Hezbollah: Viewed From a Dispassionate Point of View

Translated by Captain Ahab


Sameh Asker

Hezbollah, Hezbollah, Hezbollah – this is all what the Arabs of the Middle East have been hearing for the past few weeks. This small organization based in the South of Lebanon has split the region down the middle. I wish to clarify a few points on the Party (Hezbollah), things that have gone off radar in the middle of this ferocious media war:

1. Hezbollah is a natural product of the Lebanese civil war, in which the ideological, religious, and political aspects/motives were mixed. The Party, as a product of that war, combines all these influences.

2. The Party was born in the early 1980’s, but the position of the religious clergy (Muslim and Christian) was not uniform/determined towards the Party until after the 2006 Israeli war against Lebanon. Hezbollah’s victory over Israel and the potential for it to spread or promulgate its religious views or doctrines grew (as a rising religious force), and so we see that the Party’s opponents were not solely interested in the growth of its political influence and clout. Thus the concerns of the other religious organisations must be taken into consideration in any future negotiations and settlements including the concerns of the Sunnis in Lebanon and the rest of the Christian and Druze communities.

The Party has two wings, one is the political and the other is its military arm. The first part is an integral strand in the social fabric of Lebanese society, and has become a communal and parliamentary representative of the Shiite community, along with the Amal movement. Put together these two parties represent almost half the Lebanese population. In other words, the abolition of Hezbollah’s role is in fact a direct confrontation with the Lebanese people themselves. The same could be said of the Houthis in Yemen, which has become a representative of the Zaydi Shi’ite sect, to whom almost 40% of the Yemeni population belong.

In conclusion, saying that there is a need to end Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon is similar to saying that we should end the presence of the Republican Party in America, the Labour Party in Britain, or the Green Party in Germany, taking into consideration the nuances of course, but all these parties represent some segments of society. Even if it were to be destroyed or abolished, some other organization that embodies the needs, aspirations, and values of that segment of the Lebanese community would become its successor.

The military wing is without a doubt the strongest; Hezbollah is considered the most powerful non-regular army in the world, and because of its irregularity it is classified by some as a militia, and this is an attempt to slander Hezbollah. But the Party has had and continues to have a role in ending the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon and functions as a deterrent to the Zionist state. It operates from within the Lebanese consensus, i.e. it is a nationalistic militia that concerns itself with protecting the borders from the South (Israel) and from the East and North East from ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and this explains the support of President Michel Aoun. And the statements of all of the Lebanese officials points in the same direction – that Hezbollah is a national force and its army is there to repel any existential danger that threatens Lebanon.

The achievements of the Party against ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Israel raised their legitimacy and status within the Lebanese community, especially among Christians, Druze, and some Sunnis in the North. Moreover their popularity continues to rise, which makes the demands to eliminate them now illogical. Having failed to do it when they were weak, uprooting them now would be next to impossible.

It is a great mistake to deal with or view the Party from a purely sectarian angle. The Party does not have a religious authority independent of Qom and Najaf. Their native jurists follow those of Iran and Iraq. The idea of a clergy as such is not applicable due to the ideological nature of the group. And in my estimation this assessment has found popularity due to the strong Saudi/Salafi propaganda war, especially after the victory of 2006, which makes me conclude that, as ironic as it may seem, it is those sectarian Salafis, blinded from the facts on the ground, that view Hezbollah as a purely sectarian force.

Shiite thinking does not believe in global jihad and the formation of a Caliphate through invasion and occupation. The Fatimid era was for all practical purposes based on the ambitions of the family, much like the ones that prevailed in the second Abbasid period. These managed to inspire the formation of two Shiite states, while on the other hand jihadist thinking is not centered around hereditary lineage, hence why Hezbollah does not believe in this kind of jihad. Therefore, it does not believe in expanding outside of Lebanon, as is the case for other terrorist movements such as ISIS, Al-Qaida, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Lumping Hezbollah together with terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda is down to Israeli propaganda [The funny thing is that Israel supports Al-Qaeda in the Golan heights against the Syrian army – ed].

The Party believes in the legitimacy of the state, the parliament, the Lebanese political system, the law, the army, and even invests in local social and political projects with the Christians in the middle of the country, the Sunnis of the North, and with the Druze who live up high in the mountains. But to drift along with Saudi/Israeli propaganda is a sign of ignorance of the realities on the ground and the nature of this Lebanese group.

Hezbollah’s opponents are two countries (Israel and Saudi Arabia), excluding the American influence so as not to be dragged into conspiracy theories. Israel is an occupying state, hence it seeks to maintain its occupation. On the other hand we have the Saudis – they share no borders with Hezbollah the only thing that could cause such hostility is the fact that Saudi Arabia supports the Sunnis of Lebanon. And this, in my thinking, is where the problem lies: the Saudi mentality deals with Lebanon from a sectarian point of view and then goes around and accuses Hezbollah of being sectarian!! The question that I would like to pose is this: What if Saudi Arabia supported the Shi’a population in the South of Lebanon (who are financially worse off than the Sunnis of the North) economically as they did with the Sunnis – would a hostile or inimical force such as Hezbollah rise in their midst?

The only political explanation for the emergence of Hezbollah is that it is a representative of a Lebanese Shiite community that is hostile towards the Saudi family and their influence/policies in the region. And so talk about a war with Hezbollah is essentially a war with the people of the South, the social incubator. The Saudis should have looked for ways to come to terms with the people there, both in the past and now. Instead they approached it from a sectarian angle, and now things have gone completely out of their control.

Lebanon 100 years ago was for the most part Maronite Christians with a large minority of Druzes. Now the situation has changed due to the Sunni/Shiite proselytization. The number of Christians has shrunk to about one-third. This change was caused by the wars of the 20th century. Those who want to diminish the influence of the Islamic sects in Lebanon should support peace, this would result in diminishing the influence of the Mullahs and Sheikhs. However, if, God forbid, a civil war ensues, then the clergy would have no problem whatsoever in fomenting and extending their influence.

Hezbollah is a terrorist organization (only in the eyes of the Israelis) because it has killed Israelis in Europe, while also bombing the American Embassy in Beirut and killing 150 Israelis with its rockets in the last war on Lebanon, which was instigated by Israel. But if we were to be objective then Israel is itself guilty of far more atrocious crimes against the Lebanese and Palestinians. I.e., the accusation is coming from a terrorist State. Even for some people, in other Arab and European countries, Israel is involved in the assassination of Arab/European civilian/political figures. This behavior that the State is conducting, systematically if I may add, is terrorist regardless of which party the President came from.

The position of China and Russia – who view Hezbollah as a force that could counteract and destroy ISIS et al, coupled with the position of the President of Lebanon, along with the local state institutions that see the Party as a national body, should not be dispensed with, nor should we forget the Taif Agreement in which the Party is treated as a Lebanese entity, or the Doha agreement, which also states that the Party is an integral part of the Lebanese community. A biased outlook serves no one, least of all the truth, which is that Hezbollah is a part of the social fabric.

Hezbollah derived its legitimacy from the defense of Lebanon, against both Israel, ISIS, and Al-Qaeda. In order to maintain that power/legitimacy it must not get involved in conflicts in other areas of the region. An example would be their support for the Houthis in Yemen. I reject it strongly. The Party in this instance has become a cross-border ideological/sectarian force and its choice to support the Bahrain revolution while delegitimising other revolutions is also unwise. In fairness, the Party got involved in the Syrian war in order to defend itself and Lebanon from Salafi/Wahhabist groups crossing the border into Lebanon and terrorising the local population. As a result the Party went into areas such as Arsal, Qalamoun, and other areas in Syria. But now that we are close to the end of the Syrian war, the Party must return to its barracks and not interfere in Syrian local affairs. And their tone/media should focus solely on those issues that unite the Arab world, such as the threats posed by Israel and religious extremism. Otherwise, the party will slowly lose its influence.

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