An Uncomfortable Truth
A brief Recap of Hezbollah and its Future
In 1979 the Shah of Iran fell. The Shah was a political entity backed by the American CIA in order to “govern” Iran, to make it favorable for American colonial interests. In 1979 certain actors of the Iranian population rose-up and took back control of their country. This is not a new story. When a foreign entity takes control of a country eventually the locals will rise-up and attempt to take back their country, whether if it is foreign or domestic. This was the role Hezbollah played, a force of Lebanese soldiers that fought for their land against foreign invaders. It was backed by Iran, a country that was able to overthrow US powers that tried to control Iran. It is time for Lebanon to take control back from Hezbollah.
Hezbollah was born out of chaos to be champions of the Lebanese people, their raison d’etre is founded on the doctrine of Al-Muqawama, or resistance against Israel and other foreigners. Though is that the case?
It is thanks to Hezbollah that the Assad regime holds Syria. They have killed more Arab brethren than Jews. Thanks to their actions in the 2006 war with Israel over one thousand Lebanese were killed and approximately one million people were displaced. In Syria over one thousand Hezbollah fighters have been killed and hundreds of thousands of Arabs have been displaced. Since their involvement in Syria, less than 200 Israelis have been killed by Hezbollah. Who are they fighting and for what? It is not the people of Lebanon, so here is a brief recap of Hezbollah.
Once dubbed the Switzerland of the Middle East, Lebanon is an Arab state today. It is divided along communal lines distinctive to their religion, beliefs, and ideologies. When Lebanon gained independence in 1943 from the French, they left many aspects of their colonial system behind. The office of the President would be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of Parliament a Shia Muslim. Lower positions would also be distributed among smaller minorities, the chief of staff of the army for instance, was to always be a member of the Druze religion. Importantly, no matter the actual demographics, there would also be six Christian members of Parliament for every five Muslim members. At the time it was logical to have a government that conformed to these lines, from a demographic standpoint. However, the Muslim population grew. In 1948 there was a large exodus of Palestinians seeking shelter from Jewish aggression into neighboring Arab states, including Lebanon. This happened again in 1967 following the June War when the West Bank was taken from Jordan, another wave of Palestinians refugees arrived.
Due to the ousting of Palestinian Fedayeen during September of 1970 (which gave the future terror group its name, Black September), most of the Palestinian resistance fighters left Jordan and moved their operations to Lebanon. During those early years the PLO (as it is known now) was welcomed. The Arab world at the time overwhelmingly supported the Palestinian cause after losing in several conflicts with the newly created Jewish state, but the demographics of Lebanon drastically changed favoring a Muslim populace. This was one of the catalysts that was to begin the Lebanese Civil War.
Shia Muslims, traditionally the weakest religious group in Lebanon, first found their voice in the moderate and largely secular Amal movement. Following the Islamic revolution in a Shia-majority Iran in 1979 and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 by the Israelis, a group of Lebanese Shia clerics formed Hezbollah with the goal of driving Israel from Lebanon. The voiceless had a financial sponsor, they became rebels with a cause. The Iranians, after successfully ousting foreign influence, decided to help its Muslim brothers do the same. By training Hezbollah fighters and financing their activities, Iran achieved two important goals: one was to drive off the foreign crusaders from the Middle East and the other was to gain a foothold in an Arab country.
In 1975 the Lebanese civil war took place; the fighting was mainly between pro-western Christians against the PLO and other radical Muslims. The US tried to intervene and bring stability back to Lebanon, this played into the narrative of another crusader force entering Arab lands. Hezbollah responded with bombings in 1983 and 1984 which led to the death of hundreds of foreign military personnel. Hezbollah had gained its legitimacy as a fierce resistance group against foreign invaders, and as an organization that wanted to stabilize the country by giving the marginalized Shia Muslims in Lebanon a voice.
This was considered a success for Iran, because it now had a proxy in an Arab state bordering Israel and became a vital asset to Iran, the Shiite Arab-Persian divide was bridged by Hezbollah. Even today, though Hezbollah is in the Lebanese government, Iran funds Hezbollah activities. Israeli officials have outright stated that though they will hold Lebanon responsible for acts of aggression from Hezbollah they know that Iran is pulling the strings.
Hezbollah was the organization that gained legitimacy as the de-facto protectors of the people by forcing the Israelis to leave Lebanon back in 2000. In the 2008 elections in Lebanon Hezbollah won 70 seats out of 128. It was becoming clear that Hezbollah would soon be the face of Lebanon.
As an Iranian proxy, Hezbollah sent its forces into Syria to help the Assad regime retake control of the country. The organization has gained battle tested veterans back to their ranks and have become a force that is competent from their battles in Syria. No one dared to doubt them or that they were Lebanon’s line of defense against aggressors.
All that changed about a year ago.
For years the US refused to blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist organization only in 1997 was Hezbollah declared a terrorist organization. The EU took a less aggressive approach. The EU designated only Hezbollah’s military arm as a terrorist group in 2013, over its involvement in a bombing in Bulgaria and its backing of the Assad regime in Syria. Though some EU states feared the move would bruise relations with Lebanon and hurt stability in the region eventually the EU declared it a terrorist organization. In 2014, the EU’s police agency, Europol, and the United States created a joint group to counter Hezbollah’s terrorist activities in Europe. In recent years, several European countries have taken a stronger stance. The UK parliament deemed all of Hezbollah a terrorist group in 2019, followed by the German government in 2020, including its political wing.
Naim Qassem, Deputy Secretary General of Hezbollah, publicly stated that “in Lebanon, there is one Hezbollah, named Hezbollah. We don’t have a military and a political wing.”
This has damaged Lebanon making other governments hesitant to provide financial aid when they so desperately need it. Under the Obama Administration aid was provided to Lebanon’s military with the hope of diminishing Hezbollah’s credibility. However, Hezbollah’s and the Lebanese military’s parallel efforts to defend the Syrian border from ISIS militants have made Congress hesitant to send further aid, for fear that Hezbollah could acquire it.
As the saying goes “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” Hezbollah embraced that paradigm but that is not the case anymore. It has been over a year since the August 4th blast of 2020 in Beirut which killed over 200 people, left 77,000 apartments damaged and has caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Corruption and mismanagement at the port of Beirut where the explosion originated is to blame. However, the explosive compounds of the ammonium nitrate that was stored at the port for years, that caused the explosion has largely been led to the doorsteps of Hezbollah. It is widely believed that the combustible materials were to be used in a future war with Israel or to be transported to Syria for the Assad regime. Either way it was not for the benefit of the Lebanese people.
Hezbollah has been accused of using Beirut’s port for its own purposes. According to one former judicial official who spoke with AFP, Hezbollah has a “free pass” to transport goods at the port because of its ties to customs and port officials. The US government sanctioned Waqif Safa, a Hezbollah security official, in 2019, asserting that he used “Lebanon’s ports and border crossings to smuggle contraband and facilitate travel on behalf of Hezbollah, undermining the security and safety of the Lebanese people.” The exploitation of the port and combustible compounds has been speculated that they would be used in the next war with Israel. Over a year later, and despite ample opportunity to compensate the victims’ families, rebuild destroyed houses and restore Beirut from its life-support status, Hezbollah has done nothing.
Hezbollah has given an almost muted response to Israeli air strikes, many believe that Hezbollah isn’t eager for outright war with Israel or the United States. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday that his terror group does not seek escalation with Israel. Instead, some analysts suspect that Hezbollah would rather rely on covert operations and terrorist activities, especially if Israel or the United States were to declare war with Iran which is seeming more likely as the weeks progress. Only recently, Israel’s defense minister claimed that Iran was “10 weeks away” from obtaining a nuclear arsenal which would force Israel’s hand to attack. Combined with the attack on a ship in the Gulf of Oman that is attributed to Iran, which left two European nationals dead, more sanctions or actual conflict may happen in the not-too-distant future.
Another aspect which people blame Hezbollah for is Lebanon’s dire financial state. Two Hezbollah officials have been known to throw lavish weddings which they posted on social media. In a country that has still not healed from the blast a year on, where the economy is in a state of free fall which may lead it to be considered a “failed state”, in a country where no one “can eat cake”, they still think they have legitimacy because they are the resistance. But resistance to whom? They have failed to fight the Israelis since 2006 and any response since then has been pointless, even during the May war of 2021 they did nothing to fight the “Zionist enemy”. They have failed the state of Lebanon and their only purpose is to be a proxy for the Iranians.
Lebanon must take its future in its own hands, Hezbollah must be disbanded, and Iran must face sanctions in order to dissuade them from supporting Hezbollah. Failure to do so will be the downfall of Lebanon, which matters not to the Iranians.