Hizbullah’s dilemma By Haytham Muzahem and Mats warn

Hizbullah’s dilemma

By Haytham Muzahem and Mats warn

Published in Jane’s Intelligence Review – November 2003
On 3 November, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of the movement, claimed in a speech that European diplomats had informed him of a possible, imminent Israeli withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms.
However, rather than welcoming the putative move, Nasrallah argued that “the objective behind this idea is to remove the pretext for Hizbullah and the resistance and to put pressure on Lebanon and Syria, and to do away with Hizbullah from the regional equation.”
Dismissing this notion, Nasrallah said: “We can make sure that there are other issues that concern us and that we have other files to keep us in the conflict”.
The day after Nasrallah’s speech, Lebanese MP Pierre Gemayel demanded a referendum on the issue and denounced the secretary-general’s statements as being a new effort “to keep Lebanon within the regional conflicts for which Lebanon has already paid a precious price.” Writing in the Lebanese daily An Nahar on the 6 November, columnist Gebran Tueni noted that the ongoing situation in the south “reminds us of what went on in the past when the (Lebanese) state gave up on its role and its people in the south, and let it evolve into the ‘Fatah land’ which allowed Palestinian guerrillas to form a state within a state.”
The controversy is indicative of the strategic dilemma that Hizbullah now faces. In July 2003, the International Crisis Group published a report entitled “Hizbullah: a rebel without a cause” in which it was argued that the movement’s militancy was about to lose its raison d’être. “Hizbullah is engaged in its own soul-searching,” the report maintained. “Pressured to undertake a strategic shift, it faces the decision whether its future is one among many Lebanese political parties or whether it will remain its hybrid character, half political party and half armed militia, part local organisation and part internationalist movement, that has defined it from the outset.”
Sources close to the movement told JIR that Hizbullah’s leadership, after the liberation of south Lebanon, met with the spiritual guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, who urged them to take on a regional role and to focus on supporting the Palestinian cause. Another source close to the party has argued that Nasrallah has opted for cooperating with the Lebanese authorities on the issue of hostage-negotiations and possible armed action in the south.
Hizbullah itself appears to resolve the tension between national integration and regional struggle by arguing that Lebanon forms an inseparable part of the Arab-Israeli conflict. “None of our people like conflict for the sake of conflict,” stressed Nauf Musawi, in charge of Hizbullah’s international relations, in a recent interview with JIR. “If someone considers these issues a mere pretext for carrying arms, let him regain the Shebaa Farms and solve the Palestinian tragedy, and then we’ll give up our arms,” he said. Hizbullah’s arms proved a deterrent to Israel, he argued, and in referring to the last year’s stand off between Israel over the waters of the Wazzani River, he asserted that, “Everybody admits that had it not been for Hizbullah’s capability in retaliating [against Israel] Lebanon would not have been able to provide water for its thirsty villages.”

Like Nasrallah, Musawi asserted that neither the liberation of the Shebaa Farms nor the successful conclusion of a prisoner exchange would remove Lebanon from the regional equation. “Around 300,000 Palestinian refugees are present in Lebanon,” he argued, “and it is their right to return as well as the Lebanese right to make the human claim of their right to return.” Also, in his view, Lebanon should adhere to the general Arab cause and that necessitated a close alliance with Syria. “As long as the Arab-Israeli conflict remains,” he noted, “Lebanon is not able to stay out of it, and as a part of the Lebanese people, Hizbullah is dedicated to strengthen Lebanon’s role in this conflict.”
In this context, Hizbullah should not be described as a “Syrian pawn,” but rather as a Syrian ally, argued Musawi. “It is not bad at all to say that we take the side of Syria to help her liberate her land,” he maintained. “In Lebanon, when we were fighting for liberating our land, we benefited from the political and moral support, and the logistics, from Syria. Thus there is a moral, human, and patriotic duty for us to side with the Syrians to liberate their land. So when we talk about the future we have to look at the links between Lebanon and the Arab-Israeli conflict. And when we arrive to an ideal situation, which is the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, then we will face a new situation and a new cause that requires new ways to proceed.”
Musawi conceded that Hizbullah and Syria differed in their agenda, saying “we understand that there is a difference between our cause and Syria’s,” he said, “but the ground which this alliance is based upon is strategic and firm, and it has in the past been able to overcome obligations and inter-rivalry.”
The Hizbullah spokesman argued that a negotiated ‘peace deal’ at this stage was impossible, in large part due to the imbalance of power and the inherent flaws of the Arab political systems which submitted to US interests. “We have seen what happens to those who, like Yassir Arafat, adopt the peaceful choice. We don’t see any benefit in talking about a peaceful option as it may weaken the determination and moral of the nation (umma).” The Palestinian situation differed from that of south Lebanon, he said, because the Israelis deemed the West Bank more precious than the south. “Yet, that is not the whole story,” he added, “because the more costly it becomes for the occupation to hang on, the less desired it will be. I think that if the resistance in Palestine enjoyed just a piece of the logistical support the Lebanese resistance enjoyed, it would be able to liberate the land occupied in 1967.”
In a curious echo of US President George Bush’s recent remarks, Musawi argued that dictatorial regimes in the Arab world, and their submission to US policies, were a prime obstacle to progress. “I think the worst suffering of the Arab world is the establishment of the dictatorial regimes,” he argued. “The Arab political systems, which are poisoned by despotism and US patronage, constitute the major reason for the inability of the Arab societies to resist the Israeli occupation. It is no coincidence that the resistance emerged in Lebanon where there was no overpowering central authority. So in any country where there is no despotic authority, the Arab peoples are enabled to oppose the occupation, as is being done with different methods in Iraq after the fall of the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein.”

Given the context of the US occupation of Iraq and the political pressure the USA is putting on Syria and Iran, Musawi argued that Israel has brought the conflict to a new stage by striking directly at Syria. “The Israeli attack against Ein Sahab in Syria was carried out in the framework of US pressure on Syria’s stand concerning Iraq as well as Israeli efforts to obstruct Syria’s support for the Palestinians,” he said. “Israel has tried bitterly for three years to change the rules of the game, but every step it took was responded to in kind by Hizbullah. Israel must put in its calculation that it cannot alone lay down the rules or change them,” he maintained. “The other side will not keep quiet, and it will prevent any such thing from happening.”


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