Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Europe, name Hezbollah in terror

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
February 8, 2013 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
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
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT