Hizbullah: a brief historical overview

Developing Just Leadership

Siraj ul-Deen

Ramadan 22, 1431 2010-09-01

Islamic Movement

by Siraj ul-Deen (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 7, Ramadan, 1431)

By the 1990s, the civil war had ended. Hizbullah was better able to focus its energies on expelling the Zionist Israelis from the South.

Unlike the utter failures that became of wars between the Arabian nations and Israel, Hizbullah managed to present itself as an indefatigable foe.

Having maintained a respectable presence among various communities in Lebanon, the reputation of Hizbullah was further enhanced with the nearly two-decade long resistance against the Zionist invaders of Lebanon. The period between 1982–2000 marked a period of concerted effort in Southern Lebanon; during the civil war most Lebanese militias were fighting each other while in the south, militias — particularly among the Shi‘is — coalesced into one major front against the Zionists and their South Lebanese Army (SLA) surrogates and supporters led by Sa‘ad Haddad and Antoine Lahad.

By the 1990s, the civil war had ended. Hizbullah was better able to focus its energies on expelling the Zionist Israelis from the South. Unlike the utter failures that became of wars between the Arabian nations and Israel, Hizbullah managed to present itself as an indefatigable foe. Engaged in true asymmetrical war and utilizing an unconventional style of warfare, they presented the occupiers with a dish they had never before tasted. Unrelenting guerrilla-style tactics were repeatedly employed by this small organization both at the border and beyond demonstrating its strength as well as the weakness of a military that at one time was viewed as an undefeatable enemy. Successive years only served to strengthen the resistance, with it engaging in more advanced actions over time. Militarily, socially and even politically amongst the Lebanese, the Arab and Muslim world, the resistance quickly garnered deep respect.

Though the resistance proved to be a formidable body, it suffered setbacks not only because many of its fighters obtained their shahadah in battle but also because of targeted killings of high-ranking individuals.

Often creating operations claimed to be aimed at dismantling the resistance, the Israelis ended up killing few resistance fighters, but hundreds of Lebanese citizens. During 1993’s “Operation Accountability” over 100 Lebanese civilians died from Israeli attacks. In 1996’s “Operation Grapes of Wrath” fire was opened in the village of Qana with over 150 civilians killed, most of whom were in a UN compound. As usual, the Israeli response to the killings blamed the resistance, accusing them of hiding amongst civilians.

Though the resistance proved to be a formidable body, it suffered setbacks not only because many of its fighters obtained their shahadah in battle but also because of targeted killings of high-ranking individuals.

When the resistance became a distinct movement its spokesperson was Subhi al-Tufayli who later became its secretary general. In 1991 as the resistance decided to become part of Lebanese parliamentary elections al-Tufayli expressed strong sentiments against this entry into politics. Al-Tufayli was later replaced by Abbas al-Musawi who had been engaged in prior guerrilla action and was said to possess more conducive leadership skills than the former secretary general. In February 1992, al-Musawi, along with his wife and son, was assassinated when an Israeli helicopter attacked his motorcade. The resistance however had the uncanny ability to turn each negative into a greater positive. As was seen with the disappearance of Imam Musa al-Sadr in 1975, with each loss the movement experienced, their gains increased manifold. With the death of Abbas al-Musawi, the Hizbullah gained Shaykh Hasan Nasrullah. Contrary to times past, the organization now had a face and a voice that would come to be heard throughout the entire world.

After shamefully leaving Southern Lebanon, the Israeli government set Hizbullah in its crosshairs wanting to isolate it, eliminate any public support for it, and completely destroy it.

The end of the 20th century saw the movement take on an even larger role in Lebanese social life. While starting out as a strictly military Islamic resistance group, Hizbullah later entered into politics and from then started a highly organized social welfare program. Financing farming, waste treatment and management, developing infrastructure, building schools and hospitals, offering healthcare to the Lebanese population, time and time again the Hizbullah program has been regarded as vastly superior to anything the Lebanese government can and has offered its citizens. Throughout the country, those who are short of means from the ordinary people consistently rely on the organization for aid. Giving this kind of assistance went a long way in strengthening its position in the eyes of many Lebanese and Arabs of other countries. Aside from the social welfare programs, Hizbullah also developed a media presence with the founding of its own al-Manar television station.

By the year 2000, after nearly two decades of occupying Southern Lebanon, the Israeli forces were finally and forcibly expelled by Hizbullah. According to most western commentators, the Israelis left in accord with the UN Security Council resolution 425 which, adopted in March 1978, called on Israel to leave Lebanon. However, others have argued this was not the case and that Israel was forced out; a notable statement since the Israelis didn’t leave when the resolution was passed but, 22 years later when attacks against them intensified. In a May 2010 article in Haaretz, Colonel Noam Ben-Tzvi, who was a commander of the IDF in southern Lebanon stated, “It wasn’t a withdrawal and it was a retreat…we ran away pure and simple.” Ben-Tzvi goes on to say “We left vehicles and equipment behind… in some instances [our] soldiers looted military equipment. There was the disgraceful scene of SLA crowding at Fatima gate. This was running away, it was unplanned with Hizbullah hardly even shooting at us.” Forcing Israelis to vacate occupied positions was something never accomplished by any Arabian state. This show of strength and capability by the resistance put it in an unparalleled position in the region.

The 21st Century and Beyond

After shamefully leaving Southern Lebanon, the Israeli government set Hizbullah in its crosshairs wanting to isolate it, eliminate any public support for it, and completely destroy it. While the resistance is quickly dismissed in the west by mainstream media outlets labeling the organization as a “terrorist, islamist group”, or a proxy of Iran, in Lebanon and much of the Arab and Muslim world, the view of the public is entirely different. Even outside of the Muslim community, most Lebanese feel that it is Hizbullah which has liberated their country free from Israeli/American occupation, preventing it from being used as a tool of Israeli foreign policy. As former Lebanese president Emile Lahoud (a Maronite-Catholic) commented in an interview, “For us Lebanese, and I can tell you a majority of Lebanese, Hizbullah is a national resistance movement. If it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t have liberated our land. And because of that we have a big esteem for the Hizbullah movement.” Wanting to overturn this view of their adversaries by the indigenous people of Lebanon, the Israelis hatched plans to turn them against the resistance movement and to wipe it out completely.

July 12, 2006 saw the start of what would be a 34-day war in Lebanon with Israel threatening to eliminate Hizbullah for good. Promoted around the world, by the Zionist-controlled media, to be a direct response to the killing of three and kidnapping of two IDF soldiers, it was later revealed that an invasion of Southern Lebanon was pre-planned at least as far back as four months before the actual invasion date. The taking of the soldiers was used as a pretext for war. According to truthdig.com, “Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, while speaking with a commission investigating the Lebanon war, said he made the decision to invade four months before the soldiers were abducted. Olmert testified that he agreed with a contingency plan to respond dramatically should Hizbullah take predictably aggressive action.” From the “dramatic” response, over 1,000 Lebanese, most of whom were civilians, were killed with many more being injured. Civilian apartments and offices were bombed as well as bridges, roads and even the Rafik Hariri airport, Lebanon’s only airport. By the war’s end, Lebanon was virtually crippled and even as this article goes to press, it is still a recovering nation.

With the high number of dead and the destruction of so much infrastructure, hope was high that blame could be placed on Hizbullah so much so that their positions of influence would be weakened and eliminated. Though some Arabian nations — Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia — officially castigated Hizbullah and particularly its leader, the average Arab was in full support of the organization refusing to accept the type of reality the Israelis wanted to engineer. In the Arab world, respect for Shaykh Hasan Nasrullah was above and beyond anything leaders throughout the entire country could have ever dremt of. Along with posters of revolutionaries like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, pictures of Hasan Nasrullah weren’t only sold but sold out during and after the conflict. In Palestine, during the 2006 Lebanon war, the popular The Eagle of Lebanon song was written about Hasan Nasrullah and could be heard playing repeatedly in shops and outdoors in support of the Lebanese struggle. The actions taken by the Israelis had the complete opposite effect as reported in an al-Jazeera article. As a resident in Ramallah summed up “He [ Hasan Nasrullah] is a symbol of victory, a leader of the Arab resistance… this is the first time the Arabs are fighting properly and are strong against Israel”.

Where It Stands Now

Hizbullah has taken on a more active role in Lebanese society, running more candidates for elections and continuing its social welfare programs. Though still maintaining its true Islamic identity, the organization has decided to change some portions of its original program to meet the realities in the country and to be as effective as possible in bringing about lasting change for the betterment of Lebanon. On November 30, 2009 Hizbullah announced the party’s new political document. Introducing the document, the Secretary General noted that with the quick pace of change in the world,

“…it is no longer possible to address these changes without noting the special position our resistance has reached. We will address these transformations through two paths: the first is the resistance one that resorts to military and political victories as well as the expansion of the resistance; while the second focuses on the path of the US-Israeli mastery and hegemony, which is witnessing military defeats that showed a failure in administering the developments. What deepens the crisis of international hegemony [by the US/Israel] are the actual collapses in the financial markets and the [potential] failure of the US economy. Therefore, it’s possible to say that we are amid historical transformations that signal the retreat of the US role as a predominant power and the demise of the Zionist entity.”

The first chapter of the document addressed domination and hegemony by foreign superpowers. With the number of simultaneous wars having occurred under the pretext of “terrorism”, this section of the Party’s document lays out the attempt by hegemonic powers to tie resistance and terrorism together with no differentiation made between the two. The document continues with its second chapter focusing on Lebanon. Looking at the country as a homeland, a call is made for a strong and unified Lebanon for all Lebanese without “any kind of segregation or federalism, whether explicit or disguised.” It further calls on the state and political system to be one of equality and to do away with the sectarian bias that has existed since the inception of the modern Lebanese State. The document goes on to call for strong ties between the Lebanese and Palestinians as well as Arabs. Hizbullah calls on a solid block between Muslims without the sectarian divide saying,

“The Arab and Islamic world is facing challenges that shouldn’t be undermined. Indeed, the sectarian fabricated conflicts, especially between Sunnis and Shi‘is, are threatening the cohesiveness of our societies. Therefore, and instead of being a source of wealth, the sectarian diversities seem to be exploited as factors of division and incitement. The situation emerging from this manufactured divisiveness seems to be the result of the intersection of deliberate western policies, the US in particular.”

Entering this second decade of the 21st century, Hizbullah is in a vastly better position than it has ever been since its existence. The organization’s man/woman power has increased many times over, growing along with its physical power and capabilities. Its reach throughout the world is virtually unlimited with the growth of its own media outlets. This also has allowed the organization to have a voice that it controls rather than being solely portrayed as something by others who are completely antagonistic toward the group.

Secretary General Shaykh Hasan Nasrullah is seen as a man of words and actions both by supporters and foes; whatever he says is looked upon, whether openly or secretly, as a given truth. Although Hizbullah organization is not an official governmental body and doesn’t have the size of a standard military, it’s widely recognized as a force to be reckoned with. Having been the only group to chasten Israel and having done it on more than one occasion it is widely viewed as something that shatters false images and notions. The resistance has given hope to those who are in weak positions and the oppressed; it has shown how the tables can be turned by a few when they remain firm and in determined positions regardless of how bleak the outlook.

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