The Iran-Hizbullah Terrorist Network

The Iran-Hizbullah Terrorist Network

July 18, 2018, was the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attack in which Hizbullah murdered five Israelis and their local Muslim driver in Burgas, Bulgaria. The interior minister of Bulgaria implicated the Lebanese organization in 2013 as responsible for blowing up the Israeli vacationers’ tour bus.1

The tour bus that was destroyed by a bomb in July 2012 at Burgas Airport in Bulgaria.

The tour bus that was destroyed by a bomb in July 2012 at Burgas Airport in Bulgaria. (AP Photo/Impact Press Group)

According to Bulgaria’s then-Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsevtanov, “There is data showing the financing and connection between Hizbullah and the two suspects.”2

After Bulgaria pinned the blame on Hizbullah, the European Union approved a bifurcated terrorism designation of Hizbullah in July 2013, by adding the Lebanese Shiite organization’s so-called “military wing” to the EU terror list, while allowing its “political” wing to continue operating openly in the European Union.3

The partial proscription of Hizbullah as a terrorist entity permitted the Lebanese organization to continue its fundraising, recruitment, and other illicit activities work in Europe. As a result, European authorities never prioritized Hizbullah structures across the Continent and in the United Kingdom for intensive surveillance and for measures against financing of terrorism.4

It is unclear whether the growing momentum within the British Home Office toward outlawing Hizbullah in the United Kingdom later this year will have a domino effect and upend the consensus among the major EU powers, leading to the full classification of Hizbullah as a terrorist organization. The United Kingdom’s new Home Secretary Sajid Javid appears amenable to a full ban of Hizbullah. Javid will undoubtedly face resistance from the British Foreign Office, which, like its counterparts in Germany and France, views Hizbullah as an important stabilizing partner within Lebanon’s government.

The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent, Herb Keinon, reported about Paris’s opposition to Hizbullah’s inclusion on the EU-terror list, writing shortly after the Burgas attack: “According to one official, the main country blocking these efforts is France, which has historic ties with Lebanon and feels its influence there would be diminished by such a move.”5

Tony Badran, a leading expert on Lebanon at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in 2013, shortly after the European Union’s designation of Hizbullah’s military wing, about Hizbullah’s role in Syria and Lebanon:

The proposition that targeting Hizbullah would negatively impact Lebanon presupposes that the group currently contributes to stability. Such a view requires quite the suspension of disbelief. In reality, Hizbullah has thoroughly subverted the country and its citizens in virtually every aspect. Left unmolested, Hizbullah not only undermines Lebanon’s security, institutions, and political system, but is also set track to compromise its foreign relations, ruin its financial system, and destroy whatever remains of its social cohesion.6

The United Kingdom banned Hizbullah’s “military” wing in 2008, after the Lebanese militia attacked British troops in Iraq.7

Hizbullah has exploited Europe’s porous borders over the last several years to conduct meetings to plan terrorist attacks. In addition, the Burgas terrorists traveled through Poland and other Eastern European countries.8

Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a Hizbullah member who resides in Cyprus and is a Swedish-Lebanese national, met with his Hizbullah handlers in Lyon in France and in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.9 A Cypriot court convicted Yaacoub in 2013 for planning to murder Israelis on the Mediterranean island and sentenced him to four years in prison.10

The only EU country to have outlawed Hizbullah in its entirety was the Netherlands, in 2004. The country’s General Intelligence and Security Service report that year states:

Investigations have shown that Hizbullah’s terrorist wing, the Hizbullah External Security Organization, has been directly and indirectly involved in terrorist acts. It can also be concluded that Hizbullah’s political and terrorist wings are controlled by one coordinating council. This means that there is indeed a link between these parts of the organization. The Netherlands has changed its policy and no longer makes a distinction between the political and terrorist Hizbullah branches. The Netherlands informed the relevant EU bodies of its findings.11

After Tsvetanov announced Hizbullah’s link to the Burgas terrorist attack, the Dutch Embassy in Israel said, “The Netherlands has been calling for Hizbullah to be included on the EU list of terrorist organizations since 2004, and has consistently urged its EU partners to support such a move.”12

In addition to the Netherlands, Canada, the United States, Israel, and the Arab League have classified Hizbullah’s entire organization as a terrorist entity.

While blame for the most glaring Hizbullah terrorist attack on European soil in this century has revolved around the Lebanese organization, it is worth recalling that a day after the Burgas attack, a senior Israeli official told the New York Times, the “Burgas attack was part of an intensive wave of terrorist attacks around the world carried out by two different organizations, the Iranian Quds Force, an elite international operations unit within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, as well as by Hizbullah.”13

Sigal Mandelker, the U.S. Treasury Department’s under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in June 2018 that “Iran provides upwards of $700 million a year to Hizbullah.”14 Previous estimates showed Tehran was providing Hizbullah $200 million a year, before Hizbullah’s intervention on behalf of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.15

Europe’s insistence that Hizbullah is an independent political entity with a separate military wing belies overwhelming evidence, including statements from top Hizbullah officials.

Mohammed Fannish, a member of the so-called “political bureau” of Hizbullah and a former Lebanese energy minister, declared in 2002, “I can state that there is no separating between Hizbullah’s military and political arms.”16

Hizbullah deputy leader Naim Qassem told the Los Angeles Times in 2009 that the “same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.”17 Again, in October 2012, Qassem stressed his organization’s view of its mission: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hizbullah on one hand and the resistance party on the other.… Every element of Hizbullah, from commanders to members, as well as our various capabilities, are in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”18

Hizbullah Is a Wholly-Owned Subsidiary of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Germany, along with France, has been the most reluctant among the Western European powers to enact a full-blown designation of Hizbullah as a terrorist entity. According to German intelligence, there are 950 active Hizbullah operatives in the Federal Republic.19 In the months prior to President Donald Trump’s May 2018 withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Germany again refused to ban all of Hizbullah. U.S. President Barack Obama and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have also urged Europe to proscribe Hizbullah’s entire organization a terrorist enterprise.20

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration refused to agree to an important U.S. demand, to designate the whole of Hizbullah as a terrorist organization, as part of talks to end Iran’s nuclear program in 2018. A U.S. State Department spokesperson at the time reiterated Trump’s demand from January: “They [Europeans] should designate Hizbullah – in its entirety – as a terrorist organization.” The demand was ignored by the German media.21

The spread of the Iranian regime’s strategic partner – Hizbullah – should cause alarm in Europe.

A 2017 intelligence report from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia revealed that Hizbullah combatants entered Germany since 2015 as part of the wave of refugees from the Middle East. North Rhine-Westphalia’s intelligence agency noted an increase in Hizbullah membership, from 100 in 2015 to 105 in 2016.22 The chairman of the Hizbullah-affiliated Islamic center Al Mahdi in the German state urged his supporters in 2017 to wage “resistance” against Israel.23

“Israel is the enemy – we carry out resistance,” said Hassan Jawad, chairman of the Al Mahdi cultural center in the city of Münster. Jawad’s Shiite cultural center is building a meeting center for 800 to 1,000 religious believers in Bad Oeynhausen, a spa town in the state. The Al Mahdi center has served as a key center for Hizbullah activity for more than 20 years.24

German authorities, aside from some superficial monitoring in North Rhine-Westphalia, remain largely nonchalant about the developing Hizbullah network in the Federal Republic’s most populous state.

A telling example of the joint Iran-Hizbullah project in Europe is the annual al-Quds Day marches that take place in European cities, calling for the destruction of the Jewish state. The founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, created al-Quds Day in 1979 as a worldwide demonstration to protest Israel’s existence. In June 2018, 1,600 anti-Israel demonstrators turned out in Berlin at the al-Quds rally. Hizbullah flags were on display at the London al-Quds protest.25

Ayatollah Hamid Reza Torabi, a representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, appeared at this year’s al-Quds Day rally in Berlin. Torabi heads the Islamic Academy of Germany – part of the Iranian regime-owned Islamic Center of Hamburg – and is a key organizer of the al-Quds event. The Islamic Center bused Hizbullah and Iranian supporters to the annual event.26

Last year, then-German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel welcomed Torabi to a ministry event promoting “religious peace.” The German government furnished €283,150 to a radical pro-Iranian regime Shiite umbrella organization as part of a program to counter extremism. The Khamenei institutions in Hamburg fall under the rubric of the Shiite umbrella organization. The funds will support the activities of the Shiite Communities of Germany (IGS) through the end of 2019.27

The mainstreaming of the Iranian regime and Hizbullah in Germany – and across Europe – reflects increased tolerance for a terrorist entity and a rise in lethal anti-Semitic ideology.

* * *

Notes

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/world/europe/bulgaria-implicates-hezbollah-in-deadly-israeli-bus-blast.html
  2. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bulgaria-bombing/bulgaria-blames-hezbollah-in-bomb-attack-on-israeli-tourists-idUSBRE9140TZ20130205
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/23/world/middleeast/european-union-adds-hezbollah-wing-to-terror-list.html
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/22/eu-ban-hezbollah-terrorist-wing
  5. https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/09/will_europe_outlaw_t.php
  6. http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/a-nifty-conceit-the-eu-hezbollah-and-lebanon/
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/jul/03/israelandthepalestinians.iraq
  8. https://www.jpost.com/International/Hezbollah-suspects-used-Poland-to-transport-bomb-devices-for-Burgas-attack-321388
  9. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/04/in-europe-a-growing-case-for-banning-hezbollah/275035/
  10. https://www.timesofisrael.com/cyprus-convicts-hezbollah-member-in-terror-plot/
  11. https://fas.org/irp/world/netherlands/aivd2004-eng.pdf; pg. 19; Annual Report 2004 General intelligence and security service
  12. https://www.jpost.com/International/Dutch-FM-EU-may-blacklist-Hezbollah-after-probe
  13. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/20/world/europe/explosion-on-bulgaria-tour-bus-kills-at-least-five-israelis.html?hp&mtrref=mondoweiss.net
  14. https://www.thenational.ae/world/the-americas/iran-pays-hezbollah-700-million-a-year-us-official-says-1.737347
  15. http://www.orsam.org.tr/files/OE/5-2/makale4.pdf pg. 102; Ortadoğu Etütleri January 2014, Volume 5, No 2
  16. https://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/testimony/322.pdf; Testimony of Alexander Ritzmann, “Adding Hezbollah to the E.U. Terrorist List.”
  17. http://articles.latimes.com/2009/apr/13/world/fg-lebanon-hezbollah13
  18. https://institute.global/insight/co-existence/what-hizbullah-domestic-aspects
  19. https://www.ict.org.il/UserFiles/Williams%20-%20Hezbollah%20in%20Germany.pdf; p. 4
  20. http://time.com/4265947/hillary-clinton-aipac-speech-transcript/
  21. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2018/03/20/germany-at-odds-with-us-on-condemning-hezbollah-in-iran-talks.html
  22. https://www.jpost.com/International/Hezbollah-terrorists-entered-Germany-as-refugees-507282
  23. http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/content/hezbollah-aligned-german-center-declares-resistance-against-israel
  24. Ibid.
  25. https://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Heavy-turnout-at-al-Quds-rally-in-Berlin-calls-for-Israels-destruction-559576
  26. Ibid.
  27. https://www.jpost.com/International/Germany-uses-EU-funds-to-finance-extremist-Iranian-regime-controlled-group-518316

Benjamin Weinthal

Benjamin Weinthal reports on European affairs and the Middle East for The Jerusalem Post. He is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan national security think tank. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal

Foreword
by Fiamma Nirenstein
Preface
by Amb. Dore Gold

Overview: The Sources of a Fractured Relationship

What Is Shared Is Stronger than What Divides
by Amb. Freddy Eytan
Even-Handed or Heavy-Handed Relations?
by Daniel Schwammenthal
Understanding the European Narrative
by Amnon Lord
Europe’s NGO Proxy Wars vs. Israel
by Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg
Anti-Semitism in Europe Today Comes Mostly from the Left
by Fiamma Nirenstein
Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof – Anti-Semitism Needs a New Fight
by Gideon Falter
The Corbyn Threat to Britain and Beyond
by William Shawcross

Past, Present, and Future

Germany and Israel: Truth and Promises
by Volker Beck
The Czech Republic and Israel: A Unique Friendship
by Tomáš Zdechovský
How European Attitudes toward Israel Are Affected by Shifting U.S. Attitudes
by Alex Traiman
The Religious Side of Europe
by Tomas Sandell

Investigating the Common Enemies

Creating a Real “Special Partnership”
by Giulio Maria Terzi
Outlawing Hizbullah Action
by Dan Diker
The Iran-Hizbullah Terrorist Network
by Benjamin Weinthal
Penetration of Islam on the Continent: For Whom the Bells Toll
by Amb. Zvi Mazel
Facing the Same Hydra Monster
by Tommaso Virgili

Security: Shared Aims and Strategies

The Glass Half-Full
by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser
Building Bridges in a New “World Disorder”
by Saad Amrani

Thinking Ahead

The Ancient Hatred of Jews Will Be Defeated by Israel’s Cultural-Technological Hegemony
by Marco Carrai
Biographies of Participants and Speakers