I still remember the shock at hearing the news of the Burgas bombing in Bulgaria a year ago. A blast ripped through a bus full of Israeli tourists, killing six people including the Bulgarian driver. The victims were targeted not because of their beliefs or anything they had done, but merely because of their nationality. Except of course for the bus driver; he was a local simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Europe and Israel were united in our call for answers and justice; those answers came thanks to good investigative work from the Bulgarian authorities working with us and other partners. It became clear that Hezbollah’s military wing was responsible.
A month ago, the EU came together and designated the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. It is a position that the UK has been pushing for since 2010, and it is a vindication of British and Israeli persistence. The recent conviction of a Hezbollah operative in a Cypriot court shows the continuing threat they pose. And there have been other attacks planned. For example, they were implicated in a plot to attack Israeli tourists in Thailand in January 2012. And in 2009, Azerbaijani authorities foiled a planned attack on the Israeli embassy in Baku. This is an organisation presenting a clear and present threat to Israelis and the citizens of Europe.
The designation is evidence that the EU can be a powerful organisation for good when its members share a goal. But the agreement is not merely a bureaucratic process. It is a declaration. It sends out a clear message that the EU stands united with Israel against terrorism. It shows that no organisation can carry out terrorist acts on European soil without facing the consequences. Europeans have rightly come together in response. In practical terms, this decision paves the way for a united EU law enforcement effort to confront suspected Hezbollah military wing activity anywhere within the EU, before it has the chance to undertake further terrorist attacks. We have frozen assets, and we are pooling information to target assets and individuals.
We know that Israel and Britain have disagreements about some issues. But when it comes to the fundamental issue of Israel’s security, or working together to keep each other safe from terrorism, our cooperation is unparalleled. That cooperation stems from deeply held beliefs that we share. The principles of freedom, democracy and the rule of law that we work together to protect. These shared principles are the bedrock of our relationship.
Both our countries have known the threat from terror. Britain suffered for decades from IRA terror attacks, on 7 July 2005 a series of suicide bombers around London brought Islamic terrorism to our shores. I still remember that day as well – the horror of realising that I was supposed to have been on the London Underground at precisely that time, and only chance had kept me at home.
Like Israel, we know the fear that terrorism causes, the dilemmas that it poses to societies that cherish freedom, and the pain it causes families whose lives it devastates. That is why we are so determined to cooperate with Israel in the fight against terror. That is why we were so determined that the EU should designate Hezbollah’s military wing in the wake of the Burgas bombing. That is why the UK will never compromise on Israel’s security.
Matthew Gould is the British ambassador to Israel