As countries join the United Nations mission meant to bolster the cease-fire in south Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah, the European Union continues to block implementation of one of its own counterterrorism programs aimed at breaking official ties with terrorist groups and seizing any European-based terrorist assets.
Even in the wake of Hezbollah rocket attacks that killed dozens of Israeli civilians and sent hundreds of thousands into shelters or fleeing northern Israel this summer, the 25-member EU has yet to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the EU instituted a host of counterterrorism measures. One of the more important ones was establishing a definition of terror acts and a subsequent list of terrorist entities - groups and individuals operating on and outside EU soil. The EU's list mirrors the long-standing lists of the U.S. State and Treasury departments that are used to identify terrorists and prevent fundraising on U.S. soil, among other uses. Notable on the EU's inaugural list were the military wing of Hamas and Imad Mughniyah, widely known as Hezbollah's operations chief.
Before 9/11, Hezbollah was responsible for killing more Americans than any other terrorist organization. The State Department has considered Hezbollah a terror group for more than 20 years.
In 2003, CIA Director George J. Tenet testified before Congress that "Hezbollah, as an organization with capability and worldwide presence, is equal, if not a far more capable organization" than al-Qaida.
The EU's classifying of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization would recognize its destructive ability not only against Americans and Israelis but also against Europeans. In 1983, Hezbollah bombed the French and U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, killing 58 French soldiers and 241 Marines. The organization is also blamed for carrying out a wave of attacks in Paris in 1985 and 1986 that killed 13 and injured hundreds.
In 2003, the EU finally realized, after a series of Hamas suicide bombings in Israel, that it could no longer separate Hamas' armed wing from its supposed political and social units, and thus designated the whole organization a terrorist group. In 2002, the EU added two more Hezbollah members to its terror list. France, with long-standing ties in the Middle East, banned the broadcast of al-Manar, Hezbollah's hate-spewing television station, in late 2004, well ahead of the Treasury Department's labeling the station a terrorist entity this year. Yet the EU, principally under pressure from France, continues to resist efforts to classify any part of Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
French President Jacques Chirac outlined EU policy toward Hamas in July 2005: "Hamas is a terrorist organization that cannot be an interlocutor of the international community so long as it does not renounce violence and does not recognize Israel's right to exist. This is the unambiguous position of the EU and it will not change." Mr. Chirac, or any other European leader, would be hard-pressed not to include Hezbollah in the same statement.
Brussels may feel it has influence over Hezbollah because of historical ties to the Middle East. But EU unwillingness to declare it a terrorist organization when it has killed, injured, kidnapped and terrorized thousands of Americans, Europeans and Israelis furthers the EU's reputation as a weak actor on international security. It diminishes the EU's counterterrorism efforts and drives yet another unnecessary wedge between Washington and Europe.
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country holds the European Union's rotating presidency, recently restated the EU's reluctance to label Hezbollah a terrorist group: "Given the sensitive situation where we are [in the Middle East], I don't think this is something we will be acting on now."
Hezbollah will never renounce its violent methods without significant local and international pressure. EU classification of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization would allow Washington and European states to work together against it and its supporters, thereby increasing the chances that the group eventually would become a legitimate Lebanese political actor.
If the EU will not now consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization, when will it ever?
Aaron Resnick is a master's student in the war studies department at King's College in London. His e-mail is email@example.com.