European Council on Foreign Relations

Bulgaria points finger at Hezbollah

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The Bulgarian government today released the findings of its investigation into the July bombing in Burgas which killed six people, including five Israeli tourists. As expected, the findings point a direct finger at the Lebanese militant cum political organisation Hezbollah. Given that the terrorist attack took place on European soil, the EU can rightly be expected to impose collective sanctions on Hezbollah.

Nonetheless, while justified, the step may actually prove counterproductive so far as guarding the fragile stability of Lebanon is concerned. It may also strengthen the hand of Hezbollah ally Bashar al-Assad in neighbouring Syria. As I argued in an oped for the International Herald Tribune last September, Hezbollah has not, despite expectations to the contrary, aggressively sought to cement its control over Lebanon over the past two years and has only offered limited material support to the beleaguered Assad regime.

"Europes willingness to date to resist U.S. and Israeli pressure to place Hezbollah on its terrorism list and under a sanctions regime has been critical to maintaining the groups moderation and Lebanons uneasy calm. European engagement has provided Hezbollahs leadership with reassurance that there will be political room for their group in the post-Assad era. This has been key to preventing a pre-emptive offensive by Hezbollah to secure its position, particularly given mounting international pressure against Iran and Syria, its two regional backers."

Given the prevailing regional and international dynamics it would probably be wrong to overstate Europe's influence on Hezbollah's thinking at the current moment. Nonetheless, EU sanctions, reflecting an intensifying international push against the movement at a time when their Sunni opponents are also on the regional ascendancy, may help provoke a more aggressive turn. Fearful of losing domestic manoeuvrability Hezbollah may look to secure a firmer grip on the domestic levers of power. Cornered, it may also increasingly tie its own survival to that of the Assad regime, resulting in increased material support to Damascus to the detriment of the rebel cause.

In short, while sanctioning the movement may be the right European response to a clear act of terrorism, it may also add fuel to the flames of the intensifying political and sectarian conflict tearing across the Levant.

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