by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker Blog
Following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, Lebanon looked like it had totally lost its independence and ability of self-determination. Later on, and with Israeli boots still on Lebanese ground, the Lebanese government was coerced to reach the 17th of May (1983) peace accord with Israel; and which was in reality tantamount to terms of surrender.
By then, the underground resistance, known back then as “The Lebanese Resistance”, was launched, and it was already causing much concern for the Israeli occupiers. As for the 17th of May accord, the then Lebanese President, Amin Gemayel, found himself between a rock and a hard place; supporters of the accord and those against. And even though back then the supporters were a political and military majority, Gemayel did not want to be remembered in the books of history as the President who surrendered to Israel, and refused to ratify the accord.
What happened afterwards is now history. The resistance gained momentum, and with all the might of the Israeli army and the large number of local Lebanese militia that collaborated with it, Israel had to leave Lebanon defeated in April 2000.
This epic victory couldn’t have happened without two men; President Hafez Assad and Hassan Nasrallah.
Hezbollah was a small organization back in 1982 and Nasrallah was not the founding leader. He became the leader after founding leader Abbas Al-Musawi was killed by Israel in 1992. Nasrallah has been the leader ever since, and has managed to evade many would-be assassination attempts and many disasters that would undermine the sovereignty and integrity of not only Lebanon, but also Syria.
This is not meant to be a historical narrative. The stops I shall make are meant to be those pertinent to the standing of Hezbollah and how it is perceived by the Lebanese community.
Hezbollah has had thus far three major victories. The first was the afore-mentioned victory over Israel in 2000 when the Israeli army was made to retreat from Lebanon unconditionally. Never before had Israel ever left occupied Arab land unconditionally. This is not to mention that southern Lebanon is rich in water, something Israel lacks and is in dire need for. The defeat was so humiliating that Israel had to save face, calling it a “tactical withdrawal”.
The second victory came in July 2006 when the Israeli incursion and massive bombing of Lebanon did not result in any Israeli gains and Israel again withdrew from Lebanon under heavy casualties; including marine casualties.
The third victory was in Syria where Hezbollah played a huge role in staving off the attack on its Syrian ally.
For any Lebanese or Arab to even attempt to take away from Hezbollah its achievements is tantamount to national treason; and I cannot make this statement more vehemently.
With the Arab World divided on lines based on foundations essentially that of capitulation and accepting the American/Israeli roadmap, and that of the opposite dipole of independent decision-making, it is not a surprise therefore that Hezbollah has been gaining momentum in the hearts and minds of Arabs of the so-called resistance axis.
In my previous article, http://thesaker.is/the-lebanese-fall-hezbollahs-latest-challenge/, I predicted that the current widely popular uprising in Lebanon can eventually be diverted by the enemies of Hezbollah in order to transform the anger against corruption into anger against the political ally of the government; ie Hezbollah. In a matter of a few days since, this prediction is taking form. There has been increasing criticism of Hezbollah for allegedly turning a blind eye to the burgeoning state of corruption in the government.
Nasrallah addressed the issue recently in a televised speech. His words however fell short of generating a sense of satisfaction in the protesters, even from many protagonists of the axis of resistance. Deep down inside, even many of the staunchest supporters of Hezbollah believe that it has seriously overlooked the consequences of its silence in regards to the three years of extreme corruption of the Aoun tenure.
Cartoons showing president Aoun on his presidential chair with Nasrallah as his shadow are circulating on social media. There are rallies in heartlands of Hezbollah, expressing utter dis-satisfaction with the government. A close friend of mine who wishes not to be named told me that “Nasrallah should understand that protecting the integrity of a country is not restricted to guarding its borders against invaders, but also guarding its economy and domestic wellbeing”. He added that ”…even though Nasrallah was exemplary in protecting Lebanon’s state borders from Israel, he allowed for the economic borders, the infra-structure borders and the public services borders of Lebanon to be breached and looted dry from within by his corrupt political allies”.
There are unconfirmed stories alleging that there are $800 Bn worth of looted money banked in Swiss accounts by corrupt Lebanese politicians. If true, this would constitute a massive figure by any standards, let alone that of a country of 4.5 million citizens. What seems to be certain is that the central bank (Banque Du Liban) has only $11-12 Bn out of the $120 Bn that local banks have deposited.
The domestic and international enemies of Hezbollah and the axis of resistance are already using everything in their armament to turn the anger of the Lebanese people against Hezbollah. They are digging up skeletons such as a video interview of Nasrallah back in 1982, long before he became Hezbollah chairman, and circulating it on social media, in which Nasrallah says that Hezbollah’s ideology is based on establishing a Muslim state in Lebanon, adjunct to Iran. And, even though Nasrallah has made many statements later on that emphasize the importance of plurality and unity of Lebanon, that dated video is the one stealing the show right now.
At this juncture, it must be stated that even most of the staunchest supporters of the axis of resistance do not want for Lebanon to become a religious state by any definition.
In more ways than one, Hezbollah, and Nasrallah in particular, have taken on board too many agendas to juggle; that of an anti-Israel resistance spearhead, a political power in Lebanon, and according to many, a Shiite religious agenda, or at least a commitment to empower the minority Shiite sector of Lebanon.
The truth of the matter is that any two of the above three are incompatible with each other, let alone all three, and for as long as Hezbollah seemingly clings to all of them, it is creating the Achilles Heel that can lead to its own undoing.
Unlike the IRA, Hezbollah does not have a separate political wing. And unlike Gerry Adams who represented Sinn Fein, Nasrallah represents both, the military as well as the political side of Hezbollah; and also the religious. He therefore has put himself in a situation in which he cannot distance himself from any actions and/or decisions that can or may backfire.
Politics is a dirty quagmire, and Lebanese politics in particular is dirtier than most, if not the dirtiest. If Hezbollah wanted to remain above it and with the sole objective to protect Lebanon’s southern borders, being involved in politics was not essential for its survival.
By entering the world of politics, Hezbollah had to play by the rules of the Lebanese ruling Mafia. And even though Nasrallah said on many occasions that the military might of Hezbollah will only be used against Israel, in reality it isn’t and wasn’t. To begin with, there is a haunting and daunting feeling within Lebanon that Hezbollah will forcefully crush any potential move to disarm it. Secondly, when the political opposition threatened to control the streets in May 2007, Hezbollah made a pre-emptive move. This was not a wise decision, even though it was followed by an almost immediate surrender of its positions to the Lebanese Army. In the minds of many Lebanese, this remains till now, a dark point in the history of Hezbollah; one that is replayed and replayed to remind people of how determined Hezbollah can be if challenged. As mentioned in the previous article, after this event, Hezbollah irreversibly lost a huge chunk of its Sunni support base.
It can be argued that the amazing military victories Hezbollah scored made it complacent, even perhaps too self-assured. But this again has been another unwise move. Unless a popular resistance force does all it can to maintain its popularity and grass-roots support, it can easily fall into a state of rot, leading to its own demise.
Hezbollah has many lethal domestic and international enemies that failed to defeat it militarily, and now they are trying different ways to crack its spine.
Leading up to this, Hezbollah managed to establish an iron-curtain in regard to its modus operandi. Nasrallah is rarely seen in public, and when he appears in public, his appearance is never pre-announced. All security measures are always taken to guarantee his safety, and even the “army” units themselves are invisible, even during war; and this was what drove the invading Israelis up the wall fighting an “invisible enemy”.
Yet with all of those precautions, Hezbollah entered the domain of Lebanese politics from the most vulnerable vantage point.
At this juncture again, with the Lebanese Government facing a most uncertain future, and likely to end up in chaos, perhaps even anarchy, or at the most hopeful scenario, holding thieving politicians accountable and having their loot confiscated, Hezbollah needs to have a second take at its political venture in Lebanon and decide to go totally underground. If it doesn’t, it may find itself facing a battle it is not prepared to fight; one that it can easily lose.
Two weeks into the uprising, and apart from the resignation of PM Hariri, there are no signs of any relenting on President Aoun’s side. The street protests are escalating despite purported thuggish attempts to stifle them. This uprising is in fact Lebanon’s revolution of the silent majority, the majority that did not partake in the 1975-1989 civil war and all conflicts thereafter. Its ranks seem to have already been penetrated by various domestic, regional and international parties with vested interests as some claim. There are many rumours floating around; rumours of the Lebanese American Embassy recruiting people with little or no experience and no clear job qualifications, rumours of Soros investing $600 m in the uprising, rumours of $150 as a daily stipend for every demonstrator, and the truth is that no one knows if any of such rumours or others are accurate.
There are even rumours and photos circulating on social media of alleged Hezbollah members bashing and terrorizing peaceful demonstrators. Whatever the facts, such images are causing untold damage to the stand, popularity and integrity of Hezbollah.
There is a legitimate reason for the Lebanese to rise up against their government, and irrespective of the final outcome, the silent majority has finally spoken, and Hezbollah must find its way to regain its support base if it wants to survive this ordeal.
And to survive it, the leadership of Hezbollah ought to go back to the rationale behind its own raison d’être as a resistance force. Popular resistance is one of people against an oppressor. Currently, the majority of Lebanese people see their politicians as their oppressors. They are not currently looking beyond their southern borders, nor looking at the potential danger of Israeli aggression. They are worried about survival. They are demanding an end to the thieving of politicians and the restoration of services like water, electricity and fuel. They want their dignity and financial security back, and alarmingly they are increasingly seeing Hezbollah as a part of their problem; not the solution.
In Lebanon, sectarian measures are always used to gauge political opinion, and in this respect, Hezbollah has reached wide popularity among all Muslims with nearly all Shiites and perhaps up to 70-80% of Sunnis supporting it especially after the outcomes of the July 2006 war with Israel. At that time, perhaps at least 50% of Lebanese Christians supported it too. After the events of May 2007, the Shiite support remained unwavered, but the Sunni support slumped to something like 50% with some decrease in popularity among Christian Lebanese. The recent corruption of the Aoun government coupled with the street uprising has enhanced the percentage of the anti-Hezbollah sentiment among Sunnis and Christians, and for the first time ever, street action has shown anger against Hezbollah even in Shiite areas. All up, and based on an educated guess only, from a national support based of at least 65-70% back in 2006, the tally has seemingly now dropped to 40-45%. This is a serious development and Hezbollah leadership ought to be aware of it.
In hindsight, Hezbollah should not have taken any political role in Lebanon. Rather, it should have stayed totally as an underground movement and force. After all, the political cover did not give it any “protection”. It was its own military might that guaranteed its survival on the ground in Lebanon. Perhaps it is time for Hezbollah to retrace its past steps, be humble enough to accept that it has made mistakes, put the euphoria of military victories aside for a moment and learn from the serious political mistakes it has committed.
This is an unchartered frontier for Hezbollah; a battle that it might not have either trained or prepared itself for. It may turn out to be its ultimate challenge.