Hizballah, the Party of God, burst onto the Lebanese scene in a whirlwind of violence in late 1983. A string of attacks against Israeli and Western targets there left hundreds dead and wounded, leading to the end of U.S. and French intervention, and Israel’s withdrawal from most of Lebanon soon after. These events marked a new phase for Lebanon’s Shi`i community and the country as a whole.
Hallmarks of Hizballah’s activity have included a violent anti-Western and anti-Israel struggle, as well as the influence of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. But processes inside Lebanon, especially the Shi`i community, since the 1950s must also be considered when examining Hizballah’s emergence.
A central dilemma for Hizballah is the debt to Iran for helping establish and sustain it. Hizballah follows Iran’s path, perceptions and even dictates. It wants to establish an Islamic Republic in Lebanon, like the Iranian counterpart. But Hizballah must also consider the Lebanese context in which it functions.
This unresolved predicament was expressed by Hizballah’s Secretary-General, Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah, in an August 1994 interview with the organization’s organ, al`Ahd. He stated, “[Hizballah] is indeed a Lebanese party; its leadership is Lebanese, its members are Lebanese, and its following is Lebanese, yet it has ties with another country.” Nasrallah answered critics by claiming such ties were no different from those of “every party operating in Lebanon…yet no one casts doubts on their Lebanese identity.” (1)
Since Hizballah first began operations in 1983, it has gained considerable clout in the Lebanese Shi`i community. In the late 1980s it reached a peak in controlling most of West Beirut and large sections of South Lebanon. Since then, however, Hizballah has faced a series of challenges threatening its continued activity or even existence. The most important is the Ta`if accords which led to the end of the civil war that had fostered the organization’s flowering. The Ta`if accords laid the foundations for a new, Syrian-backed MaroniteSunni order. The Shi`i community was excluded, despite being the country’s largest single group. A second challenge is the Middle East peace process which may force an end to its struggle against Israel and erode the basis of its legitimacy and power. Finally, Iran’s growing political and economic difficulties are liable to curtail its ability to back Hizballah politically, economically and militarily as generously as in the past.
Faced with these challenges, Hizballah seeks to appear ready to abandon its ideological goals temporarily or at least to postpone implementing them to the far future. Hence, it took part in the summer 1992 Lebanese parliamentary elections, thereby conferring de facto recognition to the Ta`if accords which it had initially outright rejected. Hizballah also tries to use activities in the social and economic spheres to lay a foundation for its transformation into a social and political movement that could play a role in the existing Lebanese political order. Hizballah leaders’ declarations in recent years also indicate a grudging readiness to accept a possible IsraeliSyrianLebanese peace agreement.
This situation raises a key question whose answer will largely determine Hizballah’s ability to meet the challenges facing it today. Can it truly change course, turning away from the ideology, fervor and violence characterizing it to date? These elements have constituted Hizballah’s essence. Losing them would strip away its unique character, vitality, and ability to win supporters. Such a change would, for example, blur the line between Hizballah and Amal, its rival for control of the Shi`i community which preaches Shi`i integration into the existing Lebanese order, albeit with certain reforms.
On the other hand, should Hizballah stay true to its path and policies it is likely to find itself on a collision course with Lebanon’s government and the Maronite and Sunni forces behind it who would like to see Hizballah and the Shi`i community weakened. This trajectory would also bring a clash with Syria, which considers its own interests in Lebanon best served by a subservient but moderate and stable regime. Finally, it means continuing to struggle against Israel, which sees Hizballah as a terrorist group threatening its northern border as well as Israeli and Jewish targets abroad. While too early to lay odds on the group’s future, its actions and policies during recent years make it possible to suggest cautiously that it would be very difficult for Hizballah to abandon its longterm objectives.
The impasse in Syrian-Israeli negotiations has allowed Hizballah to continue and even escalate its military activity against Israel and thus to postpone the moment of truth. Further, the continuing military struggle against Israel gave Hizballah gains such as the understandings achieved following Israel’s 1993 Accountability and 1996 Grapes of Wrath operations. These understandings recognized Hizballah’s right to attack Israeli targets in the security zone, while the mutual commitment to avoid civilian targets let Hizballah portray itself as defender of the Shi`ite population in southern Lebanon. Nevertheless, these were clearly short-term achievements and did not change the realities threatening the Hizballah in the long run.
The Emergence of Hizballah
On April 18, 1983, the U.S. embassy in Beirut was blown up by a suicide bomber. Sixty-one people were killed and 120 wounded. Six months later, on October 23, the headquarters of the U.S. Marines and those of the French forces in Beirut were attacked in a similar manner. Two hundred thirty-nine Marines and twentythree French soldiers were killed; another hundred were injured. A week later, on November 4, 1983, Israeli Army headquarters in Tyre was hit. Twentynine soldiers and members of Israel’s General Security Service were killed; tens more were wounded. Responsibility for the strikes was claimed by an unknown organization calling itself Islamic Jihad, but it soon became clear that it was the military wing of Hizballah which used a different name to avoid taking direct responsibility. (2)
These suicide attacks marked a new phase in the campaign fought by Syria and its allies in Lebanon against the Israeli and Western presence there. Pressured by these strikes, the US and France withdrew from Lebanon in late 1984 and Israel in September 1985 drew back to a selfdeclared security zone in South Lebanon.
These attacks manifested the Lebanon’s Shi`i community’s turnabout. Once a docile, submissive minority, it had remade itself into a radical force waging an active struggle to gain dominance in Lebanon and, in Hizballah’s case, to achieve a more farreaching goal: establishing an Islamic regime. Hizballah’s emergence was overshadowed by two cataclysmic events occurring at about the same time, facilitating its establishment, early activity, and perhaps radical, militant nature:
First, Iran’s Islamic revolution quickly became a source of inspiration and a role model for Shi`i religious leaders in Lebanon. Immediately after consolidating their rule, Iran’s new leaders showed an avid interest and growing involvement in Lebanon’s Shi`i community. Iran was behind the decision of several prominent Shi`i leaders to leave Amal, then the main Lebanese Shi`i group. Iran also encouraged or coerced sometimes rival factions to unite into Hizballah. This new body was to serve, at least as far as Iran was concerned, Iranian strategic interests in Lebanon. (3)
Iran became Hizballah’s primary financial, military and political backer. Aid included the dispatch of approximately 1,500 Revolutionary Guards who have remained in Lebanon’s Biqa` Valley since 1982, the supply of arms, and tens of millions of dollars of economic assistance each year.(4) This financing paid the salaries of members and made possible Hizballah’s expansion into education, health and welfare. (5) Hizballah also enjoyed Iran’s political patronage in power plays with political forces in Lebanon and with Syria. The latter had to carefully weigh the consequences of any move on Hizballah against its desire to maintain special ties to Iran.
The second critical event influencing Hizballah’s development was the June 1982 Lebanon War. The fall and expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon left a vacuum which Shi`i groups rushed to fill. Second, while Israeli armored columns were initially welcomed in south Lebanon’s Shi`i villages, Israel had allied itself with the Maronites to the detriment of Shi`i interests. Disillusionment led to opposition, which together with the growth of religious extremism and spread of Iranian influence in the community soured the Shi`is’ attitude towards Israel to one of hostility and hatred. This attitude grew in the 1990s after Israel’s Accountability” and Grapes of Wrath operations led hundreds of thousands of Shi`ites to flee their homes in south Lebanon. These operations sought to pressure the Lebanese and Syrian regimes to restrain Hizballah attacks against Israel. (6)
Internal Lebanese factors and processes within the Shi`i community also contributed to Hizballah’s development. The transformation of Lebanon’s Shi`i began in the early 1970s as the product of demographic changes and living standards. Due to its high rate of natural increase, the community’s percentage of Lebanon’s population surged from 19% in 1950 to 30% by the early 1970s, (7) leading to increased emigration from rural areas in the south of Lebanon and the Biqa` Valley to shanty towns surrounding the big cities. With this came a breakdown of the community’s traditional social framework and a drop in the status of the feudal-like families of notables who had led the community. The exodus from Shi`i villages brought poverty and need, and a feeling of despair and helplessness among the uprooted.
These changes in lifestyle produced a crisis of leadership and identity. Into the breach stepped Musa Sadr, a Shi`i cleric born in Iran to Lebanese parents, who came back to Lebanon in 1959. He worked to improve the lot of Lebanese Shi`is, as well as his own position, by raising the level of religious solidarity at the expense of old allegiances to family structure and the community’s traditional leadership. (8)
Musa Sadr waged his campaign in accord with the Lebanese situation. Evidence of this was his readiness to cooperate with the Lebanese Maronite establishment in return for recognition as leader of the Shi`i community. In accord with his demands, the Supreme Shi`i Council was established in 1969 and Sadr chosen its leader. (9) Sadr was at the height of his success in the early 1970s but on April 13, 1975 civil war began, completely changing the rules of the game. To a great extent it also undermined most of his accomplishments.
The Shi`i community had played a marginal role in the events precipitating the civil war and found itself unprepared to cope and ultimately worse off. Unlike the other protagonists, it had no foreign patron and lacked an infrastructure on which to build a militia to protect and further Shi`i interests. Musa Sadr’s tactics were now obsolete since, for the next 15 years, military strength became the determining factor for each community and its leaders. In response, Musa Sadr founded the Amal movement (Afwaj alMuqawama alLubnaniyya, the Lebanese Resistance Brigades) as a military force to ensure the community’s position. But Amal was unable to gain a significant foothold as the PLO still controlled most of the Shi`i areas in Lebanon and quashed any attempt by the community to organize itself or secure territory. (10)
In 1978, Musa Sadr visited Libya at the invitation of its leader, Mu`ammar alQadhdhafi. He disappeared there and was apparently assassinated by the Libyans who thought him an obstacle to their gaining influence in Lebanon. Musa Sadr’s demise took place after his work of many years to improve the standing of Lebanon’s Shi`i community had already reached a dead end. It seems that not only was his political approach to solving his community’s problems obsolete; his ideological, pragmatic and moderate approach had been jettisoned as well.
In the late 1970s critics and opponents emerged to denounce Sadr’s moderation, maintaining that the Shi`i community should widen its goals. Their strength increased with Musa Sadr’s disappearance and replacement as Amal’s leader by Nabih Barri, a lawyer from outside the circle of religious leaders. Among the new leaders was Sayyid Husayn Musawi, head of Islamic Amal which had been established at the end of the 1970s. In June 1982, Musawi parted company from his Amal colleagues to protest Barri’s consent to take part, together with Bashir Jumayyil, in the National Salvation Committee founded by thenpresident Ilyas Sarkis. Other radical Shi`i factions sprouted up alongside Islamic Amal, including: the Lebanese branch of the Shi`i organization alDa`wa, The Association of Muslim Clerics of Jabal `Amil (South Lebanon), and the Family of Brotherhood under the leadership of Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah. (11)
Once these groups coalesced to form Hizballah–under Iranian patronage and encouragement–they had to decide whether it would be subsidiary to Iran or a Lebanese organization with complete independence of action? Certainly, the Hizballah leaders agreed on their goal of establishing an Islamic regime in Lebanon, modeled on Iran, as a step toward founding one united Islamic state to encompass all the Muslim world.
As Husayn alMusawi, elaborated in 1984: “We are faithful to Imam Khomeyni politically, religiously and ideologically. In accordance with Khomeyni’s teaching we strive to fight all manifestations of corruption and vanity in this world, and all who fight the Muslims….Our struggle is in the east as well as the west….Our goal is to lay the groundwork for the reign of the Mahdi on earth, the reign of truth and justice.” (12)
The organization’s platform, published in February 1985, stated: [We] “regard ourselves as a part of the Muslim people of the world,” and that “the supreme triumph in Iran was to bring about the re-establishment of the nucleus of the great Muslim state in the world.” (13)
The platform enumerated the following practical, immediate political goals:
1. To drive Israel out of Lebanon as a prelude to its complete annihilation and the liberation of Jerusalem.
2. To force the U.S., France and their allies out of Lebanon and eradicate all traces of their influence in this country.
3. To subjugate the Phalangists to the rule of justice and bring them to justice for their crimes against the Muslims and Christians, perpetrated with the encouragement of the U.S. and Israel.
4. To give full freedom of choice to our people to determine their fate and choose the form of government they desire. Since we do not hide our commitment to the rule of Islam, we call upon the nation to choose an Islamic regime, which alone can assure justice and honor for all and foil any attempt at renewed imperialist infiltration of our country. (14)
These goals are all of a piece, the cornerstone of which is the campaign to destroy Israel and struggle against the West as the principal means to build an Islamic regime in Lebanon. It was not long until this became a practical, as well as ideological, focus of Hizballah activity. (15)
Nonetheless, the organization’s efforts at moderation and even pragmatism in the internal Lebanese context are conspicuous in the platform, as it says the intention is to persuade the residents of Lebanon rather than to force them to accept an Islamic regime. The platform states: “If our compatriots are given the opportunity to freely choose a system of government for Lebanon they will prefer Islam, and therefore we issue a call to adopt the path of Islam out of free and direct choice of the people, and not by means of coercion.” (16)
This dilemma is manifest also in the organization’s structure. From the very start of its activity, Hizballah tried to give itself an image of an organization based on broad, even spontaneous support in Lebanon. Nevertheless, one characteristic was the establishment of a hierarchical organizational infrastructure, similar in many ways to the Iranian revolution. This is most obvious with respect to the decisive role clerics play in leadership. Spiritual leader Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah serves as a source of inspiration and guidance. Beside him is the Advisory Council (Majlis alShura) of religious sages headed by the Secretary General of the organization, Hasan Nasrallah. The Advisory Council is supplemented by the executive committee in charge of political and organizational activities. Subordinate to the committee are other executive bodies, including a political bureau and cultural, educational and financial committees.
The military apparatus has training bases, weapon stores and recruitment offices, as well as military activities against Israel. Another important apparatus is propaganda whose publications include a weekly, al`Ahd and also alSabil, alWahda alIslamiyya and alMuntaliq. Hizballah operates a television and radio station. In the Biqa`, Beirut and south Lebanon are regional commanders, subordinate to Hizballah’s Secretary General and a representative of the central apparatuses. (17)
The apparent contradiction between Hizballah’s true long- term objectives and effort to appear moderate is reflected in an internal conflict between the more pragmatic and the more radical. A key issue here is the extent to which Hizballah leaders will adjust their strategy and tactics to the Lebanese reality, The following factors come into play:
First, Lebanese society is not homogenous but rather a mosaic of communities. Historical experience shows clearly that no single community can subordinate the others. This is due to the communities own internal social structure and political system, limited political and military practical power, etc. (18) Any attempt by one community to strengthen its own standing at the others’ expense is liable to cause them to unite against it.Hence, the communities have no choice but to coexist no matter how hard that may be.
Second, the Shi`is of the eastern Mediterranean shore have always been a small minority among a hostile Sunni population. Syria is mostly Sunni, ruled by the minority Alawis but with a regime whose secularist world view and own interests make it a potential enemy of a radical Islamic organization like Hizballah.
Third, Hizballah does not enjoy majority support even among the Shi`i community. Most studies show that, at most, 2025% of the community supports Hizballah, with Amal favored by more than 30%. (19) Some Shi`i support has gone to external elements, like Maronite General Michel `Awn between the years 19881990.(20)
For most of the 1980s, the dilemma over Hizballah’s future course and goals remained a mostly theoretical problem, requiring no choice between an Iranian or a Lebanese route. Moreover, the organization became ever stronger during the civil war for two principle reasons. First, chaos and the total absence of a functioning government let Hizballah act with total impunity. Second, Hizballah’s campaign against the Israeli presence in south Lebanon gained it Iran’s generous support, great popularity among the Shi`i population, and–since it served Syrian interests–no Syrian opposition. Hizballah’s strength was all the more prominent against the problems of its Lebanese competitors: the Maronites, Sunnis, and even Amal.
At the end of the 1980s Hizballah had become an impressive organizational and military force, able to control West Beirut, the most important Sunni center in Lebanon, as well as parts of the Biqa` Valley and the south. Even then, though, Hizballah could not win hegemony in the Shi`i community because Syria backed its rival. (21)
Hizballah’s New Challenges
At the height of this success, Hizballah was confronted with a series of challenges threatening its accomplishments and jeopardizing its continued activity or even its very existence.
First and foremost of these was the signing of the Ta`if accords on October 22, 1989. This marked the end of the civil war and laid the foundation for a new Lebanese order under Syrian patronage. (22) In essence, the accord constituted a new formula for coexistence among different communities replacing the old National Covenant of 1943. However, like its predecessor, the Ta`if accords is a MaroniteSunni compact for these two groups–or, more specifically, each’s notable families–to maintain control over state and society. (23)
This was a dramatic reversal of the civil war’s damage to their power and leadership. During the war years the Shi`i community grew to be Lebanon’s largest, constituting, as of early 1995, about 35% of the population. In the past, the Maronite and Sunni communities had been the larger groups. (24)
Second, at the war’s end the Maronites and Sunnis were left without external support and protection (in the Sunni case, without even a militia to protect community interests). The Maronites–at least the majority of their camp–were backed by Syria at the start of the war (1976), later by Israel (19812), and finally by the US and France (19834). By war’s end they were alone. The Sunnis were initially supported by the PLO and later became totally dependent on Damascus’s goodwill.
To prevent the Shi`i community from taking over Lebanon, Sunni and Maronite leaders ended the civil war. The resulting Ta`if accords benefitted them under Syrian patronage. The Shi`is were only given the insultingly minor compensation of a formal elevation of the status of the Shi`i Chairman of the Parliament to that of the Maronite President and the Sunni Prime Minister.
Further, restoration of normalcy involved a return to the political system where battles would be waged by words in parliament rather than by force of arms. Traditionally, the Shi`is had traditionally been weak there, and it was certainly not Hizballah’s area of specialty. Amal had the advantage. And once a viable government and stable society emerged, Hizballah’s alternative of revolution and an Islamic state seemed more distant and less attractive. If Lebanon’s institutions are rebuilt this also blocks Hizballah’s attempt to strengthen its base by providing social services to the Shi`i community.
Immediately after the signing of the Ta`if accords, Hizballah made clear its reservations and opposition to it. A signal of this may have been its being behind the assassination of Lebanese President-elect Rene Mu`awwad on November 22, 1989, by a car bomb explosion. (25)
The peace process between Israel and her Arab neighbors has posed another direct threat. Its successful conclusion would undercut one of Hizballah’s sources of power and legitimacy, the struggle against Israel. While it is true that as long as the political process was frozen, Syria preferred to allow Hizballah’s activity against Israel–at times even encouraging it to pressure Israel, progress in the peace process puts Syria in a difficult spot. Damascus does not want to undermine its chances to regain the Golan Heights and win Israeli recognition of its predominant position in Lebanon. Continued Hizballah activity against Israel in the event of an Israeli-Syrian accord or progress in peace negotiations could make Syria and a Lebanese client regime determined to control Hizballah.
Indeed, as early as September 13, 1993, at a Hizballah demonstration in West Beirut protesting the Israel-PLO agreement, Lebanese army and police forces opened fire on Shi`i demonstrators, killing nine. Hizballah refers to the event as the ‘September 13th Massacre’ and its leaders have repeatedly promised to settle the score with the Lebanese regime responsible for it. (26) It would seem, however, that these same leaders learned a lesson and have thereafter avoided direct military confrontation with the Lebanese government. This clearly reflects the limitations imposed by the new Lebanese reality since Ta`if. Another example of Lebanese determination, with Syrian backing, to limit and, if possible, defang the organization, is a 1994 report that Lebanese and Syrian forces in the Biqa` valley confiscated weapons from members of Hizballah. (27)
Iran’s weakened status resulting from internal difficulties, has exacerbated the challenge facing the organization in recent years. Although Iran actively tried to distract public attention at home from domestic problems by instigating trouble abroad, encouragement of Hizballah’s struggle against Israel being one example, it has found it hard to maintain the level of financial assistance. There have been reports that Iranian aid to Hizballah has been cut sharply. (28)
Faced with this quandary, Hizballah appears prepared to adopt a pragmatic approach. In the framework of a series of decisions by its second convention in April 1991, Hizballah halted its overt campaign against the Ta`if accords and prepared to recognize it–or more precisely, to accept its rules in practice. Thus, Hizballah took part in the summer 1992 elections to Lebanon’s parliament, winning eight seats in the Biqa` Valley and gaining support from another four successful candidates. (29) These members on Hizballah’s Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc (Kutlat alWafa` lil-Muqawama) list have been involved actively on setting national policy regarding social, economic and political affairs. (30)
This activity gives Hizballah a convenient, legitimate platform for working against the regime and undermining the Ta`if structure without fighting them. Hizballah leaders continue to criticize the agreement. Fadlallah announced he “does not regard Lebanon as a state, but rather as a collection of political islands maintaining their positions of power and authority” and accused the government of making the country a “banana republic.” (31) He claimed, “The Ta`if agreement was born of an American decision, wrapped in an Arab `aqal [headband] and a Lebanese tarboosh [hat]” and does not reflect the Lebanese people’s will. (32) Still, by acting within the agreement’s framework Hizballah actually strengthens and legitimizes the new arrangement.
The long-run effect of Hizballah’s participation in Lebanese politics may coopt it more than the group’s leaders expect. As early as mid-1995, Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri reportedly met with Hizballah supporters in the House of Representatives with the aim of integrating them into his proposed government, or at least to gain their support. These talks failed because of U.S. pressure and Hizballah’s own reservations. Still, Hizballah’s willingness to have a dialogue with Hariri and consider joining his government is remarkable. (33) In October 1995, President Ilyas al-Hirawi’s term of office was extended for another three years sparking sharp opposition from many politicians, including Amal leader and House of Representatives Speaker Nabih Barri. Whatever its reservations, Hizballah did not join the opposition. Lebanese sources claimed it was secretly negotiating with Hirawi on possibly supporting him on the issue. (34) Hizballah’s patron, Iran, declared under Syrian pressure that it considered the extension of Hirawi’s term “an internal Lebanese matter.” (35)
Second, Hizballah has in recent years invested significant effort in establishing a political and social power base, alongside its militia, in the Shi`i community. It has set up an expanding infrastructure of schools, clinics, mosques and even supermarkets in villages and urban Shi`i quarters. (36) This undertaking is to a great extent dependent on Iranian aid. Some in Lebanon claimed this infrastructure is meant to absorb the group’s fighters if it is forced to curtail its campaign against Israel or barred from maintaining a militia. (37)
Third, Hizballah leaders have begun laying the ideological foundation for a shift from armed struggle to parliamentary maneuvering, This is shown by Fadlallah’s 1994 book endorsing IslamicChristian dialogue (Afaq alHiwar alIslami al Masihi). (38) Hizballah Secretary-General Nasrallah, asked about Hizballah’s ties to Iran and long-term goals, replied:
“The solution, in our opinion, is the establishment of an Islamic state in Lebanon and beyond, but this does not mean we must be hasty and impose such a solution by force on our country and countrymen….We prefer to wait for the day that we succeed in convincing our countrymenby means of dialogue and in an open atmospherethat the only alternative is the founding of an Islamic state.” (39)
Fourth, while Hizballah still expresses vehement opposition to the peace process, virulently attacking the Israel-Jordan and Israel-Palestinian agreements, (40) its leaders have hinted they would regretfully accommodate themselves to an IsraeliLebanese peace agreement and desist from armed struggle against Israel. Several, though not all, of its spokesmen have intimated that its immediate, as opposed to long-term, goal is to merely drive Israel from its south Lebanon security zone. In that event, said Nasrallah, “weapons may be laid down” (41) The 1993 Israel-Hizballah understandings on limiting their fighting might be seen as a proof of the process of Lebanonization and localization which Hizballah was undergoing.
Hizballah has in practice distinguished between long-term goals that remain unaltered and day-to-day policy which has profoundly changed to let it function in today’s Lebanon. The question is this strategy’s viability. The organization may not be able to divorce itself from its radical world view, thereby provoking various powers in Lebanon, or it may distance itself so completely as to lose its strength and base of support. Amal’s relatively greater popularity among Lebanese Shi`is seems likely to grow at Hizballah’s expense.
Hizballah’s campaign against Israel in South Lebanon’s security zone is symptomatic of the dilemma. Attacks against Israeli targets have escalated despite–or because of–advances in the political process. These attacks have become more ambitious and better-organized, including even Hizballah film crews to build support for these efforts. (42)
Within Hizballah, there is also a lively debate over the balance between recognizing limits and espousing an unmoderated ideology. At the moderate camp’s head stood `Abbas Musawi, Hizballah Secretary-General assassinated by Israel in February 1992 and Fadlallah. Leading the radical camp are Ibrahim Amin and Hasan Nasrallah. Military escalation along the Israeli border may be related to the power struggles between these two camps over control of Hizballah.
Indeed, the campaign against Israel was the reason that the Lebanese government gave for disarming all militias except for that of Hizballah in south Lebanon. Martin Kramer has quite rightly remarked that Hizballah owes its impact to violence. (43) The organization’s leaders, newspapers, radio and television broadcasts all uphold the central place of the battle against Israel as a way to mobilize and recruit supporters. (44)
Nasrallah went so far as to proclaim, “The primary focus of our activity is resistance and not the political bazaars of Beirut’. (45) Although Hizballah leaders have alluded to the possibility of ceasing hostilities against Israel in foreign press interviews, nothing like this is ever mentioned in local propaganda; on the contrary, they declare their commitment to “eradicating the Zionist entity on the soil of Palestine” and “the struggle against Israel will not cease even if a peace agreement is achieved. (46) Hizballah spokesmen are deliberately vague on anything touching on the issue of whether this is an immediate or long-term goal.
The escalation of Hizballah’s campaign against Israel to the point where it threatened the security zone’s existence has led Israel to step up efforts against the organization in recent years. A high point of Israeli operations was in February 1992 when Israeli helicopters killed Hizballah leader `Abbas Musawi as he proceeded in a motorcade. Hizballah responded by bombing Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires in March 1992, intensifying attacks from Lebanon, and shelling Israeli communities in the northern Galilee. (47)
This led to Operation Accountability in the summer of 1993, during which Israeli artillery shelled Shi`i villages in south Lebanon forcing hundreds of thousands of residents to flee north to Beirut. Israel’s intention was to use massive air power to cause indirect pressure on the Beirut government in Beirut, and thereby on the Syrian regime as well, to constrain Hizballah. By the end of Operation Accountability, a tacit understanding between Israel and Hizballah was reached with U.S. and Syrian help stipulating that Hizballah would not attack northern Israel and Israel would not fire at Lebanese civilian areas or Hizballah targets located in them. (48)
Israel could not effectively counteract Hizballah activity. In January 1994, for example, after Israel’s air force repeatedly attacked a Hizballah training camp in `Ayn Dardara, leaving dozens of casualties, Hizballah responded with strikes against the Jewish community center building in Buenos Aires and the Israeli embassy in London. Hizballah managed to sustain a balance of terror against Israel which, alongside the latter’s reluctance to bring too much pressure on Beirut lest talks with Damascus be slowed, in effect handicapped Israel, as even the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin admitted. (49)
These Israeli limitations and a lack of progress in the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations, let Hizballah continue to play its main card, the struggle against Israel. When Israel responded, especially when Lebanese civilians were hit, Hizballah shelled Israel, portraying itself as protector of the Lebanese population. Hizballah’s escalation led Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in April 1996 to launch Operation Grapes of Wrath, following the model of Operation Accountability of July 1993. As happened previously, this operation ended with an achievement for Hizballah which had to commit itself again to not attack Israel itself but whose right to attack Israeli forces in the security zone was recognized in writing. (50)
Israeli pressure on the civilian population, peaking when 107 Shi`ite civilians taking refuge in a UN camp near Qana were killed by artillery shells aimed at Hizballah gunmen, increased the organization’s support. It played an important role in aiding the Shi`ite population in south Lebanon with food, shelter and financial aid to rebuild damaged homes. (51) These gains for Hizballah may well be short-term ones.
It should be remembered that while Syria permits these strikes to use them as leverage against Israel and to maintain good relations with Iran, it does not direct these strikes. The Syrians have repeatedly implied that a peace agreement between the two countries would ensure quiet in Lebanon. duck (52) Across the Israeli political spectrum it is generally believed that only an IsraeliSyrian peace accord can move the Syrians to stop Hizballah attacks on Israel. (53) While Hizballah leaders have intimated a readiness to accept such an accord, albeit with teeth clenched, one wonders whether a halt to antiIsrael activity– combined with other inevitable changes in Hizballah’s internal, Lebanese policy–would be suicidal as it would mean the end of its unique position in Shi`ite affairs.
Apparently, Hizballah is aware of this problem. Its newspaper, al`Ahd, responding to remarks by Lebanese Minister of Defense Muhsin Dallul that Hizballah will disintegrate once Israel’s occupation ends, stated, “Hizballah needs no one to speak for it as it reflects the opinion of a wide section of the Lebanese people…and is an enterprising pioneer in the life of the nation, whose existence does not depend on these or other circumstances or on [any] political developments.” (54)
Since Hizballah first appeared in 1983, it has become one of the most powerful forces within the Shi`i community and in Lebanon. In the late 1980s it even seemed the organization was approaching its goal of turning the Shi`i community under its leadership into an avant garde to make Lebanon an Islamic state. However, in recent years this prospect has faded. The very dependence of Hizballah’s identity and strength on attacking Israel means that any erosion of that strategy would jeopardize its future. Similarly, Lebanon’s rehabilitation and Iran’s weakening also pose problems for Hizballah.
In response, Hizballah has adopted a more pragmatic approach to Lebanese politics and hints that it might do the same on another front if the Arab-Israel peace process succeeds. A transition from a revolutionary military organization to a parliamentary party is not an easy one. Even success in gaining a new identity might rob Hizballah of its hardwon assets.
Despite impressive battlefield successes and Iran’s backing, Hizballah has not become the leading force even in the Shi`i community. Still, insofar as the Ta`if accords and the new Syrian order in Lebanon do not secure long term quiet and stability in Lebanon and the IsraeliArab peace process runs into difficulties, Hizballah will continue as a key player.
1. Al’Ahd (Beirut), 26 August 1994.
2. See Martin Kramer, The Moral Logic of Hizballah, Occasional Papers No. 101 (Tel Aviv: The Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University, August 1987), pp. 67; idem., “Sacrifice and Fratricide in Shiite Lebanon,” Terrorism and Political Violence 3/3 (Autumn 1991), pp. 36-37; idem., “Hizballah: The Calculus of Jihad,” in Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appelby (eds.), Fundamentalism and the State (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 547. See also, Yosef Olmert, “Lebanon,” in Haim Shaked and Daniel Dishon (eds.), Middle East Contemporary Survey (hereafter referred to as MECS) 8 (1983-84) (Boulder, Co: Westview Press, 1986), p. 553.
3. Martin Kramer, “Redeeming Jerusalem: The Pan-Islamic Premise of Hizballah,” in David Menashri (ed.), The Iranian Revolution and the Muslim World(Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990), pp. 10530; Shimon Shapira, Shiite Radicalism in Lebanon: Historical Roots and Organizational, Political and Ideological Patterns, MA Thesis (Tel Aviv University, May 1987); idem., Iranian Policy in Lebanon 19591991, Ph.D. Thesis (Tel Aviv University, 1994), pp. 10754.
4. Augustus Richard Norton, “Lebanon: The Internal Conflict and the Iranian Revolution,” in John L. Esposito (ed.), The Iranian Revolution Its Global Impact(Miami: Florida International University, 1990), p. 126; Shapira , pp. 107,109,12023,14043.
5. Annual Iranian financial aid to the Hizballah is estimated at between dozens of millions of dollars to $350 million. Since 1992 there has been a substantial reduction in the amount. AlMajalla, 1521 August 1994; Ha’aretz, 27 April 1994; William B. Harris, “Lebanon”, in Ami Ayalon (ed.), MECS 16 (1992) (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994), p. 613; N. Hamzeh, “Lebanon’s Hizballah: From Islamic Revolution to Parliamentary Accommodation”, Third World Quarterly 14/2 (1993), p. 328, on the Hizballah’s social activities, see pp. 321-37; Norton , p. 127; idem, “Shi`ism and Social Protest in Lebanon”, in Juan R. I. Cole and Nikki R. Keddie (eds.), Shi`ism and Social Protest (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 15678.
6. Zeev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, War in Lebanon (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Schocken Publishing House, 1984).See also Reuters, 17 April 1996.
7. A. Soffer, “Lebanon-Where Demography is the Fare of Politics and Life”, Middle Eastern Studies 18 (1982), pp. 197205; Martin Kramer, “Hizballah: The Calculus of Jihad” , p. 540.
8. See, Fouad Ajami, The Vanished Imam-Musa alSadr and the Shia of Lebanon (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986); Shapira , pp. 1623.
9. Shapira , p. 19; Ajami , pp. 12540.
10. Augustus Richard Norton, Amal and the Shi`a: Struggle for the Soul of Lebanon (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987).
11. Shapira , pp. 2443; Kramer, ‘The Moral Logic of Hizballah’ , pp. 29.
12. AlKifah al`Arabi, 9 January 1994.
13. Hizballah, Nus alRisala alMaftuha alati Wajjahaha Hizballah ila alMustad’afin fi Lubnan wal`Alam (Beirut: February 1985), pp. 56.
14. Ibid., p. 15.
15. See, Kramer .
16. Hizballah , p. 19.
17. See Anat Kurz, Naskit Burgin and David Tal (eds.), Islamic Terrorism and Israel (Tel Aviv: Papirus, 1993), pp. 4345.
18. See Kamal Salibi, The Modern History of Lebanon (London: Caravan Books, 1965); idem, A House of Many Mansions (London: I. B. Tauris, 1988).
19. Norton , p. 123.
20. Interview with Mansour Raad, Middle East Research and Information Report 162/20/1 (JanuaryFebruary 1991), pp. 1114; Norton , p. 133; Harris , p. 5059.
21. See, Norton , pp. 13032; Kramer, “Hizballah: The Calculus of Jihad” , pp. 54752; Harris , pp. 52628.
22. The Ta’if accords involves a change in the distribution of positions of political power among the Lebanese sects. The agreement stipulates an equality between Muslim and Christian delegates in parliament (as compared with a ratio of 5 Muslims to 6 Christians in the past). It leaves the presidency to the Maronites, but extends the authority of the Sunni prime minister and the Shi`i speaker of parliament, making their power equal to that of the president.
23. Harris , pp. 51925; A. R. Norton, “Lebanon After Ta`if: Is the Civil War Over,” Middle East Journal 45/3 (Summer 1991); S. Nasr, “Lebanon’s War: Is the End is Sight,” MERIP 162/20/1 (January-February 1990), pp. 49.
24. Soffer , pp. 197205; Kramer, “Hizballah: The Calculus of Jihad” , pp. 540.
25. William B. Harris, “Lebanon,” in Ami Ayalon (ed.), MECS 13 (1989) (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991), p. 524.
26. AlSafir, 14 September 1994; Al`Ahd, 9 September 1994.
27. AFP (PARIS), 22 March-Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Near East and South Asia (FBIS: NES), Daily Report (DR), 22 October 1994.
28. Ha’aretz, 27 April 1994; AlMajalla, 1521 August 1994; Hamzeh , p. 328.
29. Harris , pp. 598-608.
30. Al`Ahd, 4, 11, 18 November 1994; Hamzeh , p. 328.
31. Al`Ahd, 8 April 1994.
33. Al-Safir, 7 June 1995.
34. Al-Hayat (London based), 9 September, 2 October 1995.
35. Ibid., 2, 22 October 1995.
36. Ibid., 22 April; Ha’aretz, 27 April 1994.
37. Al-Hayat, 23 February; Ha’aretz, 16 April 1994.
38. Al-`Ahd, 10 April 1994; Interview with Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, Middle East Insight, 10/6 (September-October 1994), pp. 18-22; Hamzeh , p. 324.
39. Al-`Ahd, 26 August 1994.
40. See al-`Ahd, 10, 24 September 1993, 28 October 1994.
41. Al-Hayat, 14 April 1994; Ha’aretz, 16 April 1995.
42. Al-`Ahd, 8, 15 March; Ma’ariv, 28 April, 3 May 1995.
43. Kramer, “Hizballah: The Calculus of Jihad” , p. 539.
44. Al-`Ahd, 15 July, 26 August, 4, 11, 18 November 1994.
45. Ibid., 15 July 1994.
46. Ibid., 9 September, 28 October 1994, 3 February 1995; Ba`lbak, Voice of the Oppressed, 15 February — DR, 15 February 1995.
47. See Efraim Inbar and Elie Rechess, “Israel,” MECS , pp. 517-518.
48. William B. Harris, “Lebanon” in Ami Ayalon (ed.) MECS 17 (1993) (Boulder, Co: Westview Press, 1995), pp. 527-8.
49. Ha’aretz, 2, 3, May, 16 December 1995.
50. Ibid., 26, 28, 29 April 1995.
51. Al-Hayat, 29 April, 3 May; Reuters, 3 May 1996.
52. See an interview given by the Syrian Foreign Minister, Faruq al-Shar` to Israeli TV, Channel 1, 7 October – DR, 10 October 1994. See also Ha’aretz, 5 January 1996.
53 Ha’aretz, 16, 18 June, 29 December 1995. See also Eyal Zisser, “Syria,” MECS , p. 739.
54 Al-Hayat, 9 September 1994.
Dr. Eyal Zisser is a Research Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies, and a Lecturer in the department of Middle Eastern and African History, Tel Aviv University.