THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union has designated the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
Monday’s decision in Brussels by 28 European foreign ministers does not extend to the political wing of Hezbollah, which is also a political party in Lebanon.
The United States and Israel are among several countries that consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization without differentiating between the group’s military and political wings.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced the decision at a news conference in Brussels.
“This is partly a political signal and partly a real signal that we are not prepared to see any terrorist activity as means to achieving … political ends, while we want to be clear, too, in our support for political parties of Lebanon and the people of Lebanon,” she said. “We’ve made the distinction clear.”
The decision “does not prevent continuation of dialogue with all political parties,” Ashton added. “We have also agreed that the delivery of legitimate financial transfers to Lebanon and delivery of assistance from the European Union and its member states would not be affected.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that the decision would “hopefully lead to concrete steps against Hezbollah,” and added that, “From the Israeli perspective, Hezbollah is a single organization without distinction between its arms.”
A European Commission regulation on terrorist entities from 2001 decrees “freezing of all funds … and economic resources” of those entities and says that “no funds … and economic resources may be made available to them, whether directly or indirectly.”
European groups monitoring Hezbollah gave ambivalent reactions to the decision, with some arguing that only a blanket proscription of Hezbollah European operations could effectively impact Hezbollah’s presence in Europe, where the Lebanese Shiite organization is said to have thousands of non-combatant supporters as well as an elaborate system for fundraising and money laundering.
Stop the Bomb, a Vienna-based coalition of organizations critical of Iran, defined the EU council’s decision as “a first step,” adding in a statement that it “is still critical of Europe’s half-hearted solution and demands a full ban of the terrorist organization.”
Or Daniel, an Israeli researcher on Hezbollah for the European Friends of Israel, a Brussels-based nonprofit lobby group, said the distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political wings “is artificial, but thanks to it Hezbollah may continue to launder money in Europe.”
Daniel added that the designation was “an important albeit declarative step.”
The European Jewish Parliament also lauded the decision but added it “encourages the European Union to blacklist Hezbollah as a whole, knowing that there is no distinction” between its wings.
The World Jewish Congress, however, called the decision a “major breakthrough” and its president, Ronald Lauder, said it “could help to dry up sources of funding for this organization in Europe.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said “this will seriously damage Hezbollah’s capabilities in Europe, the Middle East and around the World.”
European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said he hoped the decision would “greatly dampen Hezbollah’s efforts to raise funds to finance its terrorist activities.”
Efforts to blacklist Hezbollah’s military wing in Europe were led by Britain and the Netherlands. They picked up after the July 19, 2012 bombing of a bus full of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria.
Israel and Bulgaria blamed Hezbollah for the attack, which killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian.