[Marxism] Amid Ties to Iran, Hezbollah Builds Its Own Identity (WSJ)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Jul 21 05:49:52 MDT 2006

(Two days after Granma's look at Lebanese Hezbollah, the WALL
STREET JOURNAL gives its assessment. Lots of common facts given
http://www.walterlippmann.com/docs836.html including this:

("As a tight-knit guerrilla organization in an increasingly weak state,
Hezbollah may be better-prepared to endure the Israeli onslaught than
Lebanon's mainstream parties and organizations, say Lebanese
analysts. Hezbollah is trying to position itself as the principal
guarantor of Lebanese sovereignty.")

July 21, 2006

Fighting Force
Amid Ties to Iran,
Hezbollah Builds
Its Own Identity
Shiite Group's Leader Vows
Defiance After Israeli Hit;
A Gift for Propaganda
'Frighteningly Professional'
By JAY SOLOMON in Beirut, Lebanon, 
and KARBY LEGGETT in Jerusalem
July 21, 2006; Page A1

A day after Israel dropped 23 tons of explosives in an attempt to
kill him, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah appeared on al-Jazeera
television yesterday and struck a defiant pose. "Hezbollah has
absorbed your strike and retaken the initiative," he told Israelis,
wagging a finger for emphasis. "We have more surprises to come."

The theatrical threat was a reminder that, for all of Hezbollah's
allegiance to Iran, the Lebanese militant group is a force with its
own strong identity in the region. Mr. Nasrallah has tried to build
himself into an anti-Israel symbol in the Arab world, while
sharpening Hezbollah's military discipline and spreading its
tentacles in Lebanese society.

Hezbollah's dual nature -- as a suspected tool of Iran's regional
ambitions and as a Lebanese group with its own charismatic leader --
complicates the search for a solution to the crisis in the Middle
East. The crisis started when Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli
soldiers. Israel retaliated by carrying out bombing across Lebanon
and slapping a naval blockade on the country.

Hezbollah's flag, a fist reaching toward an AK-47, is modeled after
the symbol of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. And Hezbollah maintains an
office on Tehran's premier boulevard. Israel and the U.S. are eager
to crush the group as a means to limit Iran's own military
capabilities. Many U.S. officials believe Tehran has been inciting
Hezbollah to act against Israel as a way of discouraging Western
efforts to contain its nuclear program.

Virtually all Lebanese politicians and analysts agree that the
current crisis is unlikely to end without Iran's involvement. Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly praised Hezbollah's latest
moves to confront Israel. Until Iran actively calls for Hezbollah to
lay down its arms, few Lebanese believe it will.

Yet Hezbollah's history has been a balancing act between its Iranian
backers and its Lebanese identity. "Some people try to make it look
like Hezbollah is a mere tool in the hands of the Iranians in
Lebanon," says Aly al-Amine, a Lebanese political analyst. "The fact
is that Hezbollah has its ideology and beliefs as well as internal
discipline and secret security system."

>From its start in the early 1980s, Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim group,
had a close association with the leaders of Shiite-dominated Iran's
1979 Islamic revolution. Lebanon's Shiite community is estimated to
be around 40% of the nation's population. Shiites have long been at
the bottom of the country's economic ladder, with high unemployment
and illiteracy rates. Lebanon's Christian and Sunni classes have
dominated the country's political and business circles.

Iran's financial aid and religious oversight in the 1980s helped
galvanize Lebanon's Shiites. U.S. intelligence officials based in
Beirut during the period say cadres from Iran's Revolutionary Guard
encouraged women to wear the Islamic veil and inspired social groups
and charities in Lebanon's Shiite slums. Young Lebanese Shiite men
went to Iran for military training.

Hezbollah, which means "Party of God" in Arabic, was born in this
milieu. Iranian leadership instilled impressive discipline among
Hezbollah's ranks and a flair for the dramatic. One former Central
Intelligence Agency chief in Lebanon said he was amazed by the sight
of Hezbollah fighters walking in goose steps down a Beirut avenue.
"It seemed pretty clear that they were just an extension" of the
Revolutionary Guard, he said.

Hezbollah quickly became the leading force in combating Israeli and
U.S. influence in the region. After U.S. Marines occupied Lebanon in
an attempt to enforce a United Nations-sponsored peace agreement
between warring Lebanese factions, Hezbollah carried out a string of
kidnappings and suicide bombings against American targets in Beirut
and elsewhere. In October 1983, a Hezbollah bomber killed more than
241 Marines in a suicide attack on the Americans' barracks in Beirut.
It was the largest terrorist attack on U.S. citizens at that time.

The ringleader of these and subsequent attacks, say U.S. and Israeli
officials, is Hezbollah's chief military official, Imad Mugniyah. A
former bodyguard for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Mr.
Mugniyah had been an engineering student at the American University
in Beirut. He is at the top of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's
most-wanted terrorist list, with a $5 million bounty on his head.

Over the years, Hezbollah worked to develop its own identity and
become part of Lebanon's social fabric. In the south, for example,
the group provides its social services to significant numbers of
Christians and Druze Lebanese. Last year, after Syria decided to
withdraw its troops from Lebanon, elected Hezbollah politicians
joined Lebanon's ruling coalition government for the first time. That
forced the movement to focus more energy on Lebanese issues.

Leading the Push

The man who has led this push, say Lebanese politicians and analysts,
has been the 46-year-old Mr. Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary
general. He took control of Hezbollah in 1992, following the
assassination of its previous leader, Abbas al-Musawi. Mr. Nasrallah
wears glasses and a black turban and sports a salt-and-pepper beard.

Originally a member of a largely secular Shiite party, Mr. Nasrallah
took a more Islamist outlook under Iranian influence, say people who
have met him. He studied for three years at a Shiite seminary in the
Iraqi city of Najaf.

Upon his return, he gained the respect of many Hezbollah fighters by
spending significant time at the Israeli front, these people say. Mr.
Nasrallah's own son was killed fighting against Israel, sealing Mr.
Nasrallah's reputation as a man willing to sacrifice for his cause.
He was held in even higher esteem when, upon viewing the bodies of
the dead fighters, he didn't linger any longer over his own son's
body than over the others.

One of Mr. Nasrallah's first changes as a Hezbollah leader was to
separate its military and political arms, say those who worked with
him. During the 1980s, Hezbollah fighters were often massacred in
firefights with Israelis, say Lebanese military analysts, provoking
concerns that politicians, intentionally or inadvertently, were
tipping off the Israeli army. Today, the organization's military
officers report only to Mr. Nasrallah among Hezbollah's Shura
Council, its organizing body.

"Hezbollah is probably the best-organized group in the entire Middle
East," says Fouad Hamdan, a Lebanese democracy activist and Hezbollah
critic who now lives in Europe. "They are frighteningly professional."

Mr. Nasrallah also vowed to retaliate for every Israeli attack.
Hezbollah began flying unarmed drones over Israel in response to the
constant buzzing of Israeli jets and predator drones. One person who
knows Mr. Nasrallah says the leader sought to make the drone as noisy
as possible in an attempt to unnerve Israeli citizens, even though he
knew it had limited military potential.

Hezbollah's secretary general is also described as a skillful
propagandist. In recent years, al-Manar, Hezbollah's television
network, has taken to dispatching reporters on military operations,
filming battles and the slaying of Israeli military personnel. The
goal is to galvanize support for Hezbollah among Palestinian and
other Arab groups. The U.S. has blacklisted the channel as a
terrorist organization and sought to block its advertising and

"Al-Manar is Nasrallah's baby and has been very effective in the
propaganda war," says Timur Goksel, a former spokesman for the U.N.
in southern Lebanon. For Hezbollah's opponents, he says "it can be
very demoralizing."

Even as Mr. Nasrallah has developed Hezbollah into an independent
force, he has also deepened its ties with Iran. U.S. and Israeli
officials say a steady stream of Iranian military hardware flows to
Hezbollah through Syria -- including night-vision goggles, machine
guns, explosives, rockets and missiles. These officials say Iran has
also supplied a long-range guided missile known as the Zelzal, which
military experts believe can reach Tel Aviv from Lebanon.

In all, Iran is estimated by some military analysts to provide
Hezbollah as much as $120 million a year for its activities.
Hezbollah's annual budget is estimated to be at least $250 million,
experts on the group say. Revolutionary Guard agents continue to
train Hezbollah fighters, both in southern Lebanon and in Iran
itself, U.S. and Israeli officials say. Iran denies it has agents in
Lebanon, as does Hezbollah.

As Shiites, Iranian and Hezbollah leaders share a common view of
history, seeing their sect as a victim of mistreatment at the hands
of Sunni Muslims, European colonialists, and today Israel and

Beyond Weapons

Iran's support for Hezbollah goes beyond weapons. In Hermel, a city
in the northern stretch of Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, Iranian money
helped Hezbollah set up an organic farm. Sitting in his office on a
recent day, Hussein Kansoh extolled the virtues of Hezbollah's
construction arm and the support it gets from Iran. Behind him was a
picture of Iran's top cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "We have big
plans for the future," he said.

Some say Hezbollah may have overstepped by kidnapping the Israeli
soldiers -- a gambit that almost certainly was carried out with
Iran's approval. Lebanon's prime minister, Fuad Siniora, has
repeatedly criticized Hezbollah for threatening his country's
economic and political future by unilaterally plunging Lebanon into a
war with Israel. Many Sunni-majority nations that are wary of Iran's
growing power, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, are actively
supporting the push by the U.S. and Israel to completely disarm

Hezbollah runs the risk of depleting its military as it uses up its
missile stocks and suffers the daily Israeli barrage. "Hezbollah
might have been surprised by the Israeli response, or it might have
been tricked into believing that other regional forces would join the
war," said Mr. al-Amine, the political analyst.

But in yesterday's pretaped interview on al-Jazeera, which the Arab
satellite channel said was conducted amid heavy security, Mr.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah is well-prepared to keep fighting. He
specifically mentioned the amount of explosives that Israel dropped
on a Hezbollah compound on Wednesday, apparently trying to prove he
survived the strike. Mocking Israel, he said: "Even if the whole
universe comes, they will not be able to take back your two

Mr. Nasrallah called again for a prisoner swap with Israel, which
holds some Hezbollah fighters in its jails. Appealing for Muslim
support, he said a defeat for Hezbollah will be "a defeat for the
entire Islamic nation." His comments came as Israeli troops and
Hezbollah guerrillas were engaged in a fierce firefight about one
mile inside southern Lebanon. At least two Israeli soldiers were
killed as well as several Hezbollah fighters.

As a tight-knit guerrilla organization in an increasingly weak state,
Hezbollah may be better-prepared to endure the Israeli onslaught than
Lebanon's mainstream parties and organizations, say Lebanese
analysts. Hezbollah is trying to position itself as the principal
guarantor of Lebanese sovereignty.

"Israel has not been able to undermine Hezbollah's military
capabilities...because the resistance has no fixed bases or bunkers,"
said Nawar Saheli, a Hezbollah lawmaker. "It fights in a way that the
Israeli enemy fails to fathom."

-- Mariam Fam in Beirut, Lebanon contributed to this article.

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