“If we have evidence on Hezbollah that can stand trial in court, then we need to list Hezbollah,” the official said. He said a partial designation — declaring that the group’s militant activities were terrorism, but maintaining relations with Hezbollah’s political leadership in Lebanon, as Britain has done since 2008 — would be the likeliest outcome.
The distinction is an artificial one, analysts say, since Hezbollah does not actually divide its organization into military and political wings, but it would give European officials leeway to pursue a travel ban and asset freeze on Hezbollah operatives on their soil without cutting off diplomatic ties to the organization in Lebanon. Germany estimated in 2011 that there were 950 Hezbollah supporters living within its borders. France, bound by history and language to Lebanon, has a larger Lebanese Shiite community than Germany’s.
A listing “would send a European message to Hezbollah that there are red lines, there are consequences, you cannot do these things in Europe,” said Matthew Levitt, a former counterterrorism official with the FBI and Treasury Department who has written a book about Hezbollah’s global activities.
Many European policymakers and analysts still feel that applying the terrorist label to Hezbollah would be counterproductive. By itself, the designation would also hold little practical meaning, they say.
Some officials have suggested simply strengthening law enforcement activities in weaker E.U. countries such as Cyprus, which joined the European Union in 2004, and Bulgaria, which joined in 2007, treating violent attacks from Hezbollah as a criminal matter.
“The dominant argument is that to target Hezbollah might destabilize Lebanon as well as Syria,” said Markus Kaim, a top security analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a think tank that often advises the German government. “And in the current situation, anything that might destabilize both countries is not in Germany’s and Europe’s interest.”
Some American analysts say that by putting Hezbollah on the terrorist list, the E.U. would help achieve European and American goals.
“Americans have been working on this and frankly been frustrated about the European approach for a long time,” said Daniel Benjamin, who recently resigned as the State Department’s top counterterrorism official. “This would be an important step in the general effort to see Hezbollah become a political party that is not armed, that is not a state within a state.”