Government officials in Jerusalem accused Ireland on Wednesday of leading opposition inside the EU to placing Hezbollah, or at least its “military wing,” on the European Union’s terrorist black list.
According to the officials, Ireland – which holds the EU’s rotating presidency – was supported in this position by Sweden and Finland at a working group on Tuesday that debated the issue.
A consensus of the EU’s 27 states will be needed to blacklist Hezbollah’s “military wing,” a move noweven backed by Germany and France.
In the past these two countries have opposed this step, arguing that it could destabilize Lebanon, make European contact with Beirut more difficult and endanger the UNIFIL troops stationed there.
There are some 11,000 UNIFIL troops in Lebanon, including 1,097 from Italy, 878 from France, 701 from Spain, 359 from Ireland, 155 from Germany, 153 from Austria and 104 from Belgium.
Britain, which in the past held contacts with what it calls Hezbollah’s “political wing,” launched efforts last month to get the EU to blacklist the group’s “military wing.” These efforts have picked up steam in recent weeks because of Hezbollah’s increased involvement in the Syrian civil war.
Tuesday’s meeting in Brussels was the first formal meeting at the request of the British.
A spokesman at Ireland’s embassy in Tel Aviv, when asked if his country was indeed spearheading opposition to the move, said that a formal proposal to designate the “military wing” of Hezbollah had been made by one member state “and is currently being considered within the relevant working group known as CP931, which Ireland chairs as the current EU president.”
The spokesman said that an initial discussion was held on Tuesday, and that further discussions would be required to see whether the working group “can arrive at an agreed position on the proposal.”
That meeting, the spokesman said, was scheduled to take place within the next couple of weeks.
He did not reveal Ireland’s stand on the matter.
However, one Israeli government official who said Dublin was leading the opposition charged that this position was “unusual,” given that Germany, France and Spain – which all have large contingents in UNIFIL – now back the move.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Austria was also opposed, while Lebanon’s Daily Star reported that Italy was leading European opposition.
The claim of Italian opposition was dismissed by Israeli government officials as “unsubstantiated rumors.” A formal request to the Italian Embassy in Tel Aviv for a response went unanswered.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria reversed ground and said on Wednesday it now only had an “indication” that Hezbollah might have been behind last summer’s terrorist attack in Burgas that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver, and that this alone did not justify any EU move to list it as a terrorist group.
The new Socialist-led government backed away from charges by its center-right predecessor that Hezbollah had carried out the attack.
“It is important that the [EU] decision be based not only on the bombing in Burgas, because I think the evidence we have is not explicit,” Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin, whose government took office last week, told national state radio BNR.
“There is an indication that it is possible [that Hezbollah was behind it], but we cannot take decisions with important consequences for the EU based on indirect data. If we have enough serious proof from other cases, then we will not waver to back such a decision,” Vigenin said.
Vigenin said the Bulgarian authorities were pursuing their inquiry into the attack and would keep EU governments informed.
The Burgas attack, and a similar type of attack that that was foiled in Cyprus and led to the arrest and conviction there of a Hezbollah man, spurred efforts to get the EU to blacklist Hezbollah.
The EU has refused US and Israeli appeals to place Hezbollah on its terrorist list for more than a decade.
In February, the previous Bulgarian cabinet urged European governments to take a harder stance toward Hezbollah, after blaming it for the Burgas attack.
The Socialists, then in opposition, accused the center-right government of rushing to implicate Hezbollah without proof and exposing the Balkan country to more terrorist attacks.