saturday that “the decision will have negative consequences and will not serve Lebanese-European relations. It will hinder bilateral relations we hope to keep at their best.”
UK foreign secretary William Hague dismissed these fears prior to Monday’s meeting. “We don’t believe that this action would destabilize Lebanon or have serious adverse consequences. It is important for us to show that we are united and strong in facing terrorism,” he told reporters.
Dutch foreign minister Timmermans said: “It is good that the EU has decided to call Hezbollah what it is: a terrorist organisation.”
“We took this important step today, by dealing with the military wing of Hezbollah, freezing its assets, hindering its fundraising and thereby limiting its capacity to act.”
His comments were echoed by German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, who said: “We cannot allow the military wing of Hezbollah to carry out any terrorist activities here in the European Union.”
However, in response to fears that the move will damage European ties with Lebanon, where members of Hezbollah serve in the country’s parliament, the EU is also expected to clarify that it will not seek to shut down political links with Lebanese political parties.
Nonetheless, while the ban is targeted at the organization’s ‘military wing,’ some experts warn that it will prove difficult to draw meaningful distinctions between the group’s activities in the military and political spheres.