July 9, 2013 | The Jerusalem Post

Austria Considers Ban of Hezbollah’s Military Wing

Austria backtracked on Tuesday from its hard line position against a ban of Hezbollah within the EU, stressing its undecided position ahead of a late July foreign ministers meeting in Brussels to reach a consensus on outlawing the Lebanese terrorist group.

Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday on a mobile telephone,  Isabella Pöschl , a spokeswoman for Austria’s foreign ministry,  said  “currently our position is neither yes or no” with respect  to sanctioning Hezbollah’s military wing. She said Austria requested information from the United Kingdom and is examining the material to “make up our mind.”

She declined to say what information the British government sent to Vienna.

Experts in the Austrian foreign ministry are reviewing the information from the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom is spearheading the effort among the 28 EU member countries to include Hezbollah’s military wing in the body’s terror list. Austria, the Czech Republic, Malta, Poland, Ireland and Slovakia have resisted labelling Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Austria’s opposition is grounded in the consequences for Lebanon’s “internal situation” because Hezbollah plays a key role in the fragile political system. The spokeswoman said Austria has “serious doubt of listing Hezbollah for the situation in Lebanon.”Austria will issue its decision before the July 22 meeting on whether to join the major EU powers– Germany, France and the UK– in blacklisting Hezbollah.

In sharp contrast to the Austrian position, Mideast commentators have argued that Hezbollah is destabilizing Lebanon and Syria because the organization is fighting with President Bashar Assad’s regime to wipe out rebel troops. Tony Badran , a leading expert on Syria and Lebanon and fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in March on the website of the popular Lebanese news outlet NOW that “The proposition that targeting Hezbollah would negatively impact Lebanon presupposes that the group currently contributes to stability. Such a view requires quite the suspension of disbelief. In reality, Hezbollah has thoroughly subverted the country and its citizens in virtually every aspect.”

He added, “Left unmolested, Hezbollah not only undermines Lebanon's security, institutions, and political system, but is also on track to compromise its foreign relations, ruin its financial system, and destroy whatever remains of its social cohesion.”

Austria’s has faced criticism from Israel and Middle East experts for a feeble foreign policy that fails to adhere to international pledges. Austria pulled announced in the Spring that it will implement a phased withdrawal of its troops from the Golan Heights because of the Syrian war. In June, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, in response to Austria’s decision, that the move shows why Israel cannot rely on international forces for its security.

Austria’s decision to withdraw 380 troops from the 1,000-member UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Israel-Syria border added to the volatile climate in the north.

Meanwhile, in Brussels today, Dr. Matthew Levitt , who heads the counter-terrorism program at the Washington Institute For Near East Policy, delivered a presentation to the EU on the need to outlaw Hezbollah. He wrote the Post by email, “While there are still several sticking points for a few member states, there is a very clear trend toward supporting a ban of Hezbollah's military wing here in Brussels.”

Levitt, the author of “Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God”, added “ The evidence of Hezbollah's terrorist activities easily hits the threshold of EU cp931, so discussions now surround issues related to foreign policy and implementation.”

The EU’s cp931 working group deals with counter-terrorism and the listing of organizations as terror entities.

The British member of the European Parliament, Charles Tannock, widely considered a leading expert on Hezbollah and Iranian terrorism, tweeted that he attended the closed parliament hearing on the blacklisting of Hezbollah, noting that England and “most EU states” support sanctioning Hezbollah.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report. Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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