Events in the Middle East over the past two years have provided a stark lesson in the need for caution. Each new development has been a reminder of how little we know and can predict about what may happen within the region and, more than that, just how limited our ability is to actually influence the events which are unfolding.
But such an approach threatens to overshadow the fact that there are still clear and concrete steps that the international community can take to promote stability and to weaken some of the most destructive and destabilising actors in the region.
The designation of the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation by the European Union is a step in the right direction.
Since its founding in Lebanon during the early 1980s, Hezbollah has perpetrated ruthless acts of terrorism. These have included the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut killing 241 people, and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people. For decades Hezbollah has also terrorised Israeli civilians, firing tens of thousands of rockets and missiles, launched from urban centers in Lebanon, into towns and villages in Northern Israel.
Yet, within the European Union only Britain and the Netherlands recognised Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
One year ago, however, the organisation crossed a new threshold by engaging in terrorist activity in Europe. The government of Bulgaria directly identified Hezbollah as being responsible for the Burgas bus bombing that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver, as well as the bomber himself. At the same time a Cyprus court heard evidence from a Hezbollah activist detailing the organization's terrorist activities in Cyprus and elsewhere in Europe.
This incontrovertible evidence of Hezbollah terrorist activity on Europe's doorstep created the impetus for the rest of Europe to finally recognise Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
The EU designation relates to Hezbollah's military wing, which is a purely artificial distinction. As its own leaders have made clear, Hezbollah makes no distinction between its military and political wings, and views both as a united front in the pursuit of its terrorist agenda.
Nonetheless, placing the group on the EU's terrorist list is a tangible and positive step, sending a forceful message to the region that violence is not acceptable. The designation will enable European authorities to freeze Hezbollah assets and increase cross-border cooperation in fighting their crimes. Police and judicial authorities will now have greater powers to work with their colleagues in other member states, for example in sharing evidence or information about the movement and activities of Hezbollah operatives. Law enforcement agencies will also have more options to investigate and curtail Hezbollah activities in the EU, such as by suppressing the recruitment of new members.
Raising or providing funds for Hezbollah terrorists within EU territory will now become a criminal offence. Hezbollah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah gave an indication of the significance of this in an interview with al-Manar in 2005, noting that such a move would destroy the organization as the "sources of our funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed".
The European designation of the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation is an important step in weakening one of the key destabilising factors in the Middle East, and reducing a terrorist threat towards Europe.
Ambassador of Israel to Finland and Estonia
The article was published in Helsingin Sanomat and Turun Sanomat on 26 July, 2013.