Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) , Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, today reiterated his call to the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah is closely allied with Iran and is fighting in support of Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime in Syria. As EU member states meet this week to consider designation, Senator Casey urged our European partners to join the U.S. in cutting Hezbollah off from international financial and support networks.
"The United States and the EU share an interest in a stable and prosperous Middle East and in cooperating to fight Iranian-sponsored terror," the letter states. "Over the past few years, we have stood united in efforts to counter Iran's nuclear ambitions and in responding to the protracted conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria. The EU's designation of Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, as a terrorist organization is a necessary step towards achieving these goals."
Last year, Senator Casey led a bipartisan group of 75 Senators urging the EU to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
The full text of the letter to Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is available and below:
Baroness Catherine Ashton
High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Vice President of the European Commission
Dear Baroness Ashton:
In May, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, declared that his organization is now openly fighting with pro-regime militias to violently defend President Assad's tenuous grasp on power in Syria. Earlier this spring, Cyprus and Bulgaria, both valued members of the European Union, publicized evidence of Hezbollah terrorist activity on their soil. These events demonstrate that Hezbollah is resolved to deepen its relationship with the Iranian and Syrian regimes while continuing to expand its terrorist activity into Europe. As EU member countries meet to consider this issue, I write in support of a swift and decisive designation, which would sever the organization's financial ties to Europe and hamper its ability to brazenly commit acts of terror.
Last September, I led seventy five Senators in a letter to you, asking that the EU designate Hezbollah, thereby subjecting it to further sanctions and sending a message to Hezbollah and Iran that we will not tolerate their violent tactics. As the crisis in Syria deepens further and threatens to spill over into Lebanon, Hezbollah is deepening its support for Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime in Syria and exacerbating sectarian tensions in Lebanon. Salman Shaikh, of the Brookings Institution, recently estimated that there are more than 5,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria. Hezbollah's activity in Syria has prompted some members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to urge their organization to designate it as a terrorist group, as well.
The United States Department of State's 2012 Country Reports on Terrorism, released on May 31, describe a resurgent, aggressive Hezbollah, emboldened by Iran's support. In an associated press briefing, a senior U.S. official characterized Hezbollah's activity as "something we have not seen since the 1990s, with attacks plotted in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa in 2012 alone."
On March 21, a criminal court in Cyprus found Hezbollah member Hossam Taleb Yaacoub guilty of collecting information on Israeli targets and plotting terrorist attacks in Cyprus. In February, the Bulgarian government announced that Hezbollah was linked to the July 2012 attack in Burgas, which killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver. These two incidents reflect a Hezbollah that has not only the technical capacity but the clear intent to attack European targets.
While Hezbollah enjoys substantial support from Iran, it also maintains links with the international financial system, which it uses to fundraise and finance operations. The United States Treasury Department has systematically identified and leveled sanctions against entities that support or facilitate Hezbollah activity. For example, in April 2013, the Treasury Department designated two Lebanese entities as "foreign financial institutions of primary money laundering," for allegedly laundering funds on Hezbollah's behalf. The EU should join the United States in imposing tough sanctions. Cutting Hezbollah off from its financial enablers will hamper its ability to conduct operations and further isolate Iran from the international economic community.
The United States and the EU share an interest in a stable and prosperous Middle East and in cooperating to fight Iranian-sponsored terror. Over the past few years, we have stood united in efforts to counter Iran's nuclear ambitions and in responding to the protracted conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria. The EU's designation of Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, as a terrorist organization is a necessary step towards achieving these goals. I appreciate your leadership and the EU's consideration of this matter.
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator