ATbar Hizballah as Strategic Threat to Israel
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Hizballah as Strategic Threat to Israel

27/06/2005 | by Karmon, Ely (Dr.)  

This article was published in Heartland - Eurasian Review of Geopolitics, 2-2005, July 2005, (

Over the past decade, various developments - in particular, the 1992 Lebanese parliamentary elections, the significant internal developments in Iran and Syria, and the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 - led analysts to predict that Hizballah would transform itself from an international terrorist organization into a Lebanese political party.[1] Despite these developments, however, Hizballah continued to use international terrorism as a strategic tool for advancing its goals. The organization regards terrorism not only as a legitimate military strategy but as a religious duty, part of a "global jihad."

Hizballah represents a strategic threat to Israel on three levels: as a major independent player with clear strategic goals in the Lebanese arena, in the Israeli - Palestinian conflict and in the Middle East as a whole; as an arm of the Syrian army; and as a proxy of the Iranian religious regime.

As Hussein Agha, an Arab scholar puts it:

Hizballah operates in a theater where four immediate forces provide the coordinates within which it has to survive and fulfill its purpose: Syria, Iran, the Lebanese government and the wider Lebanese society. Beyond those four immediate forces are the Palestinian scene and the Arab world and its moods. Then come international considerations, especially those pertaining to the US and Europe. Israel is the defined enemy and as such whatever it does, or doesn't do, is of direct impact. Part of the success story of Hizballah has been its ability to juggle these forces and keep them relatively docile.[2]

Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon on May 24, 2000, was regarded as a major victory by Hizballah, one that enhanced its regional reputation and strengthened its commitment to terrorism as a strategic tool. As Hassan Nasrallah, the organization's secretary-general, rightly remarked:[3]

One cannot easily downplay this achievement by Hizballah, since throughout the 1990s it had remained almost the sole group in any Arab state committed to implementing an armed struggle against Israel. It . . . achieved what no other Arab country or army had been able to do: oust Israel from Arab territory without the Arab side committing to any concession.[3]

The Lebanese arena

Since May 2000 Hizballah has practically taken control over southern Lebanon, where the Lebanese army has no foothold, and with Syrian backing has transformed it into an "extraterritorial" base for guerrilla and terrorist activity against Israel.

The main area of direct military confrontation between Hizballah and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is in the Shebaa Farms area, a 15-square-mile mountainside along Lebanon's southeast border with the Golan Heights claimed by Lebanon, but belonging to Syria according to the UN. Hizballah periodically attacks mountaintop IDF outposts with anti-tank missiles, Katyusha rockets and mortar rounds.

Hizballah has expanded its arsenal of weaponry acquiring armaments capable of reaching a greater number of Israeli targets. Currently, the organization is estimated to have some 13,000 rockets and missiles. These include the SA-7 surface-to-air missile and the Fajr-5 surface-to-surface rocket (which, with a range of forty-five miles, is capable of reaching the Israeli cities of Haifa and Hedera).[4]

The organization leadership pretends that its military activity is intended to liberate the Shebaa Farms and defend the Lebanese territory against Israeli aggression and is coordinated with the Lebanese government.[5] Besides its infringement on UN decisions, a review of this activity will show that it had to do more with regional aims and not defense of Lebanese interests.

In October 2000, four months after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Hizballah exploited the eruption of the Palestinian intifada and decided it was time to resume its artillery attacks on northern Israel and kidnap three Israeli soldiers. This operation was intended to show the support and solidarity with the fight of the Palestinians and to get hold of a bargaining chip for the negotiations on the liberation of Hizballah prisoners in Israeli hands. Until the beginning of 2002 Hizballah's artillery and bombing activity has been sporadic and low-key, killing 3 soldiers and wounding 4 others.

However, during much of 2002, Hizballah appeared to consider opening a "second front" against Israel from southern Lebanon either before or parallel to impending US action against Iraq. The organization's leaders no doubt hoped that Arabs and Muslims would support such a strategy and put pressure on their governments to do the same. Hizballah may also have hoped that an opportunity would arise to drag Syria and other Arab states into an all-out regional war with Israel and the United States.

It is against this background that one should view the escalation in Hizballah's military activity in March - April 2002. On March 12, Hizballah-backed Palestinian infiltrators crossed the Lebanon-Israel border and attacked nonmilitary vehicles in northern Israel, killing five civilians and one member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). This incident - the first infiltration from Lebanon since the May 2000 Israeli withdrawal - occurred two weeks before Hamas's deadly Passover suicide bombing in Netanya sparked the IDF's Operation Defensive Shield, Israel's first major ground operation inside the Palestinian Authority (PA). In other words, Hizballah had already decided to escalate its operations well before Israel launched its harsh response to increasing Palestinian violence.

On August 29, 2002, after four months of tense calm, Hizballah launched a new attack on Israeli outposts in the Shebaa Farms. This attack was probably timed to coincide with several developments: increased U.S.-Israeli pressure on Syria and Lebanon on the eve of U.S. Congressional discussion of the Syria Accountability Act, the escalation of Washington's rhetoric regarding Iraq, and Iraqi vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan's visit to Lebanon. Its objective was to send a "swift and hot message to the U.S. administration and the international community from the Lebanese-Syrian-Iranian axis,"[6] as well as a "reminder and warning to Israel that it cannot go far in its aggression against the Palestinians while Washington is preparing for an attack against Iraq."[7]

Israel's penetrations of Lebanese airspace with aircraft and reconnaissance drones are another source of confrontation. Hizballah accuses Israel of aggression and breach of Lebanon's sovereignty, when in reality this air activity is due to monitor Hizballah's own growing heavy arming and instigated attacks. In response to the over flights, Hizballah anti-aircraft gunners occasionally fire 57mm rounds across the border. The rounds explode in the air thousands of feet above Israeli towns, spattering whatever lies below with light shrapnel. In August 2003 one Israeli civilian was killed and four were wounded by such anti aircraft fire.

Hizballah also uses the blue line as a means of retaliating for Israeli actions beyond south Lebanon, such as alleged assassinations of party officials and major developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[8]

By July 2003, The International Crisis Group (ICG) multinational think tank evaluated that

[a]rmed attacks on the Shab'a farms seem no longer to be on the agenda of Hizbollah, which appears eager to move away from an issue that is losing its attraction…Hizbollah has sought to redefine its armed resistance as a means of defying the enemy without necessarily firing a shot…Instead, resistance has become, in effect, deterrence. Hizbollah's self-proclaimed goal is to make it far more difficult and costly for Israel to attack Lebanon or Syria.[9]

However, this evaluation was contradicted by events on the ground. Hizballah renewed its artillery fire by October 2003, when the situation of the US-led coalition forces in Iraq worsened, but actually 2004 showed the most intensive Hizballah military activity, periodically every two months.[10]

On 7 November 2004 for the first time an Iranian Muhajir UAV (unmanned air vehicle) operated by the Hizballah infiltrated into Israel over the western Galilee, a clear provocative escalation by Hizballah and its sponsor Iran.

On January 9, 2005, the very day of the election of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as chairman of the Palestinian Authority following Yasser Arafat's death in November 2004, an Israeli officer was killed when Hizballah detonated an explosive device in the Sheeba Farms area. On January 14 and 17, Hizballah detonated additional explosive devices in the same area, without causing casualties. Asked why this operation was carried at this time, Sheikh Nabil Qawuq, Hizballah's commander in the south tried to convince that "[t]his operation has nothing to do with the elections in Palestine" and that the "(Islamic) Resistance is committed to liberating the remaining occupied lands in Shab'a Farms and Kafr Shuba hills. What happened today reaffirms this commitment and falls within the context of continuous jihad and operations to force Israel to leave our land."[11]

On April 12, 2005, Hizballah succeeded for the second time in five months in flying an unmanned surveillance aircraft into Israeli airspace. According to IDF officers, this was a provocative act only with propaganda value, as Nasrallah wants to prove capable of action against Israel without hurting Syria's interests which is under international pressure to withdraw from Lebanon. The launching of the drone may have been timed to coincide with the joint news conference of U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, held two hours later.[12]

A wide-scale terror attack was averted on April 24, 2005 in the Israeli Har Dov area on the Lebanese border when an explosive device detonated from afar by Hizballah men on both sides of the border targeted a routine patrol but caused no casualties. The IDF is examining whether there is a connection between the attempted attack and Nasrallah's threats to forcefully pressure Israel to free Lebanese prisoners.[13] In this writer's opinion, the attack was meant to coincide with the end of the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and prove once again that Hizballah will not change its strategy vis-à-vis Israel.

As in the case of the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Hizballah leaders are resisting the calls for its disarmament and end of violent activity by pretending that they are the only sure defense to the sovereignty and freedom of Lebanon in face of continuing present and future aggression from Israel.

One of the recent claims by Nasrallah was that he had good personal relations with the late premier Rafik Hariri, implying he received from him support for Hizballah's military activity. Even Walid Junblatt, the leader of the Lebanese opposition, declared that "[w]e were unanimous at the time of Al-Hariri that Hizballah is a Lebanese defense force. We will hold dialogue with Hizballah to see if there is need for this force or not. We cannot act without consulting with Hizballah. I will not be influenced by US or other instructions.[14]

Actually, by early 2001 the Hizballah attacks had begun to severely alienate Prime Minister Hariri. Just one day before the February 16 attack, he had informed a group of investors in France that there was "a clear agreement with our Syrian brothers" to end Hizballah provocations in the security zone. However, in April 2001, Hariri displeased his Syrian allies by allowing his daily mouthpiece al-Mustaqbal to question the wisdom of Hizballah's attack on Israeli soldiers in the Shebaa Farms and whether Lebanon can "bear the consequences of such an operation and its political, economic and social impacts." Syrian President Bashar Assad was so outraged by the editorial that he canceled a scheduled meeting with the Lebanese premier in Damascus and refused to receive him for over a month.[15]

In this authors view, the best way to understand the organization's strategy is to read its leaders' public straightforward statements. In Nasrallah's view, Syrian forces' departure from Lebanon

creates a political vacuum that we must all try to fill. We absolutely must build a real national consensus, which is why Hizballah's domestic responsibilities are much broader than before…The Resistance flanks the army…Israel knows that the Resistance is independent both from the army and from government decisions… If the Resistance were to become just a brigade in the national army, at the first skirmish the enemy would bombard its positions, attack its staff headquarters, and the country's infrastructures. The day the Resistance becomes answerable to government orders, its effectiveness on the ground will become nil. [author's emphasizes][16]

The Palestinian - Israeli conflict

Hizballah sees its active involvement in the Palestinian intifada as part of the inevitable struggle against the imperialist threat represented by the United States. According to Nasrallah, Hizballah must therefore "assume [its] responsibilities . . . and never [allow] the Palestinians to fight alone."[17]

This strategy is consistent with Hizballah's strategic vision regarding the Islamization of Lebanon. The organization believes that this goal will be impossible to achieve as long as Syria has a clear interest in maintaining its grip on Lebanon, and as long as a balance of power exists between Lebanon's various religious communities. As far back as the late 1980s, Hizballah leader Hussein Musawi stated that "Hizballah's victory in Lebanon depends upon more struggles and confrontations with American imperialism and Zionism . . . [and] a prerequisite for establishing an Islamic government in Beirut is victory over the Zionist regime."[18]

As mentioned above, four months after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Hizballah was quick to lend its support to the violent Palestinian intifada. In October 2000, Hizballah leaders and various Palestinian factions opposed to the peace process held a series of meetings in Beirut, Damascus, and Tehran. Soon afterward, Hizballah announced the formation of a central committee composed of Lebanese and Palestinian nationalist and Islamic elements that rejected any settlement with Israel. One goal of this committee was to prevent other Palestinian factions from using the intifada as leverage to facilitate peace negotiations. Since that time, Hizballah has increased its level of cooperation with Palestinian rejectionists through direct training as well as logistical and operational support.

Parallel to its open military activity, Hizballah has put forth significant effort toward establishing an independent terrorist and intelligence infrastructure inside both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel. In the territories, the organization has recruited Palestinian operatives for training at Hizballah camps in Lebanon. It has also worked with Lebanon-based operatives from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in recruiting a network of rogue Fatah Tanzim elements. Members of this network, called the "Shiva Brigades," serve as Hizballah's West Bank cadres, significantly expanding the organization's targeting capabilities and political reach.[19]

Hizballah terrorists have also attempted to infiltrate Israel in recent years.[20] Moreover, since November 2000, authorities have uncovered several cells of Israeli Arabs recruited by Hizballah for intelligence and terrorist missions.[21]

Hizballah's attempts to destabilize the region and impede Israel's massive operations against the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure peaked from March 30 through April 13, 2002, when it conducted a campaign of katyusha and mortar attacks on IDF positions in the Shebaa Farms and, for the first time, the Golan Heights. The organization began this campaign the day after a meeting between Hizballah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah and Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. According to various diplomats and analysts, "This escalation was Syria's way of demonstrating its continued influence over Middle East stability."[22] The timing of the campaign "was also connected to the peace initiative proposed by Crown Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia and adopted at the Arab summit in Beirut at the end of March."[23]

After the quick US military victory in Iraq in spring 2003, Hizballah, Iran, and Syria seemed to believe that, given the difficulties US forces would encounter in postwar Iraq, the Bush administration would be neither willing nor able to take forceful action against any of them in the short term. Therefore, they had a great deal of space in which to maneuver, provided they behaved cautiously. In a May 2003 interview, Hizballah's spiritual leader Mohamed Hussein Fadlallah explained this view in response to a question regarding whether Hizballah would face "official demands for its dissolution "in the "next stage" of Washington's plans for the region:

The issue of Hezbollah and the Islamic resistance is linked to the Palestinian issue; therefore, this issue is not expected to progress with the same urgency as the Iraqi situation. . . . Launching a strike against the Islamic resistance in Lebanon would create an Arab Islamic shock, which the United States would not be able to absorb. Therefore, I imagine that these threats to the resistance are preemptive ones to prevent the resistance from launching military operations against Israel and create a fait accompli of insecurity in the region. [24]

Hizballah views the continuation of the violent conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as crucial to achieving its overall goals. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Fadlallah's posted his views under titles such as "The Palestinian Cause Is Where We Stand or Fall"[25] and "Palestine Is the Battlefront on Which the Future of the Region Will Be Decided."[26] Aware of the enormous international pressure that the Palestinians were facing to halt the violence, Fadlallah advised them "to be cautious as they try to thwart this new scheme [i.e., the Quartet Roadmap for Israeli-Palestinian peace]. They have to play different and concerted roles that they will divide among them, and they have to uphold their national unity . . . to hold on to what they have so far achieved."[27] Similarly, Nasrallah declared that Hizballah would remain engaged in the Palestinian issue because

it is also an Arab cause and an Islamic cause. The holy shrines in Palestine are not the Palestinians' alone. They concern all the Muslims. . . . . Consequently, every Muslim throughout the world is concerned with this issue one way or another. . . . [Hizballah's] concern is to be present and perform this duty.[28]

By mid-2002, an Israeli journalist and researcher evaluated that by aiding the Palestinian struggle Hizballah operations against Israel have served the interests of the organization itself and "has been careful to limit its activity to the Shab'a Farms" only, thus proving "its ability and willingness to embark upon a policy of cautious brinkmanship, acting in a way that would not compel an Israeli response."[29] Two years later the same analyst acknowledged that Hizballah has penetrated into the Palestinian arena and confirmed the existence of a special unit devoted to bolstering the Palestinian intifada. He cited the Israeli intelligence claims that up to 80% of Palestinian violence in 2004 has been either financed or directed by Hizballah, "although it is always difficult to corroborate such intelligence claims independently," but recognized that the "opaque façade" maintained by Hizballah concealed a deep involvement in terror activity against Israel and that "[t]his association with the Palestinian theater could unravel the status quo at the northern border." His conclusion was that the scope and nature of Hizballah's continued activity against Israel since the withdrawal have been "more limited and less troubling than what had been forecast by Israeli intelligence."[30]

In the same vein, the aforementioned mid-2003 ICG paper sustained on the one hand, that

from the outset, Hizbollah claimed that its principal agenda related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Characterizing Lebanon as only one part of a far broader theatre of operations, it stated its goal as being to "liberate" Palestine. Following the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada, Hizbollah increased its support for armed operations in Israel and the occupied territories, and observers were concerned about the risks to regional stability posed by this "Palestinianisation". With the war in Iraq, Hizbollah's leadership further underscored the importance of the Palestinian struggle, claiming that the primary U.S. objective was less Baghdad than Jerusalem. [31]

On the other hand it claimed that although Hizballah "may have been involved in an effort to ship weapons to Palestinian armed groups in May 2003" and "Nasrallah held a publicized meeting with a key Hamas leader the following month…neither step appears to herald a significant upgrading of the organisation's investment in the Palestinian struggle." It concluded that in practice "this strategy proved to be more rhetoric than action. Direct military intervention by Hizbollah on the Palestinian front would have exposed it, as well as Lebanon and Syria, to swift and severe Israeli retaliation."[32]

According to data provided by the Israeli Security Service, there was a steep rise in Hizballah involvement in Palestinian terrorism: In 2002, seven Palestinian groups were operated by the Hizballah, in 2003, there were 14, and in 2004, there were 51 such groups. Most of last Hizballah-connected armed cells were affiliated with Fatah - 38, mostly in the West Bank. Six cells were associated with Islamic Jihad, three with Hamas and at least four with the Popular Front, a secular Marxist organization.

In 2004 68 attacks were initiated by Hizballah, some 20 percent of the attacks over the Green Line. Twenty-four Israelis - soldiers and civilians - were killed in these attacks. Iran is funneling through Hizballah significant resources to the war against Israel: an estimated $9 million into the territories in 2004. Since a terrorist attack costs an average of NIS 5,000, clearly some of that $9 million ended up in the pockets of the cells in the territories. The current bonus paid for a dead or wounded Israeli is NIS 4,000. According to the same report, Hizballah leadership strives to forge unity between the various groups in the West Bank, unifying bomb makers, suicide bombers and those who dispatch attacks into one organization. It has apparently stopped trying to send a senior bomb expert into the territories by using couriers who carry instructions on computer disks.[33]

However, the growing involvement of Hizballah in the Palestinian violence has been acknowledge more and more not only by the Israeli intelligence, but by the Palestinians themselves, more so since the death of Arafat and the election of moderate Abu Mazen as the new leader of the PA.

Members of the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades - the terrorist wing of Fatah, said that Fatah's fighters had received payments of up to $9,000 from Hizballah for attacks against Israel during the past four years. However, most of the money had been sent to Palestinian Islamic Jihad quite easily "just using Western Union." According to the leader of one group, he lately refused money offered by Hizballah in order to give Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, a chance to negotiate with the Israelis. But the agent of the Hizballah in the West Bank approached other groups offering money to get them to mount an attack.[34]

After the PIJ took responsibility for the deadliest suicide bombing since Abu Mazen took office, at the Stage night-club in Tel Aviv, the PA owned daily Al-Hayah Al-Jadidah referred to the alleged involvement of Hizballah in this attack:

It is thus possible to ask Hizballah not to meddle in our arena as long as it does not allow the Palestinians to fire rockets from the central region - from Al-Nabatiyah for example - and not even to fire rockets from the Shab'a front. Palestinians in Lebanon were informed of this ban as soon as the withdrawal from Southern Lebanon was completed. We do not want to use the same words Hizballah used on the eve of the pullout from the south when it said to the Palestinians: Do not meddle with Lebanon's destiny; and its request was implemented to the letter before everyone's eyes.[35]

Leaflets distributed in Ramallah also warned Hizballah against "meddling" in Palestinian affairs and threatened to punish any Palestinian who collaborates with the Lebanese organization. The leaflets, signed by a hitherto unknown group called The Unit for Combating Foreign Intervention in Palestinian Affairs, accused Hizballah of channeling funds to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

These events reflect growing tensions between Hizballah and the Palestinian Authority over the latter's decision to suspend terrorist attacks against Israel. However, even after such admonitions, and in spite of the huge pressure on Hizballah and Lebanon to disarm the organization, it seems its leaders do not renounce to the card of Palestinian violence.

Some, like the ICG, see a change in Hizballah's behavior on the background of the pressure to disarm it after the Syrian withdrawal. For instance the organisation's attempts to deny any involvement in Palestinian anti-Israeli attacks, "in sharp contrast to past practice." Whereas Nasrallah once made no secret of the movement's active support for militant Palestinian groups, the movement now strongly denies providing any such help. The ICG cites a Hizballah spokesperson who claimed that the movement provides "moral support to the Palestinians for their just cause on a media level only."[36]

Even Israeli military experts sometimes can be deluded by Hizballah's clever maneuvering. On April 6, 2005, a member of the IDF general staff said there has been lately a noticeable drop in Hizballah pressure on Palestinian groups to conduct terror attacks. The IDF spokesman said it did not signify an overall change in the organization's policy, but rather a reduction in the number of directives and amount of funding that has flowed into the hands of activists in the territories. Days after this declaration we witnessed a flare up of Hizballah initiated incidents.[37]

Moreover, in a recent interview with The Daily Star, Nasrallah's deputy, Sheikh Naim Qassem, clearly declared that Hizballah will offer whatever "material support" Palestinians need, an "unconditional support" for their struggle against Israel, regarded as something that concerns the whole Arab world. He said that Hizballah believes "in cooperation in all possible and appropriate ways and forms, whether it is material, financial or moral support, and… consider it [its] obligation…" "Helping the Palestinians stand up to the Israeli offensives, he added, will disable Israel's ability to expand its aggression into neighboring countries, of which the first would be Lebanon."[38]

Hizballah as Syria's strategic arm

The Golan Heights remains in Israeli hands, and for Damascus, Hizballah remained one of the few, if not the only, potent bargaining chips with which to pressure the Jewish state into returning the strategic plateau.

The balance of power between Damascus and Hizballah has shifted most noticeably since the death of former Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad. This change is often attributed to the strange (some say hypnotic) relationship between Bashar al-Asad and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. During Bashar's reign, Nasrallah has assumed a greater amount of independence and demonstrated a certain charismatic ascendancy -indeed, Bashar is said to look at him "like a starstruck teenager."[39] According to one expert, the nature of this relationship "testifies to Bashar's weakness in the Lebanese arena."[40]

Syria - not Iran - has been the most important source of support for Hizballah's terrorist and guerrilla activity against Israel from the north. To be sure, Iran has given Hizballah the ideological legitimacy and all the political, financial, propaganda, and military support it needs. Yet, without Syria's help - in the form of an overall strategic umbrella, specific military and political coordination, and pressure on Beirut to give the organization free rein in southern Lebanon - Hizballah could not have achieved its current status as a guerrilla movement with control over a "liberated" territory, a continuous supply of military equipment via Damascus, and virtual immunity from all-out Israeli punitive measures.[41] Syria provided the organization with logistics, instruction, technological aid, and weapons (including 220-millimeter rockets with an estimated range of eighteen to forty-five miles). Such aid has transformed Hizballah into a strategic partner and operational arm of the Syrian army in the confrontation with Israel.[42]

For the most part, Hizballah has embraced this role. In a speech delivered at a ceremony marking the first anniversary of Hafiz al-Asad's death, Nasrallah promised Bashar that, in addition to liberating the Shebaa Farms through blood and jihad, Hizballah would "receive the victory flag from Palestine and the Golan."[43] The latter promise was made as if it were Hizballah's duty to liberate the Golan, not just Syria's.[44] Similarly, Hizballah's leaders have reacted to Israeli "aggression" against Syria even more vociferously than has Damascus. On October 5, 2003, one day after a deadly suicide bombing in Haifa, Israel launched airstrikes against a terrorist training camp near Damascus - its first attack on Syrian soil in nearly three decades.[45] Soon thereafter, Hizballah described the Israeli strike as "a treacherous aggression and a very serious breach of all red lines and rules of the conflict for nearly three decades." The organization also declared its "absolute commitment to the commonality of the battle and destiny with steadfast and proud Syria, its leadership and people," promising "to confront the existing and coming challenge with all that is necessary" in order to avert "the disastrous consequences of the terrorist and aggressive policies of Sharon, US President George Bush, and all this state-terrorism camp."[46]

Nonetheless, Hizballah has also acted independently not always responding to Syrian demands. As peace negotiations between Syria and Israel opened in early 1996, Syrian wishes to calm down the Israeli-Lebanese border were initially heeded by Hizballah, and the Syrian government even started to speak openly about dismantling Hizballah. Not long after, however, Hizballah reinitiated incursions across the blue line.

Having reached a decision that a confrontation with Damascus is not in the interest of the party, Hizballah adopted the policy of engaging the Syrians on all fronts. Hizballah managed "to create a process of open and continuous dialogue with the various power centers in Damascus" and thus coordinate its activities in a fashion that takes into account both parties' interests and does not disrupt their strategies." In the context of this process Hizballah managed to carve a space for itself where it can operate with a high degree of independence."[47]

Some observers evaluate that for Lebanese Shiites and Lebanon in general, the party has become an active social and political player on the domestic scene, with or without Syrian support. As Hizballah's resistance goes beyond the Shebaa Farms to support of the Palestinian cause, even if Syria broke rank with Hizballah, it would still have popular backing and a cause. At most, it might be forced to undo its military wing or incorporate it into the larger Lebanese Army, possibly lending even more strength to Hizballah's legitimacy.[48]

Hizballah - proxy of Iran's export of the Islamic revolution

When the US sponsored the Madrid Conference of October 1991, beginning an Arab-Israeli negotiation process that Iran perceived as a threat not just to its ideological doctrine but also to its strategic interests, it responded by convening a parallel conference in Tehran to unite radical organizations hostile to negotiations with Israel.[49] At the closing of the Tehran conference, the regime decided to support the "Palestinian resistance" and establish a high-level committee to unite radical organizations hostile to negotiations with Israel and prepared to continue the struggle in an Islamic front under Iranian leadership. Iran provided weapons to Hizballah and training for Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Support of the rejectionist and radical Palestinians is one of the few issues where Iran's ideological-revolutionary and national-pragmatic interests coincide.

Until late 1991, Iran supported Hizballah's strikes against Israeli military objectives in southern Lebanon and northern Israel; it did not attack any Israeli or Jewish targets abroad. After the Madrid Peace Conference, Iran coordinated a spate of deadly attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets.[50]

Iran's massive support to Hizballah has been critical in cultivating the organization's terrorist capacity against Israel. This support is meant to help Hizballah maintain pressure on Israel's northern border, prepare itself to launch a major attack at the appropriate moment, and facilitate the Shi'i movement's assistance to the intifada in general and to Palestinian Islamist organizations in particular. As mentioned above, most of the estimated $9 million that Hizballah poured into the territories in 2004 came from Iran.

Hizballah has reached a modus vivendi with the various factions in the ruling elite of Iran although there are "elements in the Iranian political system that are not very fond of Hizballah, and even less so of Iran's relations with the organization." In the past Hizballah suffered from Iranian "misreadings" of the situation in its zone of operation and had to put up with misjudged Iranian "interference" in its policies. Most of these disturbances have been successfully dealt with and the relationship now is "quieter and somewhat smoother."[51]

In this context it is interesting to remember Nasrallah's proposal at the beginning of February 2003 for an 'Iraqi national accord' between Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi opposition, to be sponsored by the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or a group of Arab and Islamic countries in order 'to obstruct the American war' against Iraq in order to evade war, "especially since the price will be paid primarily by the Iraqi people." The conference should "set principles for national reconciliation and a mechanism for holding free and fair elections that bring to power a government enjoying the support of the Iraqis."[52] Although Nasrallah stressed that what he proposed "is not opposed by Iran," it could be understood that there are differences of opinion between Hizballah and some leading circles in Iran on this subject.[53] Lebanese commentators presented Nasrallah's initiative as an indication of Hizballah's confusion and in total contradiction to the Iranian position.[54]

According to an interesting press report at the time, Hizballah took "austerity measures in the party's social, medical, and educational establishments and is working to activate and develop these establishments to generate enough revenues in case Iranian aid stops in the future, and so that the party can practice civilian activities through these establishments in case the Arab-Israeli conflict was resolved and the party turned into a political party."[55]

However, Iranian marja'eyah (Shiite jurisprudence leadership) remains the source of authority for the leadership of Hizballah. Nasrallah is still presented on his personal website as "the representative of the Imam Khamenii in Lebanon, the paramount leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah," and not the secretary-general of the organization.[56] This puts Iran in a unique position of influence on the party but need not define every aspect of its policies. The future will show how Hizballah evolves after the restoration of the Iraqi Shiite marja'eyah that is not Iranian but Arab. [57]

Meanwhile, Iranian hardliners and reformists alike, consider Hizballah's political and military status in Lebanon as important to Iranian interests as ever. The leading Iranian conservative daily exulted after Hizballah's huge pro-Syrian demonstration in Beirut on March 8, 2005:

The rare and awe inspiring brilliance of the secretary general of Lebanese Hizballah in capitalizing on the moment and taking the initiative in his hand in the political arena of Lebanon and Syria, and thus forcing the vicious and overambitious and interventionist forces of America, Europe, and the Zionist regime seeking a quick escape, has been one of the outstanding and unforgettable episodes in the history of Arab nations and freedom loving Arab people. American press Thursday confirmed that US statesmen having seen the epic move and immense demonstrations of Beirut, have reached the conclusion that for the time being they had better avoid any entanglement and confrontation with Lebanese Hizballah…This is indeed a candid confession to the defeat of the joint conspiracy by America, Europe, and Zionist regime through the show of power by Lebanese Hizballah…So…Bush by having witnessed the realities on the ground in Lebanon... [should] also appreciate and come to grips with this other and more important reality, namely that the power of the Islamic Revolution leadership in Iran too has remained unknown for many American statesmen and decision-makers. This is the crucial lesson that America should learn from the events in Lebanon [author's emphasizes].[58]

The reformist political activist Elyas Hazrati commented on the same events:

The United States is not merely pursuing to Syrian departure from Lebanon, Security Council Resolution 1559 places emphasis on the disarming of Hizballah and other resistance groups and the full withdrawal of Syrian forces. This in fact complements the changes and developments that have also come about in Palestine…[T]he disarming of Palestinian groups and the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon can serve as a first step, which can lead to the next step, which is the closing of the offices of Palestinian resistance groups and Hizballah in the Syrian capital…In fact by targeting Hizbullah, Iran is in some way being targeted…In my view, Seyyed Hasan Nasrallah undertook the most appropriate task. He applied a distinctly effective and at the same time impartial policy toward involved groups and in a way played a father figure-like role for all groups. [author's emphasizes].[59]

Is Hizballah on its way to disarm and become a pure Lebanese political party?

Most observers evaluate Hizballah's political and military strength at its true value. A leading Israeli intelligence expert described it:

Domestically, Hizballah is the strongest political force in the Shiite community, which is the largest sectarian community in Lebanon (roughly estimated at 35 to 40 percent of the population), but both are underrepresented in the existing Lebanese political system. For example, Hizballah currently occupies only 10 percent of the seats in parliament, while the Shiites themselves are also limited by the system - as brokered and manipulated by Syria - to approximately 20 percent of parliamentary seats. In the present Lebanese embroilment, Hizballah holds the key to any national agreement with the opposition that would enable the formation of a national-unity government and the subsequent holding of parliamentary elections currently scheduled for May. Hizballah will want to use this key to enhance its political power.[60]

Hizballah's disarmament will remain the crucial issue in the aftermath of the elections. As usual, its leaders release multiple contradictory statements, but they stress all the time the need to keep the weapons and deterrent force of the movement vis-à-vis 'the American-Zionist conspiracy.'

Speaking on February 12, before Hariri's killing, Qassem told Reuters disarmament was not up for discussion. In April, the same Qassem told the Financial Times that disarmament could pave the way for Hizballah's fighters to become a kind of reservist army working with Lebanese authorities. But he said talks could not take place while Israel remained in the Shebaa Farms area. [61]

Hizballah's spiritual leader Fadlallah also justified the need to keep the arms:

There is still the issue of the Shab'a Farms, which the Lebanese, on the official and popular levels, believe are Lebanese land…We are still in a state of war with Israel. No one can provide a guarantee that Israel will not attack Lebanon in the future under any negative circumstances...So if we assume that the resistance laid down its weapons and some parties or organizations carried out some actions against Israel, then Israel might use that to launch an aggression against Lebanon. We know that Israel is still holding the Islamic resistance responsible for some operations inside Palestine. Therefore, we ask: Who will protect Lebanon if Israel launches an aggression against it? We respect the Lebanese army, but we know that this army cannot confront the Israeli army, just as one army faces another. That is why there is a need for Lebanese resistance on the battlefront to be like a popular and reserve army in Lebanon.[62]

As always, Nasrallah was the most clear and blunt speaker for Hizballah:

There is a group in Lebanon that together with the Lebanese army, people, and state, which provides some kind of security or protection - it is required to lay down its arms, or else be declared a terrorist organization. We are willing to remain a terrorist organization for all eternity in the eyes of George Bush, but we are not prepared to give up defending our country, our people, our people's blood, and our honor. [63]

Hizballah leaders not only try to convince their Lebanese partners or international players that their claim to remain armed is legitimate and absolutely necessary for the defense of Lebanon's sovereignty and well-being, but when cornered by the growing pressure they threaten to react just as during the early 1980s, namely to use sheer force and terrorism.

Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyid, head of Hizballah's Political Council declared:

Hizballah cannot take a neutral stand and just watch things…[w]hen the issue of disarming the resistance is raised…Hizballah has a strong presence and influence in Lebanon. It proposed dialogue on these issues. Let us meet and reach agreement either within the framework of the constitutional establishments or outside it. We have only three options: Hold dialogue within the framework of the constitutional establishments, hold a round-table dialogue, or go to war. There is no fourth option: Either war or dialogue outside or inside the establishments. If there is a fourth option it would be that of international interference and guardianship to decide the future of the Lebanese people if they do not take the initiative to solve their problems…If this is meant to be a threat of US military invention in Lebanon, it will be enough to know what happened to the Zionists in Lebanon between 1982 and 2000 and what happened to them in the presence of their fleets here. [author's emphasizes] [64]

A blunt and significant commentary by a hard-line Iranian daily, one of the clearest acknowledgments yet that Hizballah was behind the suicide bombings against Western peace forces in Lebanon in 1983, threatens that this could happen again:

The entry of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Lebanon's Hizballah, onto the scene and his invitation to all people to gather for a rally this afternoon in Beirut is another astute move that can change the entire scene completely to the disadvantage of foreign conspirators…It is certain that this time, too, America and the Zionist regime will miss the mark in Lebanon, and the bitter experience of the 1360s [1980s] will be repeated…In the 1360s, the Zionist regime, taking advantage of the confused domestic situation in Lebanon and the severe civil war being waged in that country, invaded first southern Lebanon and then raided Beirut. America, accompanied by a number of other crony countries in the West, followed these footsteps and, in defense and support of the Zionists, dispatched their military forces to Lebanon and tried to consolidate the occupation of Lebanon by the army of the Zionist regime. Amid these circumstances and this environment, the Lebanese Hizballah was born and succeeded in forcing all three Western [US, French and Italian] armies to retreat...What was done in the 1980s and 1990s at the hand of the Lebanese Hizballah to cleanse that country of the filth of the aggressive armies of the West and the Zionists took place when Hizballah was still young and brand new. It lacked experience and not quite recognized by the world. Now this revolutionary movement has gained plenty of experience and has accumulated the valuable experience and precious lessons of the past two decades. It is stronger than at any other time... and has gained a lofty status and position among the Lebanese that is unprecedented. So there is no doubt they can challenge and confront foreign conspiracies better than before and stronger than anytime prior to the present. [author's emphasizes][65]

In a more direct threat to Israel, Nasrallah warned that "plans by Jewish extremists to attack the Al Aqsa Mosque" would trigger an Arab and Muslim response without elaborating.[66]

On this background, the editor-in-chief of the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassah Ahmed Al-Jarallah recently wrote an article critical of Hizballah and its leader Nasrallah, who vowed to inflict a disgracing defeat on the U.S. troops if they approach Lebanon: [67]

This man has chosen to adopt an arrogant attitude, similar to that of Saddam Hussein, knowing fully well how Saddam's power and authority came to an end. Nasrallah is speaking the language of the Fifties and Sixties. Such speeches may jeopardize the lives of the people in Syria and Lebanon because neither Syria, nor Hizballah, can fill the huge gap in the balance of power with their adversaries.

However, addressing thousands of supporters at a Lebanese Liberation Day rally in South Lebanon on May 25, Nasrallah insisted Hizballah would fight to keep its arms and threatened to 'cut off any hand that reaches out to our weapons because it is an Israeli hand'; he considered 'any thought of disarming the resistance' as 'madness.' Nasrallah warned the resistance had 'more than 12,000 rockets' that can target northern Israel at any time.[68]

Moreover, during his campaigning in southern Lebanon, Nasrallah spoke about the necessity to liberate not only the Shab'a Farms, but also seven Lebanese villages in northern Palestine [meaning Israel] which he claims are part of Lebanon, implying that Hizballah's fight will continue even if the Farms are "returned" to Lebanon.[69]

According to most Lebanese observers, Nasrallah's speech defied mounting international pressure on Hizballah to disarm and underlined the group's determination to maintain its independence from political influence. Nasrallah gave Hizballah's weapons a regional function when he linked disarming to the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and not to Israel's withdrawal from the Shab'a Farms.[70]

According to another view, Hizballah is aware of the major danger represented by the confrontation with the United States and Israel under the flag of the UN and the international community for the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559. Therefore, Nasrallah 'did not wait for the battle to come according to the timing of the enemy and adversary, but decided to take the initiative in heading into battle' in his speech in Bint Jibail.[71]

Interestingly, Walid Jumblatt, one of the most vocal critics of Syria's interference in Lebanese politics, attended the rally and claimed that international interference should not 'undermine Lebanon's principles.' Jumblatt recently forged an alliance with Hizballah in Mount Lebanon for the parliamentary elections. During his Liberation Day speech Nasrallah insisted his party's electoral alliances would only become long term political alliances if they were committed to 'protecting the resistance and safeguarding its arms.' The message also addressed those who believe they could disarm Hizballah through talks and dialogue.

Hizballah has said it is not convinced by every statement of support and feels much of the support is 'void of any clear commitment.' In fact, the four major political entities, Hariri's Future Movement, Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party, Nabih Berri's Amal Movement and Hizballah, form two major blocs that join with and break away from other parties in various electoral districts depending on how much they need the votes. Paradoxically, Hizballah's 'pragmatic' stance represented an asset for maverick General Michel Aoun (who won a sweeping victory in the largely Christian Metn and Kesrouan-Jbeil districts) who in turn believes Hizballah would oppose any attempt to disarm it.[72]

Hizballah's victory in the May - June 2005 elections has raised its representation in Parliament from nine to 11 party members, and 25 members in its coalition bloc with the country's other main Shiite party, the Amal Movement, confirming their domination among Shi'ite Muslims. Hizballah's big win in south Lebanon bolstered its determination to keep its weapons in the face of international pressure to disarm, senior pro-Syrian leaders claimed. 'The win... is the decisive expression of our people's rejection of [U.N.] resolution 1559,' Mohammad Raad, head of Hizballah's parliamentary bloc, told a news conference. 'It is an expression of our people's commitment to protect the path, choice and weapons of the resistance.' 'We will face any attempt to disarm the resistance, [which] is the natural result of Israel's aggression and its wars and massacres against Lebanon,' declared Amal leader and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.[73]

According to Hizballah politburo member Nawaf Musawi, on March 5, the day Syrian President Bashar Assad announced his decision to pull his troops out of Lebanon, the party made the decision to be more involved on the political scene. He said: 'Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon created a vacuum in the country's political scene, and international powers are trying to take advantage of this vacuum and impose their tutelage over Lebanon.' Indeed, on the background of the excellent results obtained in the second and third rounds of the country's parliamentary elections, Hizballah announced its intention to participate fully in the formation of Lebanon's next government. Hizballah dismissed alleged contradictions in this step with its role as a resistance party.[74]

Musawi said the party's decision to take part in the next Cabinet did not mean less focus on its goals as a resistance group: 'There is no conflict between taking on more political responsibility on the internal political arena and keeping up the resistance work…The group will maintain its resistance, and its readiness to face any Israeli aggression as long as the Zionist danger is there.' Nizar Hamzeh, a Lebanese Hizballah expert, said the party cannot afford to be left out of the cabinet at the time being as it is 'under international pressure to disarm and it needs to be in the center of what is going on. It would be very dangerous for them not to participate.'

Hizballah - Quo Vadis?

The main question in dispute is the evaluation of Hizballah leaders' true intensions and strategy for the short and longer term, on the background of the dramatic events of the last months which culminated with the assassination of former prime minister Hariri and the complete withdrawal of the Syrian forces from Lebanon.

Analysts present several possible scenarios for the future of Hizballah. According to the Israeli researcher Eyal Zisser, in recent years Nasrallah 'has adopted the ambitious goal of taking power in Lebanon through democratic means' through a system in which every vote is counted equally and therefore would benefit Hizballah, which enjoys massive support among the Shi'ites who constitute at least 40% of the population. Zisser considers that in the face of the international and even internal consensus concerning the need of the disarmament of all armed militias in Lebanon (even though Lebanese leaders advocate disarmament of Hizballah in the context of a Lebanese dialogue rather than as capitulation to foreign pressure), Hizballah has 'failed to come up with a coherent response' although its leaders 'have not ruled out the possibility of eventually finding a formula that would include disarmament.' The reason for this relatively accommodating stance, according to Zisser, is that 'outright defiance might put all the movement's political, social and economic gains of recent years at risk and reduce it, again, simply to the status of a resistance movement, but this time with virtually nothing to resist.' On the other hand, claims Zisser, 'the organization remains determined to preserve whatever freedom of maneuver it still has in south Lebanon and to prevent Israel from changing the current equation according to which every Israeli action guarantees a Hizballah reaction.'[75]

The ICG, which has already tried in 2003 to predict it, does it again in a recent paper. It assesses that recent events have narrowed Hizballah's options and pressed it to be more cautious: the decision by moderate clerics from Najaf to work with US coalition forces on the background of vicious insurgent attacks against Shiites in Iraq; Mahmoud Abbas's election as PA president and the efforts to forge a ceasefire with the potential of strong international response in case Hizballah attempts to sabotage the process.[76]

According to ICG analysts, seen from Hizballah's perspective, the Syrian withdrawal is only stage one; what comes next on US and Israeli agendas is its disarmament which, in the short run at least, it is likely to resist, if necessary by force. A Lebanese official cited by the ICG report remarked that "disarmament is not on Hizbollah's agenda, in spite of whatever moderate signals it may convey. If it feels threatened, if it feels the U.S. is coming after it, it will provoke instability, either directly or by voicing Shiite demands for a greater and fairer share of the political pie. The scenario is not hard to imagine - Shiites assert their power; Maronites feel threatened and react - and it leads straight to sectarian confrontation."[77] In the words of a Hizballah spokesman, "if anyone comes to disarm us we will eat them. We will go mad. But in any event, the Lebanese army will be the last to try to disarm us. 70 per cent of the army is Muslim and 70 per cent of these Muslims are Shiites".[78]

ICG considers even that as a result of Hizballah's current predicament it is distancing itself from Damascus without breaking ties, "preserving its legitimacy and place on the domestic political scene while reminding all of its strength and special status - and therefore, of its continued need to bear arms." In the words of a Lebanese observer, "Hizbollah's position has always been unique. Until recently, it saw itself as part of the opposition but without being anti-Syrian. Now it is pro-Syrian but it doesn't fall into the loyalist camp. So it falls outside all camps and that is precisely how it derives its strength."[79] This explains the massive use of Lebanese flags, not Hizballah banners, and nationalist slogans during the mass demonstration organized by Hizballah on 8 March 2005.

ICG's conclusion is that should the gambit fail, Hizballah appears to be counting on "the resurgence of sectarian and political differences within the opposition once its principal goal - getting the Syrians out - has been achieved," giving way to "political bickering, corruption and institutional gridlock" and leaving the issue of disarming the Hizballah "to yet another day."

According to an Israeli expert, Michael Herzog, Hizballah "sees both opportunities and dangers ahead", feels more vulnerable with the Syrian departure, but may also become more dependent on Iran. "If the internal scene slopes into violent strife, the group will stand ready as the only armed Lebanese militia."[80]

Threats to Israel after the Syrian withdrawal

Analysts also point to another possibility, that of a security vacuum in Southern Lebanon should Hizballah leave or assume a passive role in regard to radical and armed Palestinian groups who, out of conviction or serving the purposes of others (Syria, Iran?) may carry out attacks against Israel.[81]

Israeli analysts are indeed very worried by this possibility. Herzog considers the possibility that the Syrian withdrawal will allow Hizballah to arm itself through direct shipments from Iran to Lebanon and free of Syria's restraining hand could further provoke Israel. In any case, Hizballah will certainly continue its efforts to destroy prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. [82]

Another Israeli researcher, Israel Elad Altman, predicts the possibility that the attempts to dismantle the militias could lead to Lebanon rapidly becoming "a fertile ground for terrorist attacks against Israel, against American or French interests in retaliation for those countries' sponsorship of 1559, or as a warning against further intervention in Lebanese or Syrian affairs…Syria itself might be interested in, and even initiate, internal strife and other mischief."[83]

The dilemmas of Hizballah's challenge

Hizballah's pivotal role in the pro-Syrian camp and the potential damage it could cause if pressed too much, has led to a very cautious French and even American conduct during the critical days following Hariri's assassination.

According to US and French officials the priority was to get Syria out of Lebanon but keep Lebanon stable in the process, giving no opportunity to Hizballah "to stand in the way." The US authorities considered that it would be counterproductive to push disarmament now, and it was unrealistic to expect the Lebanese army to take forceful action against the organization. The issue should be dealt therefore in due time, by the Lebanese. ICG comments that France is persuaded of the need "to integrate Hizballah more fully into the political equation…and offer reassurances about its future," while "Washington has been balancing its Lebanon focus with its broader anti-terrorism campaign, leading to often conflicting messages." [84]

In this vein, President George W. Bush's in his March 15, 2005 statement expressed the hope that Hizballah would prove not to be a terrorist organization, "laying down arms and not threatening peace."

Nawaf Musawi, member of Hizballah's political bureau in charge of international relations commented on these developments:

We have recently witnessed an increasing political debate in European circles and now on the level of the US President. This debate seeks to adopt a stand that is different from the traditional US stand toward Hizballah. I do not want to adopt a stand in this regard at this point. I said that we view the stand positively. But, we should also view this stand in light of the Israeli influence of the US policy.[85]

Some American and British experts, including retired former intelligence and other officials, are even eager to court Hizballah, in the framework of an effort to "open communications among groups and societies that are not in touch with one another, aiming to try and shift prevailing Western perceptions on the Islamist movements and what they represent," as expressed by Alastair Crooke.[86] Members of his Conflicts Forum recently met in Beirut with Hizballah, Hamas and other leading Middle Eastern Islamists "to probe each other's perceptions, positions and goals." Nawaf Mousawi, represented Hizballah in these meetings. The director of political programs at Hizballah's Al-Manar Television, Ibrahim Mousawi, said that the participating Islamists seemed to welcome the gathering as a breakthrough.[87]

The need for a strategy to disarm Hizballah

The ICG team is firm in the conviction that in "the longer term, steps will have to be taken in accordance with Taef agreement and Resolution 1559 to transform Hizballah gradually into a disarmed, strictly political organization." To achieve this goal ICG proposes: gradual integration of Hizballah's military wing as an autonomous unit under Lebanese army control, agreement to abide by decisions of the elected Lebanese government and relocation of its rockets twenty to 30 kilometers from the border as a prelude to handing them over to government control; and full disarmament of Hizballah in the context of progress toward Israeli-Lebanese and Israeli-Syrian peace agreements. The European Union is advised to maintain its current stance regarding non-inclusion of Hizballah on its terrorism list, subject to reconsideration should the organization engage in such activity.[88]

Israeli analysts agree as to the dangers facing Lebanon, Israel and the international community as a result of the Syrian withdrawal and Hizballah's central role in the Lebanese arena. Herzog however, emphasis the fact that Hizballah cannot be allowed to remain the exclusive armed, nongovernmental force in Lebanon and proposes to exploit "the current movement of political 'tectonic plates' under Lebanon and the Middle East," this "unique moment of opportunity to begin undercutting the armed Hizballah-Iran axis." He thinks that focusing on Hizballah, the international community should exploit its current domestic vulnerabilities and pressure it concerning terrorism and disarmament.[89]

Elad Altman rightly remarks that the May Lebanese elections "can be neither free nor fair if one party is a military organization that also enjoys effective autonomy in parts of the country," thus pointing to the urgency in the disarmament of Hizballah. He is skeptical at the possibility that any Lebanese government or coalition of political forces is able to persuade Hizballah to surrender its military capabilities fully or in part.

He, therefore, proposes the dismantling of Hizballah and the Palestinian armed groups, "which are an integral part of the Syrian structure of domination in Lebanon," as "part of the Syrian withdrawal and not separated from it and delayed to a later stage….Syria should be required to use its influence over Hizballah in the context of efforts to dismantle the militias." His main practical proposal though, is the deployment in Lebanon of a NATO and EU international civilian and military force whose role would be "to verify the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 1559, full Syrian military and intelligence withdrawal; to assist in disarming all the militias; to help provide internal security; and to assist the Lebanese in reconstructing their national institutions." Elad Altman believes that NATO and the EU, both looking for new security missions in the broader Middle East region, are more suitable for the job than the UN forces, which failed in the past.[90]

Even a very levelheaded Israeli analyst as Yossi Alpher, is apprehensive of "the prospect of the enhanced political empowerment of radical Islamist movements that have been deeply involved in terrorism", namely Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. He rightly observes:

There are some indications that the US, and particularly the European Union, will acquiesce in this process if Hizballah and Hamas manage to distance themselves from their terrorist pasts. But these movements will not easily abandon their totally negative attitude toward Israel and its very right to exist. Thus their integration into politics, in turn, poses a potentially serious obstacle to the promotion of a peace process, whether with Palestine or Lebanon…For Israelis and Palestinians, Lebanon's proximity to Palestine makes it potentially the most influential front where radical and moderate forces confront one another.[91]

Conclusion and recommendations

Martin Kramer, one of the first sharp analysts of Hizballah, commented that the organization is a political movement which sees politics as an inseparable part of religion and whose "collective choices regarding the extent and intensity of its violence had a clear political rationale. When it employed violence, it did so for political and not ritualistic purposes…to bring it closer to power. In making its choices, Hizballah weighed benefits against costs."[92]

Throughout its twenty-five-year history, Hizballah has demonstrated quite clearly that it is an ideologically driven movement with strong leaders, a clear vision of its strategic goals, and extensive experience in terrorism and guerrilla warfare. The current leadership, under the guidance of the charismatic Nasrallah, is convinced of the righteousness of the organization's aspirations and methods, and, until recently, believed that its goals were within close reach. The perceived victories of the Islamist cause during these two-and-a-half decades - victories in which Hizballah was an active participant - only reinforced this conviction. In particular, the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 instilled the organization with an almost messianic assurance that it would achieve final victory over its enemies.[93]

Hizballah is also a pragmatic movement, however. It maintains awareness of the difficulties ahead, makes plans to overcome them, and waits for the right moment to act, while exhibiting great patience and a strong sense of history. Therefore, even when its ultimate objectives are postponed because of strategic or political constraints, Hizballah does not feel compelled to renounce its goals or the violent means it has learned to use so well.

Given this modus operandi, if pressed to disarm, Hizballah's current short-term strategy may be threefold: to try to sabotage the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process and the withdrawal from Gaza by staging, under deep Palestinian cover, a major terrorist attack in Israel; to support a Syrian move, or even take the initiative, for internal destabilization of Lebanon through terrorism; to build on the American entanglement in Iraq and the possibility that Shi'a radicals there will make use of violence and terrorism against the US coalition if the new constitutional framework will not answer their expectations.

As the crisis concerning the nuclearization of Iran is approaching a critical moment in case the negotiations between the US and Europe and Iran fail, Hizballah could be used to provoke a regional crisis at Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyid, head of Hizballah's Political Council reflected this state of mind when he declared: "If the current circumstances are not favorable, they might be more favorable in the future."[94]

We should therefore take seriously the threats proffered by the Hizballah leaders and analyze carefully what Daniel Sobelman metaphorically described as Hizballah's "opaque façade."

In our view, Hizballah has achieved the present dangerous status as a Middle Eastern player due to the unwillingness or the fear of the international community to challenge its brutal murderous terrorism over the last 25 years. Hizballah has paid no price until today for the numerous attacks against US, French, other Western and Arab citizens, soldiers and interests. Hizballah has also continued for eight years to kidnap, unpunished, dozens of Western citizens in Lebanon, historic example for the Iraqi insurgents. Even Osama bin-Laden has praised Hizballah's 1983 suicide bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut as the first "American defeat" at the hands of Islamist radicals.[95]

Neither have the various Israeli governments, of the left and of the right alike, dared to seriously challenge the Hizballah - Syrian - Iranian strategic threat to Israel's interests. In final analysis, these governments have permitted Hizballah to build a solid base in southern Lebanon, threatening permanently Israel's territory and actively supporting Palestinian terrorism and at the same time deterring it from significant reprisal.[96]

The permanent Hizballah threat to the Israeli - Palestinian negotiating process could not only derail any hope for a future peace agreement and thus engulf again the two peoples in a long bloody fighting, but it could produce also a regional conflict if Syria will continue to coordinate its actions with Hizballah after the withdrawal from Lebanon and compel Israel to react forcefully to major terrorist attacks on its territory.

A success on the Lebanese and Palestinian fronts could embolden Hizballah to be more active on the Iraqi front, in case the Shia radicals there decided to violently challenge the new government and the US-led coalition.

In view of the historical experience and the serious potential threat Hizballah represents for the local and regional arena, there is need for a continuous and vigorous political and economic pressure by the US, the European Union, and actually by the UN representing the whole international community, on the Lebanese government, Syria and Iran to curtail Hizballah's military presence in southern Lebanon and compel it to disarm.

The designation of Hizballah as a terrorist organization by the EU and as many as possible other countries could only enhance this pressure and help deter the organization and its sponsors. US and France could also engage legal actions against Hizballah leaders for their organization's involvement in past terrorist operations.

It is doubtful that NATO or the EU would accept in this troubled period to engage military forces on the ground. However, it should be made clear to Hizballah leaders, by the international community and by Israel, that in case they continue terrorist activities across the border or support other terrorist organizations abroad, direct military reprisal could come as a result.


[1] See for instance Augustus Richard Norton, "Hizballah and the Israeli Withdrawal from Southern Lebanon," Journal of Palestine Studies, XXX, No.1 (Autumn 2000), pp. 25, 33-4 and Sami G. Hajjar, Hizballah: Terrorism, National Liberation, Or Menace? Strategic Studies Institute Monographs, U.S. Army War College, August 2002, pp. 29-35. A year after publishing his article, confronted with the reality of Hizballah's aggressiveness against Israel's northern border, Norton recognized that he was mistaken when he "expected the border region to be calm and saw the Israeli exit as a remarkable opportunity for Lebanon to get on the path of recovery."

[2] Hussein Agha, "A note on Hizballah," in Hizballah and the Lebanon-Israel border, bitterlemons-international, Edition 36, Volume 2, September 23, 2004, at http://www.bitterlemons-international. org/previous.php?opt=1&id=57 .

[3] Hassan Nasrallah, interview, al-Jazeera Television, May 27, 2000.

[4] Gary Gambill, "Hezbollah's Strategic Rocket Arsenal," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, 4, no. 11 (November-December 2002) at

[5] Referring to Hizballah's pretext of the Israeli occupation of the Sheeba farms, Norton acknowledges that "[w]hen the issue first arose in the spring of 2000, few Lebanese had even heard of the Shebaa farms, and even senior Hizballah officials were ignorant of the case." But again he refused to recognize the aggressiveness of Hizballah and its active interference in the Palestinian intifada: "I am not aware of any credible evidence to support Israel's claims that Hizballah is active on the ground in Gaza or the West Bank." See Augustus Richard Norton, "Addendum," in Martha Neff Kessler, George Emile Irani, Peter Gubser, Augustus Richard Norton, Lebanon and Syria: Internal and Regional Dimensions, edited transcript of the twenty-fifth in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council, May 23, 2001.

[6] George Alam, "Lebanese Writer Discusses 'Message' of Hizballah's Attack 29 Aug," al-Safir (Beirut), August 31, 2002, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Near East and South Asia (FBIS-NES-2002-0901), August 31, 2002.

[7] "Lebanon: Hizballah Attack 29 Aug Linked to Iraqi, Palestinian Developments," summary of reports appearing in al-Safir (Beirut) and al-Mustaqbal (Beirut), n.d., Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Near East and South Asia (FBIS-NES-2002-0830), August 30, 2002.

[8] Nicholas Blanford, "Irritating Israel," in Hizballah and the Lebanon-Israel border.

[9] "Hizbollah: Rebel Without a Cause?" International Crisis Group, Middle East Briefing, Amman/Brussels, 30 July 2003, at http://Www.Crisisgroup.Org/Library/Documents/ Report_Archive/A401070_30072003.Pdf.

[10] Between May 2000 and July 2004 the following attacks against Israeli targets have taken place: 105 anti aircraft attacks; 42 anti tank missile attack; 5 Katyusha rocket attacks; 7 shooting attacks; 10 explosive device attacks; 14 infiltration attempts.

[11] Al-Manar: Hizballah's Qawuq Interviewed on Shab'a Farms Operation 9 Jan, Beirut Al-Manar Television, January 9, 2005.

[12] Haaretz, April 12, 2005.

[13] Haaretz, April 24, 2005.

[14] See Al-Anwar, April 15, 2005. Walid Junblatt's declaration came after he probably received reassuring statements from Hizballah leaders following a previous announcement that his dialogue with Hizballah "will be suspended awaiting the party's explanation of circumstances behind raising pictures by demonstrators in Al-Nabatiyah showing Junblatt as a Jewish rabbi." See "Lebanon's Junblatt Announces Suspension of Dialogue With Hizballah," Al-Arabiyah Television, March 15, 2005.

[15] See As`ad AbuKhalil, "Lebanon One Year After the Israeli Withdrawal," , May 29, 2001, at and Gary C. Gambill and Ziad K. Abdelnour, Hezbollah: "Between Tehran and Damascus," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, (Washington, D.C.: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1989), p. 30.

[19] For a detailed account of this expansion, see Matthew Levitt, "Hizballah's West Bank Foothold," PeaceWatch no. 429, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, August 20, 2003.

[20] One of the earliest examples of such infiltration occurred in 1996, when Hussein Mikdad, a Lebanese Shi'i terrorist, blew himself up while trying to make a bomb in his room at an east Jerusalem hotel. He had entered Israel a few days earlier with a forged British passport. A member of Hizballah, Mikdad had served as accountant to Shaykh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the organization's spiritual leader, before being chosen for terrorist training.

Since 1996, at least two other Hizballah operatives have attempted to infiltrate Israel and gather information on behalf of both the organization and Iran. In 1997, Hizballah member Stefan Smirks, a German citizen and convert to Islam, was arrested in Israel following a tip-off from German intelligence. Similarly, Lebanese-British citizen Jihad (or Gerard) Shuman was arrested in January 2001 while attempting to enter Israel in order to take photographs of potential targets. See Isabel Kershner, "The Changing Colors of Imad Mughniyah," Jerusalem Report, March 25, 2002.

[21] The first such cell was uncovered in November 2000, when seven residents of the Western Galilee village of Abu Snan were arrested "on charges of spying for Hezbollah and plotting to abduct Israeli soldiers on its behalf." In June 2001, three Israeli Arabs from Yafi'a and Kfar Kanna were indicted "for plotting to steal weapons from an [IDF] base and send information to Hezbollah." In September 2001, four Israeli Druzes in Rama and Daliat al-Carmel were arrested "on charges of smuggling weapons into Israel from Lebanon." In June 2002, Israeli citizen Nissim Nasser, a Lebanese Jew, was "indicted on charges of spying for Hezbollah"; specifically, he had attempted to provide the organization with photographs and maps of Israeli targets for large-scale terrorist attacks. In July 2002, "Israeli officials announced that they had uncovered a Hezbollah plot to kidnap Israelis abroad," an operation devised by an Israeli Arab who had moved to Lebanon in 2000 and become a Hizballah operative. Also that month, Israeli authorities arrested "four Arab Israelis who smuggled weapons and transmitted intelligence to Hezbollah in return for drugs." All quotes from Gary Gambill, "Hezbollah's Israeli Operatives," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin 4, no. 9 (September 2002); available online ( See also Arieh O'Sullivan, "Hizballah Recruiting Israeli Arabs," Jerusalem Post, February 19, 2002.

[22] Nicholas Blanford, "Fears of a Second Front: The Lebanese-Israeli Border," Middle East Report Online, April 23, 2002, at available at

[23] Ibid. The Saudi proposal, which first came to light in mid-February, "offered Israel full normalization with the Arab world in exchange for a full withdrawal from all territory occupied . . . since 1967." Yet, Syria did not want to give up "its bargaining card in future negotiations" by promising normalization before Israel withdrew from the Golan Heights. Hence, although Syria joined twenty-one other Arab League states in endorsing the proposal, Hizballah "rockets began flying over the border two days later."

Moreover, Hizballah's leadership was quick to denounce the very notion of a compromise solution soon after the Saudi proposal surfaced. In early March, Husayn al-Khalil, Nasrallah's political assistant, warned the Palestinians against "falling in the trap of truces and entering the game of polarization," calling on them to "stick to their rights and not to get involved in the games of international politics" ("Ra'd: Resistance Has Right to Support the Palestinians," al-Nahar [Beirut], March 12, 2002). Then, on March 24, three days before the Arab Summit opened, Nasrallah called for the continuation of the Palestinian armed struggle, declaring that the "conflict must end with the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea." He also called for a national conference "to resist the settlement" of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. See Hasan Nasrallah, interview by Hiyam Shahud, London al-Majallah, March 24, 2002; and Jubran Tuwayni, "Lebanon's Role," Beirut al-Nahar, March 21, 2002.

[24] BBC Worldwide Monitoring, "Shi'i Cleric Fadlallah Comments on Iraq Situation," May 4, 2003, translation of an interview originally published in al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), May 2, 2003.

[25] From the "Our Stand This Week" section of Fadlallah's website, April 8, 2003, at

[26] From the "Our Stand This Week" section of Fadlallah's website, April 22, 2003, at available at

[27] "The Enemy's Conditional Acceptance of the Road Map," from the "Our Stand This Week" section of Fadlallah's website, May 27, 2003,Z, at 27052003.htm.

[28] "Egyptian Magazine Interviews Hizballah Chief on Lebanese, Regional Issues," translation of an article that originally appeared in al-Musawwar (Cairo), June 13, 2003.

[29] Daniel Sobelman, "Hizbollah Two Years after the Withdrawal - A Compromise between Ideology, Interests, and Exigencies," Strategic Assessment, Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, Tel-Aviv University, , Volume 5, No. 2, August 2002, at

[30] Daniel Sobelman, "Still playing by the rules," in Hizballah and the Lebanon-Israel border.

[31] Hizbollah: Rebel Without a Cause?

[32] Ibid.

[33] See Amos Harel, "Hezbollah's Terror Factory in the PA", Ha'aretz, 11 January 2005.

[34] See the interview with Ala'a Sanakreh, the 27-year-old leader of the group, in Marie Colvin, Iran offers cash for bombs to break Palestinian truce," Times Online, April 3, 2005.

[35] Column by Adli Sadiq: "Outside the Palestinian Sphere," Jeruaslem Al-Hayah Al-Jadidah, February 28, 2005.

[36] "Syria After Lebanon, Lebanon After Syria?" International Crisis Group, Middle East Report, N°39 - 12 April 2005, at arab_israeli conflict/lebanon/39_syria_after_lebanon_lebanon_after_syria.pdf.

[37] Haaretz, April 12, 2005.

[38] The Daily Star, April 15, 2005.

[39] Gary Gambill and Ziad Abdelnour, "Hezbollah: Between Tehran and Damascus," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin 4, no. 2 (February 2002), at

[40] Eyal Zisser, "The Return of Hizbullah," Middle East Quarterly 9, no. 4 (Fall 2002),at See also Yossi Baidatz, "Bashar's First Year: From Ophthalmology to a National Vision" (Washington, D.C.: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001).

[41] See Ely Karmon, "A Solution to Syrian Terrorism," Middle East Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 2 (June 1999), pp. 23-34.

[42] See Gambill, "Hezbollah's Strategic Rocket Arsenal," and Lenny Ben-David, "Iran, Syria, and Hizballah-Threatening Israel's North," Jerusalem Issue Brief, vol. 2, no. 3 (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, July 17, 2002).

[43] Hassan Nasrallah, remarks broadcast on Radio Damascus, June 10, 2001.

[44] This stance may help explain why Hizballah expanded its shelling of Israeli positions in March-April 2002 to include IDF bases in the northern part of the Golan. See Gal Luft, "Israel's Response to Lebanese Border Skirmishes," PeaceWatch no. 376 (The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, April 16, 2002).

[45] The training camp had been used by various terrorist organizations, including Islamic Jihad, which had claimed responsibility for the Haifa bombing.

[46] "Lebanon: Hizballah Says Israeli Attack on Syria Breaches 'All Red Lines,'" October 7, 2003, translation of an untitled, unattributed report that originally appeared on the website of al-Nahar (Beirut).

[47] Agha, A note on Hizballah.

[48] Rhonda Roumani, "Syria's last trump card," in Hizballah and the Lebanon-Israel border.

[49] Elie Rekhess, "The Terrorist Connection-Iran, the Islamic Jihad and Hamas," Justice (Tel Aviv), May 1995, p. 4.

[50] These included: a failed bazooka attack against an employee of the Israeli consulate in Istanbul (Jan. 1992); the suicide car bomb attack against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Mar. 1992); the assassination of the security officer of the Israeli embassy in Ankara (Mar. 1992); an attempt to bomb the main synagogue in Istanbul (Mar. 1992); the attempt to assassinate a leading member of the Jewish community in Istanbul by bazooka fire (Jan. 1993); an attempt to place a car bomb at the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand (Mar. 1994); and the suicide bombing of the Jewish community building in Buenos Aires, Argentina (July 1994).

[51] Agha, A note on Hizballah.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] See Zvi Bar'el, 'Nothing like spending the war in Beirut,' Haaretz, February 19, 2003.

[55] See Al-Nahar, January 14, 2003.

[56] See at,

[57] Agha, A note on Hizballah.

[58] See unattributed editorial: "Lesson America has To Learn from Lebanon," Jomhuri-Ye Eslami [Tehran daily insisting on strict adherence to Khomeyni's ideals], March 13, 2005.

[59] See Report by Javad Montazeri "In Interviews With Experts 'E'temad' Discusses Iran and the Developments in Lebanon," E'temad [reformist daily published in Tehran], March 14, 2005.

[60] Michael Herzog, "The Hizballah Conundrum," The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, PolicyWatch, No. 981, March 29, 2005, at php?CID=2286.

[61] Haaretz, April 9, 2005.

[62] "Fadlallah Tells Al-Nahar: The Shiites Are Not Sectarian and Not Inside a Shell, But They Have Priorities; Weapon of the Resistance Is Necessary and Will Be Removed Once Danger of Israeli Aggression Is Over", Al-Nahar, March 25, 2005.

[63] Interview with Hizballah's Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah. Al-Manar TV aired on March 16, 2005. See MEMRI TV Monitor Project, clip 610,

[64] "Lebanon, a New Stage" program, featuring an interview with Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyid, head of Hizballah's Political Council, by Ghassan Bin-Jiddu, in Beirut - Al-Jazirah, March 10, 2005.

[65] Editorial: "Method Used in Ukraine Cannot Be Deployed in Lebanon." Jomhuri-Ye Eslami, March 9, 2005.

[66] Haaretz, April 9, 2005.

[67] MEMRI Special Dispatch Series, No. 887, 1 April 200, at countries&Area=syria&ID=SP88705.

[68] See Mohammed Zaatari,, 'Hizbullah throws down gauntlet on arms,' ,

[71] Ra'uf Shahuri, 'Plan B in the Battle of Disarming Hizballah,' Beirut Al-Anwar, 27 May 27, 2005.

[72] See Adnan El-Ghoul, Nasrallah reveals Hizbullah's strategy of political alliance, , June 6, 2005.

[74] See Majdoline Hatoum, 'Hizbullah: Politics, resistance don't conflict,' Daily Star, June 18, 2005.

[75] Eyal Zisser, 'Hizbullah's Strategy Following Syria's Withdrawal From Lebanon,' Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv Notes, No. 134, May 23, 2005.

[76] Syria After Lebanon, Lebanon After Syria?

[77] Syria After Lebanon, Lebanon After Syria? Crisis Group interview, March 2005.

[78] Syria After Lebanon, Lebanon After Syria? Crisis Group interview with Hussein Nabulsi, Hizbollah spokesperson, Beirut, 1 April 2005.

[79] Syria After Lebanon, Lebanon After Syria? Crisis Group interview with Amal Saad Ghorayeb, Hizbollah expert, Beirut, 1 April 2005.

[80] Herzog, The Hizballah Conundrum

[82] Herzog, The Hizballah ConundrumAl-Arabiyah Television, March 16, 2005.

[86] Alastair Crooke is director of Conflicts Forum, a new London-based non-governmental organization "hosting professional people united by a common interest in overcoming current barriers between Islam and the West. These people have extensive grounded experience in zones of conflict across the globe. The principal aim of Conflicts Forum is to establish new understandings of Islam and of political Islam in the West and to challenge the prevailing western orthodoxy that perceives Islamism as an ideology that is hostile to the agenda for global democracy and good governance." Crooke has been among other member of the British MI6 and Special Adviser to the European Union Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process. See its website at index.htm.

[87] Rami G. Khouri, "Western-Islamist talks counter confrontation trend," Daily Star, March 25, 2005.

[88] Syria After Lebanon, Lebanon After Syria, Executive Summary and Recommendations.

[89] Herzog, The Hizballah ConundrumPolicy Focus, No. 46, December 2003.

[94] "Lebanon, a New Stage" program, featuring an interview with Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyid, head of Hizballah's Political Council, by Ghassan Bin-Jiddu, in Beirut - Al-Jazirah Televison, March 10, 2005.

[95] See Reuven Paz, "Global Jihad and the Sense of Crisis: Al-Qa'idah's Other Front," Occasional Papers vol. 1, no. 4 (Project for the Research of Islamist Movements [PRISM], March 2003), at

[96] See Ely Karmon, "A Solution to Syrian Terrorism," Middle East Quarterly, Vol. VI, No.2, June 1999, pp. 23-34, at