Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu dispensed with diplomatic niceties on Thursday in a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in which he bluntly criticized the EU’s failure to list Hizbullah as a terrorist organization.
“I mean, it’s hard to see how you cannot have a consensus on Hizbullah as a terrorist organization. If Hizbullah isn’t a terrorist organization, I don’t know what is a terrorist organization. I mean, they’re butchering people left and right across the world and now in the cities of Syria. They’re murdering civilians without letup, including on European soil, as was discovered in Bulgaria, as they try to do in Cyprus,” Netanyahu told Ashton, according to a statement released by the prime minister’s office.
Ashton was reportedly more restrained, saying, “I hear what you say, especially on your concerns about what’s happening with Hizbullah. And we will
talk about these things.
But more than anything, thank you so much for the welcome to Israel.”
Meanwhile, Bulgaria indicated that despite some recent wavering on the issue, it would fall in line with an EU blacklist of Hizbullah, if that becomes the consensus, Reuters reported on Thursday.
Bulgaria equivocated on its earlier statement linking Hizbullah to a bombing that killed five Israeli tourists and a driver in a Bulgarian resort last year, unsettling its EU partners when Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin, of the new Socialist government, said this month that there may not be sufficient evidence to prove Hizbullah involvement.
However, since then Bulgaria has been lobbied by other EU states and has decided to change direction again, according to two Western diplomats who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“It seems that the new government has been testing its limits and has tried to see how far it may go, but once they got a reaction they quickly stepped back,” one diplomat said.
The second diplomat said: “Vigenin has now stated publicly that the position of Bulgaria is unchanged. I believe the government will stick to this position.”
Blacklisting the group — which would mean freezing its assets in Europe and preventing it from raising funds there — would mark a reversal for the EU, which has long resisted pressure from Washington and Israel to do so.
The debate within the bloc is finely balanced, with some members concerned about the risk of further fueling tensions in the Middle East. Diplomats say a majority of the 27 states back a British push to put Hizbullah on the list, but unanimity is needed for a decision.
At a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, Britain failed to win over reluctant delegates, and may now pursue the issue on a higher level, diplomats said.
Officials in the Bulgarian government have denied any U-turns over Hizbullah.
Bulgaria’s Socialist government, while broadly pro-Western, is traditionally sympathetic towards Russia, and this could have played a part, said a former official with the previous, center-right government.
“The new government does not want to irritate the Russians by taking an active position on Hizbullah,” said the source.
Bulgaria imports most of its gas from Russia’s Gazprom. Moscow is seeking compensation of about 900 million euros from Bulgaria after it canceled a new nuclear plant that Russian state firm Atomstroyexport had been contracted to build.