Friday, August 04, 2006

Hezbollah - a primer

"Hezbollah" is Arabic for "party of Allah." According to Britannica.com Hezbollah is a "Lebanese Shi'ite Islamist organization." Its general secretary is Hassan Nasrallah.
Founded in southern Lebanon in 1982 as a response to Israel's invasion there, its original goals were to drive Israeli troops out of Lebanon and form a Shi'ite Islamic republic similar to that created by the Iranian revolution of 1979. Its political stance, in the main, has been anti-Western, and its members have been implicated in many of the terrorist activities that were perpetrated in Lebanon during the 1980s, including kidnappings, car bombings, and airline hijackings, a number of which were directed at U.S. citizens. It has purportedly received strong material support from Syria and Iran and throughout the 1990s engaged in an intensive guerrilla campaign against Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. At the same time, Hezbollah actively aided the long disfranchised Shi'ite community in Lebanon, providing social services not offered by the government. In the 1990s the party's candidates won seats in Lebanon's parliamentary elections, and the group's leaders have since sought to soften its earlier image. Despite a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000, the party continued sporadic attacks across the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Right: Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah

A slightly contrary view is offered by Robert A. Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, who says,
Hezbollah is principally neither a political party nor an Islamist militia. It is a broad movement that evolved in reaction to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. At first it consisted of a small number of Shiites supported by Iran. But as more and more Lebanese came to resent Israel’s occupation, Hezbollah — never tight-knit — expanded into an umbrella organization that tacitly coordinated the resistance operations of a loose collection of groups with a variety of religious and secular aims.
In fact, he says, some of Hezbollah's suicide bombers were actually Christians.

It should be noted that Hezbollah is a native Lebanese organization, not foreign to the country as the PLO was. Hezbollah has been from its inception virulently anti-Israel. According to Wikipedia,
Hezbollah views Israel as a whole as "an illegal usurper entity, which is based on falsehood, massacres, and illusions", and follows a distinct version of Islamic Shia ideology developed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Hezbollah's fundamental tenet is that the state of Israel has no right to exist. It considers Israeli Jews to be occupiers of Muslim land and refers to Israel as "occupied Palestine." Its statements over the years leave no doubt that Hezbollah is devoted to the destruction of Israel and the death or expulsion of Jews from the country. The United States and most Western nations characterize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. However, the Lebanese government says that Hezbollah is a "resistance movement." Until al Qaeda attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, no terrorist organization had killed more Americans than Hezbollah.

Hezbollah had close ties to Islamist Iran from the beginning, ties that became stronger since Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. Through Syria, also closely aligned with Iran, Hezbollah has been armed, trained and otherwise equipped to continue fighting Israel. Some analysts estimate that Hezbollah has been receiving $100 million per year in money and supplies from Syria and Iran.

At the inception of the present war on July 12, many Western military analysts thought that Hezbollah militia was the best Arab army in the entire Middle East. In my opinion, events since then have proved this analysis correct. Israeli army veterans of the fighting have told interviewers that Hezbollah's fighters are well trained, skilled and well armed.

Hezbollah has well-developed political and social wings that have enabled it to be a powerful force in Lebanese politics. Hezbollah's social services and social-support structures in southern Lebanon were far more effective than the central government's. Before the war erupted on July 12, Hezbollah enjoyed the support of 30-40 percent of Lebanese people, concentrated in the south but also among many Muslims in the rest of the country. Since the bombing of Lbanon by the Israeli Air Force most surveys show that Hezbollah's support is much greater, although a still-significant minority of Lebanese remain anti-Hezbollah, blaming its extremism for the war. An example was reported in The New Yorker in its Aug. 7 issue by Jon Lee Anderson, reporting from war-ravaged southern Beirut:
A younger man came up to me and, when we were out of earshot of others, said that Hezbollah had kept bombs in the basement of the mosque, but that two days earlier a truck had taken the cache away. It was common knowledge in Sidon, he said, and everyone was expecting the mosque to be hit. When, the previous evening, displaced people from the south had gathered on the grounds, they had been warned away.

“Everybody wants to end this Hezbollah regime, but nobody can say anything,” the young man said.
Regardless of whether Israel finally defeats Hezbollah's fighters on the ground, most political analysts say that Hezbollah will be strengthened in Lebanese politics as a result of the war.

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