July 17, 2017 | The Wall Street Journal

The EU Needs to Get Tougher on Hezbollah

Exactly five years after terrorists in Bulgaria detonated a bomb on a bus filled with Israeli tourists, Sofia’s special terrorism court is scheduled to begin much-delayed hearings Tuesday on whether to bring the perpetrators to justice. It’s also an opportunity for the European Union to finally recognize a terrorist organization for what it really is.

The attack on July 18, 2012, in the seaside city of Burgas left five Jewish-Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian-Muslim bus driver dead and another 32 Israelis wounded. An investigation by Bulgaria’s interior ministry traced a printer, used to produce fake documents for the bombing suspects, back to Hezbollah.

The two men on trial for the attack, Lebanese-Australian Meliad Farah and Lebanese-Canadian Hassan El Hajj Hassan, are allegedly members of Unit 910. This is the unit that coordinates Hezbollah’s terrorist activities outside of Lebanon. A third Hezbollah attacker, Lebanese-French national Mohamad Hassan El-Husseini, allegedly brought the bomb onto the bus and was killed in the blast.

The Burgas trial is an opportunity for the court to demonstrate it can hold Hezbollah accountable. In recent years it has faced resistance from within its own government as well as other European countries, such as Finland, Ireland and Sweden. The defendants are to be tried in absentia because the Lebanese government has refused to extradite the suspects. And the case has already been postponed five times due to changes in Bulgaria’s government as well as the complexities involved in collecting testimony and evidence from more than 30 victims. Bulgaria’s justice system needs to make this antiterror trial a priority.

In a rare sign of the growing seriousness with which the international community is watching this case, last year the European Union placed Messrs. Farah and Hassan on its terrorism list, subjecting them to asset freezes, among other measures. The U.S. did the same a year earlier.

The EU has also designated as a terrorist entity what it refers to as Hezbollah’s “military wing.” It did so in 2013, shortly after the Burgas attack.

But the EU needs to do more and recognize, as Hezbollah does, that the organization isn’t bifurcated into political and military wings. Indeed, it should heed the call of the U.S. Congress, which, since 2012 and as recently as 2016, called on the EU to designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The U.S. has designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization since 1997. It also sanctioned three leaders of the group in 2015 in connection to Hezbollah’s military support of Bashar Assad in the Syrian war.

Hezbollah’s terror-financing activities and its critical role in the Syrian war should be enough for the EU to deport Hezbollah members from its 28 member countries. Anything short of full designation would enable Hezbollah to continue fundraising and operating its front companies. Last year, for instance, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel, German authorities uncovered a money-laundering operation in Europe that amassed nearly €1 million ($1.1 million) a week for more than two years, money that Europol and the U.S. Treasury Department says went to fund Hezbollah.

Membership recruitment in Europe is also a significant tool for Hezbollah. According to a recent German intelligence report, there are 950 active Hezbollah members in Germany. This calls into question the effectiveness of the EU’s 2013 sanctions, which were only imposed on Hezbollah’s “military wing.”

Hezbollah activity isn’t new to Europe. In 2015, a Cypriot court sentenced Hezbollah operative Hussein Bassam Abdallah to six years in prison for amassing explosives to target Israelis. Two years earlier, Taleb Yaacoub, a Hezbollah member carrying both Lebanese and Swedish passports, was also convicted in Cyprus and sentenced to four years for plotting to murder Israelis. Yaacoub had conducted work for his Hezbollah handler in France and the Netherlands. Cyprus was reportedly used to stash the explosives to carry out the Burgas bus bombing.

The EU might also take note of how the Arab world increasingly regards Hezbollah. In 2016, the six Gulf Cooperation Council states jointly declared Hezbollah a terrorist group. The Arab League followed suit a week later. Egypt labeled Hezbollah a terrorist group in 2009 after a Hezbollah plot was uncovered.

Many of the EU’s member states may already be drawing the conclusion that it’s time to designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist group. While individual countries may unilaterally do so, the EU as a whole would need to lower its requirement of unanimous consent.

Should Europe maintain the status quo, however, it does so at its own peril. European security will continue to be put at risk. And Hezbollah will be given the signal that Europe is far from serious about countering terrorism.

Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow at the nonpartisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies. You can follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal. 

Toby Dershowitz is senior vice president for government relations and strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. You can follow her on Twitter @TobyDersh.

You can follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD.