Outside View: Where Hezbollah stands By Haytham Mouzahem

Outside View: Where Hezbollah stands

By Haytham Mouzahem
Outside View Commentator

New York, United States, Mar. 16 (UPI) -- Following the issuance of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, the future of Hezbollah in Lebanon is in jeopardy because the resolution called for the disarmament of militias in Lebanon, in an indirect signal to Hezbollah. The United States considered Hezbollah a terrorist group and asked Lebanon to freeze its assets.
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Hezbollah's longstanding ideological position in respect to Israel clarifies somewhat its continued interest in the Palestinians. The movement refused to recognize any peace agreement or negotiated truce with Israel, and it specifically rejected the Oslo peace agreements between the Palestinians and Israel describing it as "treason against the blood of the Muslim Palestinians and the holy cause of Palestine."

This attitude was borrowed from the Arab and Palestinian national discourse and was tinged with Islamic flavor through its strong linkage with the Islamic doctrine declared by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was seen by Hezbollah as their religious guide and the spiritual leader, or Valey e-Faqih.

Hezbollah rejected all international resolutions that recognized Israel, such as the armistice between Lebanon and Israel that was signed in 1949 as well as U.N. Security Council Resolutions 425 and 426, since these resolutions recognized the state of Israel and sought to prevent any further military resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Furthermore, Hezbollah condemned the activities of the U.N. force in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL, saying that this international force was "colluding and unacceptable" and that it would be treated as an "invading Zionist force," since its mission required not only the implementation of 425 but also the preservation of the northern border of Israel through the enforcement of the 1949 armistice.

Hezbollah's attitude toward the U.N. Security Council 425 can be divided into two main phases:

In reviewing the Hezbollah position on Resolution 425, we see that the movement's attitude underwent a major change, marking two distinct ideological phases. Prior to the Taif Accord (1989) which put end to the civil war in Lebanon, Hezbollah condemned the 425 emphatically. This attitude seems to have prevailed from approximately 1982 until 1990.

Following the implementation of the accord, which dissolved all militias (except the resistance groups), Hezbollah moved into a second ideological phase, characterized by its acceptance of the contents of Resolution 425. This period lasted from 1990 until 2000. This ideological change may have been in response to political changes in Lebanon and internationally, rather than any substantive shift in its position regarding Israel.

The years 1990-2000 were years of astounding political change, the ramifications of which extended far beyond the conflict in the Middle East and significantly altered the character of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.

At the beginning of this period, the world witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dominance of the United States as a sole superpower in the New World Order and an unconditional supporter of Israel. There was also the U.S.-led war against Iraq, which destroyed many of the traditional Arab alliances. The year 1991 ushered in the launching of the Madrid Conference in which Syria and Lebanon entered into negotiations with Israel.

The Hezbollah leadership, understanding the significance of the international and regional political changes, began to review its political discourse and accommodate itself to be a long-term player, regardless of the outcome of the peace settlements between Israel, Lebanon and Syria. The movement took on an attitude of realpolitik and began to leverage its influence, continuing to grow as a socio-religious movement, and gaining representation in the Lebanese Parliament in 1992.

In 1993, Hezbollah accepted the "July Understanding" with Israel that limited its military operations against the Israeli occupation in Lebanon and stopped launching its Katuasha rockets on the Israeli north, while Israel agreed to end its attacks on Lebanese civilians. Israel violated the "July Understanding" by initiating the "Grapes of Wrath" military campaign in April 1996, through which it sought to destroy the infrastructure of the "Islamic resistance," Hezbollah's military wing.

Israel failed to accomplish this goal and was compelled to accept the "April Understanding" of 1996 through indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Syria and Israel with the mediation of then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

The "April Understanding" reiterated the core principles of the "July Understanding" and created a monitoring committee to oversee compliance with the terms of the agreement. Hezbollah accepted the terms with reservations, most specifically declining to recognize Israel and its borders, and opting instead for recognition of its "de facto" situation by agreeing not to attack the northern borders despite the "illegitimacy of Israel." In so doing, Hezbollah accepted the military balance equation that governs the conflict, under the pretext that its compromises were dictated by necessity and mounting international pressure.

This strategy worked surprisingly well for the Islamic party, opening the door for dramatic and effective Hezbollah counterattacks that resulted in an Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the occupied south of Lebanon in May 2000. The movement considers Israel's unconditional implementation of Resolution 425, outside of any auxiliary peace treaty or security arrangement, as a resounding success and realization of its aims, and a victory for its political and military options.

Following the Israeli pullout, Hezbollah deployed its fighters into the previously occupied south prior to the deployment of the UNIFIL, creating a new situation on the border with Israel, the "Blue Line."

The Islamic movement has proven its ability to adjust to the realities on the ground, showing it has the capacity to be a potent and permanent player. If we juxtapose Hezbollah's realpolitik and its pure ideology concerning Israel and the international resolutions related to the armistice with it, it is easy to notice the shift in its approach of managing the conflict with Israel in respect to the regional military balance rules.

This realpolitik and flexibility could be justified by the Shiite flexible jurisprudence, allowing Hezbollah's leadership to set up its priorities without creating ideological disparities within the movement. At this moment, it seems that its priority was to preserve and protect the group leadership and cadres, as well as Lebanese civilians, in a purely defensive rather than offensive posture.

This dominant framework is supported by both Lebanese and Syrian governments as well as Iran -- despite the Israeli menaces and the U.S. and U.N. objections claiming these attacks would threaten the stability and quietude on the Lebanese-Israeli borders -- and could promote a new war which could transcend the Lebanese area.


(Haytham Mouzahem is an analyst for the World Security Network. This article is reprinted by permission of the WSN.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)


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