Everything has digressed onto another level - the G8 summit, the increasing bloodshed in Iraq and other world problems. Everyone has one word on their lips - Lebanon. More and more often another word is mentioned together with this one - Hezbollah, until the last few days unheard of by probably 99% of readers and listeners. It is with this word that we must begin. The Arabic word combination Hizb Allah, meaning the Party of Allah, is pronounced in Farsi as Hezbollah which gives the word an additional hidden meaning. The organization was formed in 1882 as the Lebanese branch of an Iranian party with the same name. The words Iran and Hezbollah are inextricably linked.
At the time when Hezbollah was formed, Lebanon was seized by a civil war in which everyone participated: the long-ruling Maronite and Sunni members of the Palestinian Fatah with Yasser Arafat as their leader, based in the South of Lebanon, in the very place where Hezbollah now rules. External forces also became involved: Israeli, American, French and Syrian troops. Then suddenly Lebanese Shiites, whom no-one had even paid attention to during the civil war, appeared in the form of the most selfless and fanatical fighters. Although the greatest in number, they were always the poorest, most oppressed and backward of the Lebanese confessional communities. But on the 23rd October 1983, a Shiite terrorist, operating a lorry with explosives, broke through the gates of American barracks in Beirut and killed 241 soldiers as well as himself. An American sentry, who shot at the terrorist but missed, subsequently recounted how he had seen the driver’s face a few seconds before his death and the man had been smiling. He went straight to heaven. Around that same time, another condemned man blew up 58 French soldiers. Both America and France removed their troops from Lebanon after this, and Israel followed their example. This was how Hezbollah first announced itself and since then, not only Lebanon’s Shiite community, but Sunni and Maronite political organizations admit that this is the most militant, desperate and effective terrorist group of all. As if to confirm their already well-established reputation, in 2000 Hezbollah achieved the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Southern Lebanon, where they had been since 1885, when Israel left other parts of the country. In Southern Lebanon, there was a buffer zone, where Israeli troops and a small, local, armed contingent, mostly consisting of Maronites, was in command. Conflicts with Hezbollah wore out the Israelis and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak preferred to withdraw troops, although the entire right camp was strongly against this decision and warned that Hezbollah would enter the space they left. This is exactly what happened.
Now, Hezbollah is far from just another one of many Arabic extremist groups. It is a real army with a body of well-trained officers, with great arms, provided by Iran and Syria (it is believed that it includes 3.5 thousand selected fighters and the yearly subsidy from Iran is between 100 and 200 million dollars.) It is also a political party, for which most of the Shiites in the South of the country voted. It has seats in parliament and two ministerial posts in the government.
Hezbollah remains a terrorist organization and it has long outgrown the stage of HAMAS, which has mainly organized explosions using condemned prisoners. By agreeing to exchange prisoners with Hezbollah, the Israelis are somehow acknowledging it as a military organization rather than a terrorist one. Back in 1985, they released one thousand Hezbollah fighters in exchange for three of their own soldiers, but a number of members of Hezbollah have been in Israeli prisons for many years, and their liberation in particular has become an official motive for the measures recently taken, during which the fighters crossed the Israeli border and took two soldiers captive.
The original motives were, of course, different. Firstly, Hezbollah was officially under threat of having its detachments disarmed last year after, as a result of the scandal brought about by the supposed participation of Syrians in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, Syria was forced to remove its troops and special services from Lebanon, The UN Security Council in special resolution 1559 demanded the disarming of all the Lebanese militia, and Hezbollah was the main topic of discussion. Of course, in practice it is difficult to imagine (the Lebanese army would be unable to do anything even if they received that order since they are nothing compared to Hezbollah), but officially, this is what things came to. Now, having entered into conflict with Israel, Hezbollah has closed off even the possibility of suggesting their disarming. Herein lies the counter-productivity of the current Israeli military response: Hezbollah fighters have become national heroes and even Sunnis and Maronites cannot rise up against them whilst Israeli bombs are being dispersed across Lebanon.
More importantly, there are the calculations of the Iranian authorities. Some believe that Iran has much more serious issues to deal with than the new stirrings in the Middle East. Due to the confrontations with theWest and Russia over the question of its nuclear activity, Iran may face sanctions; it seems unlikely that in such circumstances it would risk making its international position worse. However, these new tensions are in fact beneficial to Iran.
Iran’s international position will not become worse at all, even if the whole world is certain that Tehran is behind Hezbollah’s actions, since there can be no proof: the Iranians will not be caught and Tehran denies all “slanderous accusations”. Meanwhile, Iranian propaganda is acting in full force, asking its people: “Who does not allow us to develop peaceful nuclear energy? The enemies of Islam, Americans and Zionists. Who is destroying Lebanon? The enemies of Islam, Americans and Zionists.” Hatred towards the West and Israel amongst the Iranian public is reaching new heights, as is the authority of the ruling powers, “fearless fighters for faith, for Iran’s independence, for the eradication of the cancerous tumor that is Zionist education”.
As for the choice of a certain day for the attack, the decision was probably influenced with a wish to separate Bush and Putin. The attack happened during the days of the G8 summit in St.Petersburg. Does it mean that Israel has been entrapped? It looks like it on the one hand. One the other hand, there is a tradition in Israel to respond to enemies’ attacks with three times more powerful strikes. It is worthy of note that Arab extremists were perfectly aware of that. They knew that the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers would doom the entire Lebanese nation to sufferings. It is hard to imagine that Ehud Olmert, whose authority, experience and charisma pale in comparison with those of Ariel Sharon, could dare to break the tradition. His strike was inevitable, although it seems that he has gone too far. Israel should not have struck blows on the entire territory of Lebanon. Hundreds of civilians have been killed, hundreds of thousands of people have turned to refugees. In addition to all war problems, Lebanon is suffering from a humanitarian catastrophe.
Many specialists believe that Israel will not be able to terminate terrorists in Lebanon. Quite on the contrary, Israel is creating more and more of them while bombing Lebanon.
A large-scale war typical to those in 1967 or 1973 is not likely to follow. Sunni Arab countries will not participate in the war guided by Iran or Hezbollah. Israel will not repeat the events of 1982 when it occupied a half of Lebanon and Beirut. Israel tries to destroy Hezbollah’s terrorist bases, missile systems and military infrastructure in the south of Lebanon. If Ehud Olmert accomplishes this goal he will be able to tell his people that he has kept his promise. Over 90 percent of the Israeli population will support him and vote for the continuation of military actions to push Hezbollah far from the borders of Israel.
The people of Israel are ready to suffer now. However, the majority of them do not realize that Hezbollah is a hard nut to crack. Hezbollah is not a conventional army of mobilized soldiers. This organization unites fanatic individuals - perfectly trained and armed to wage war against Israel. As a result, Israel is destined to suffer from never-ending guerrilla warfare.
Translated by Leila Wilmers
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