After working for nearly two decades to persuade European nations to follow Israel and the United States in boycotting Hezbollah, Israel said it welcomed the EU's decision. But officials expressed concern about the body's attempt to distinguish between the military and political arms of the militant Shiite group, saying it might weaken enforcement.
“Israel sees Hezbollah as a unified organization with no distinction between its wings," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "I hope the decision will bring about significant steps against the organization."
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- Council of the European Union, Rue de la Loi 175, 1048 Brussels, Belgium
- Jerusalem, Israel
Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, ridiculed the EU’s decision as “going only halfway and making a partial decision that is not enough.”
"The military wing and the political wing of Hezbollah are two sides of the same coin,” Lieberman said. “At the head of each stands Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. The attempt to present the group as if it is partially extremist and partially moderate is like asking can a cannibal be a vegetarian.”
Some European nations resisted labeling Hezbollah as a terror group out of fear it would complicate relations between Europe and Lebanon, where Hezbollah is a leading political force.
The EU’s move will make it easier for European governments to seize assets, block financial transactions, restrict travel of certain individuals and cooperate with other law enforcement agencies in gathering intelligence. EU diplomats would not be permitted to meet with representatives of the military wing.
“Hezbollah is going to be more isolated, more weakened and under much greater pressure,” said one Israeli government official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
But he cautioned that to focus on only the military wing might create a loophole for European nations looking for a way to maintain ties with Hezbollah.
“The implementation is going to depend upon the political will,’’ he said.
Israel’s diplomatic campaign against Hezbollah gained new steam last year after a bombing in Bulgaria killed five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian in the resort town of Burgas. Israeli and Bulgarian officials blamed Hezbollah for the attack. Hezbollah denied the claim.
The group’s growing involvement in Syria’s civil war also played a role. To support the regime of President Bashar Assad, Hezbollah fighters have entered Syria, which has been a key weapons supplier for their movement.