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Hezbollah’s Culpability in Bulgaria and Europe’s Moral Standing

During the early years of the post-9/11 war on terror, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made one of the most famous statements about Hezbollah in the terrorist group’s bloody history when he said: “Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists and maybe Al Qaeda is actually the B-team.” Al-Qaeda’s operatives learned much from Hezbollah; as Thomas Joscelyn pointed out in Iran’s Proxy War Against America:

It was during bin Laden’s time in Sudan that he first met Imad Mugniyah, Iran’s and Hezbollah’s master terrorist. Since the early 1980s, Mugniyah has been implicated in most, if not all, of Iran’s major anti-American terrorist operations. His “accomplishments” include the infamous 1983 U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut and a series of devastating follow-on attacks, which drove the U.S. out of Lebanon. During the early 1990s, bin Laden sought and received Mugniyah’s assistance in transforming al-Qaeda’s capabilities. With Mugniyah’s help, al-Qaeda acquired Hezbollah’s most lethal tactics, including the use of suicide bombers.

The attacks raised the profile and name recognition of Hezbollah once again because of the increased focus on international terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the group was overshadowed by the 9/11 culprits, most of all bin Laden. Since terrorist groups hate to be ignored (they rely on notoriety and information wars), Hezbollah reasserts itself from time to time. It appeared that that was exactly what happened when on July 18 a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria exploded, killing six plus the bomber. Now, after the investigation, we appear to have confirmation:

Though investigators did not release names, they identified two of the plotters as a man with an Australian passport, believed to be the bombmaker, and a man with a Canadian passport, both of whom lived in Lebanon.

“We have followed their entire activities in Australia and Canada, so we have information about financing and their membership in Hezbollah,” Mr. Tsvetanov said at a news conference.

Condemnation from the U.S. and Bulgarian authorities was swift and forceful. The reaction of European leaders was less so. The U.S. has been trying to get the European Union to officially designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization–because they plainly are a terrorist organization, and because the EU is out of excuses not to take that step. The obsession with dialogue with one and all, and the EU’s substantially more nuanced view of good and evil than that of the U.S. or Israel, reached comical proportions with its refusal to take appropriate action toward Hezbollah.

Blacklisting the group and increasing attempts to freeze it out financially would make it more difficult for Hezbollah to operate so easily on European territory. Security analysts hope this will be a turning point in the EU’s approach to the group. “It’s time for Europeans to recognize that they can’t look the other way when a terrorist organization is using their territory with impunity for fund-raising and logistics,” Daniel Benjamin, a counterterrorism official in the Obama administration until recently, told the New York Times.

It’s also time for secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel to recognize that as well. Though Hagel has clumsily recanted his past controversial statements so as to appear genuinely confused about what he actually believes at his confirmation hearings, Hezbollah was one area of disagreement between Hagel’s critics and the former senator, whose position on the terrorist group was closer to that of the EU. Hagel refused to sign a letter encouraging the EU to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, pushed engagement with terrorist groups more broadly, and expressed noxious moral equivalence between Israel and Hezbollah during the war the two fought in the summer of 2006.

Attacks like the one in Bulgaria underline the folly of such an attitude. As an earlier analysis in the Times noted, much of Europe follows the lead of France and Germany, which have not designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization. And the concerns they have in doing so are nothing less than chilling:

“There’s the overall fear if we’re too noisy about this, Hezbollah might strike again, and it might not be Israeli tourists this time,” said Sylke Tempel, editor in chief of the German foreign affairs magazine Internationale Politik.

As Eugene Kontorovich points out at the Volokh Conspiracy, this amounts to a fear that if Europe is mean to the terrorists, those terrorists might kill non-Jews, which would be apparently where they draw the line.

Terrorism and anti-Semitism are both global problems that put in danger Jews and non-Jews alike, and undermine the stability and security of the free world. It’s as simple as that. For Europeans to draw the line between killing Jews and killing non-Jews is quite obviously repellant. Europe now must make a decision that will tell us much about the future of the European project. That we even got to this point in the first place doesn’t inspire much confidence in the EU’s fading moral compass.