December 8, 2020
Thank you, Sebastian and the American Jewish Committee Central Europe office, for inviting me to open this important event.
As some of you may know, I previously served in Bulgaria. I arrived in Sofia in 2013, a year after Hizballah bombed a bus full of Israeli tourists in Burgas on the Black Sea coast, killing five of the tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver.
The trauma of that event was still evident when I arrived. The shock of a bombing of innocent tourists in an EU country helped spur the European Union to designate Hizballah’s so-called “military wing” as a terrorist organization in 2013. Unfortunately, the EU excluded Hizballah’s so-called “political wing” from the designation. This remains the case today, seven years later. We consider it a distinction without a difference.
Let us not forget that this is an organization that has operated and continues to operate in Europe, and about the serious threat it continues to pose.
While the EU took that step in the right direction in 2013, now is the time for the EU and individual member states to designate Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.
The United States has long recognized Hizballah’s true nature. We designated Hizballah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997, one of the first groups we ever listed. And we’ve maintained this designation over the past 23 years – all the while maintaining our engagement with the government of Lebanon.
Recently, a number of European countries have taken steps to restrict Hizballah’s activities and operating space in Europe, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, representatives of which we’ll hear from today.
The United States congratulates these countries on their efforts, and encourages more of our European allies and partners, including Hungary, to follow their lead and designate or ban Hizballah in its entirety and work to build consensus among member states for an EU-level designation.
Hizballah continues to be active in Europe on a variety of fronts, including in terrorist plotting, military and dual use procurement, and in a range of illicit schemes. And it continues to exploit the gaps and limitations of current EU sanctions against its so-called “military wing.”
We’ve seen a number of cases in recent years where Hizballah has stocked caches of ammonium nitrate in Europe inside first-aid-kit cold packs. In Cyprus, the UK, and Germany, these large-scale caches of tons of ammonium nitrate could have been used to conduct devastating attacks. As Ambassador Sales noted in a recent AJC event, this is not what we’d expect from a political organization, but it’s exactly what we’d expect from a terrorist group.
It’s time for the EU and member states to take decisive action such that Hizballah can no longer prepare for terror with impunity on European soil.