Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Europe, name Hezbollah in terror

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 12:31 PM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: Bulgaria blamed Hezbollah in bus attack, yet EU still won't call group terrorists
  • She says doing so would let EU freeze group's funds, control its travel, averting attacks
  • But EU fears angering group, destabilizing Lebanon; let's Hezbollah raise funds in Europe
  • Ghitis: In letting group claim legitimacy, EU passively abetting a terrorist organization

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- A most awkward and revealing situation has emerged in the heart of Europe, forcing European governments to choose between their principles and their fears, and drawing an uncomfortable gap between Europe's words and its actions.

Last July, a bus carrying tourists about to start their vacation suddenly exploded outside the airport in the Bulgarian city of Burgas. The bombing killed five Israelis -- including a pregnant woman -- and a Bulgarian driver. This week, Bulgaria's foreign minister blamed Hezbollah, saying an investigation showed the attack was carried out by two members of the Iran-linked Lebanese organization. Hezbollah denied the accusation. But Bulgaria says it discovered strong links, with "data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects."

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

The news shines a light on a most surprising fact: Hezbollah has been conducting business rather comfortably in much of Europe over the years, openly raising money for its operations. Those operations, according to countless investigations in a growing number of countries, include plotting and attempting to kill tourists, diplomats and others.

Washington, which labeled Hezbollah a terrorist organization in 1995 after a series of attacks in Lebanon and elsewhere that killed hundreds of Americans, has been pressuring the European Union to do the same. But the EU has resisted. The "terrorist" designation is more than a symbolic label. The label would allow European authorities to freeze funds, control the travel of Hezbollah operatives, and otherwise do what it can to prevent more loss of life.

The new secretary of state, John Kerry, urged the EU to "send an unequivocal message to this terrorist group" now that Hezbollah has been linked to an attack on European soil. American officials have told Europe that their inaction is "making it harder to defend our countries." U.S. officials accuse Iran and Hezbollah not only of conducting attacks against civilians around the world, but also of actively supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brutal repression at home in a conflict that has already left more than 60,000 dead.

Opinion: Why Obama is going to Israel

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



According to a new report from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, authorities in various countries have uncovered and disrupted nearly 30 different terror plots by Hezbollah or Iran's Quds Force, an arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, in the last couple of years.

But Europe, incredibly, continues to waver. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reacted to the news from Bulgaria with a clammy statement that there is a "need for reflection."

Hezbollah operates in Lebanon as a powerful Shiite political party, social services organization and an intimidating, heavily-armed militia. It has strong support among the country's Shiite population and bitter opposition from Sunnis.

EU officials say they fear destabilizing Lebanon, a country perennial teetering on the edge of sectarian violence. They also worry about angering Hezbollah, fearing attacks on European peacekeepers in Lebanon or terrorist attacks on European soil. Judging by recent events, that particular outcome was not prevented by their timid approach.

Bulgaria blames Hezbollah for bombing
Politician escapes assassination attempt

France, in particular, has resisted upsetting Hezbollah. Paris has taken the lead in fighting extremism in Africa, sending troops against militants in Mali and declaring that it is committed to "a relentless struggle against terrorist groups." But it is somewhat less relentless when it comes to Hezbollah. The French take a special interest in protecting their influence in Lebanon, a former colonial holding.

A firm Western stance against the group, however, could strengthen Lebanon's struggling pro-Western opposition, which blames Hezbollah for the assassination of many of its members, including former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A U.N. tribunal set up to investigate Hariri's 2005 assassination indicted four Hezbollah members.

The pattern is well established. Argentinean prosecutors accused Hezbollah of carrying out and Iran of planning and financing the worst terrorist attack in that country, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Center, which killed 85 and injured 300.

Western experts generally agree with the assessment of the former U.S. homeland security secretary, who describes Hezbollah as "the most potent terrorist organization in the world." The government of the Netherlands already declared it a terrorist group and Britain named its militant wing a terrorist entity, as if it were separate from the rest of the organization.

It is funded by Iran and closely coordinates its moves with Tehran. Over the years, it has been accused of carrying out attacks throughout the world, often in collaboration with Iran. In recent months, as tensions have risen between Iran, on one side, and Israel and the West on the other, Tehran and its Lebanese ally have stepped up their activities to a feverish pace, targeting Israelis diplomats and tourists in India, Cyprus, Thailand and elsewhere. Hezbollah and Iran were linked to a plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador in Washington.

Hezbollah's protective ally, Iran, is enduring harsh economic sanctions from the West over its controversial nuclear program, and a number of Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated, as have a few key figures in the Hezbollah hierarchy. The circumstances of these assassinations have all been murky, but there is nothing vague about the bombing of buses full of tourists. By any definition of the word it qualifies as terrorism. And clearly, the question is not just symbolic.

Europe is letting Hezbollah operate on its soil. By some counts, there are 950 Hezbollah-affiliated individuals in Germany alone.

Europe wants to treat Hezbollah as a legitimate political organization, but the group's actions place it squarely outside the realm of legitimacy. As long as Europe closes its eyes to this reality and allows the group to organize, fundraise and hold meetings, it is guilty not only of hypocrisy, but also of passive complicity in Hezbollah's attacks on innocent civilians.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT