Resistance is not Futile: A Brief History of Lebanon’s Hezbollah

Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah has inspired fear within the Empire through both armed struggle and its success in electoral politics. For effectively wielding this double-edged sword, the “Party…

Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah has inspired fear within the Empire through both armed struggle and its success in electoral politics. For effectively wielding this double-edged sword, the “Party of God” has been vilified by countless politicians and media outlets.

From its birth as an armed resistance to Israeli attacks on Lebanon over 35 years ago, Hezbollah developed into an institution that provided health and education services to the country’s neediest. After defeating the Zionist state in successive conflicts, it rode great mass support into the electoral sphere and now constitutes the key political force in Lebanon, and “arguably the most powerful nonstate military group in the world.”[1]

As a result, Hezbollah has been named a terrorist organization by 25 countries including Canada, US, UK, Germany, and the GCC coalition of Arab Gulf states including Saudi Arabia. France and the EU designate Hezbollah’s military operations but not its political operations as a terror organization. The mere mention of Hezbollah or its Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah is enough to get users banned from social media platforms.

Nevertheless, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has never listed Hezbollah among terror organizations, nor has it approved bilateral sanctions against the group. When the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia, moved to designate it as a terror group, Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon refused to endorse their position.

Hezbollah is unique from other political parties because it possesses a military force distinct from that of the Lebanese Army, leading to its characterization as a paramilitary group. Through their Al-Manar network of satellite TV, news websites and radio stations—all banned in the USA—Hezbollah presents its path as “The Resistance.”

The Armed Struggle

Hezbollah was founded in the wake of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. With the ostensible goal of attacking Palestinian refugees within Lebanon’s borders, Israel invaded the tiny country with 60,000 troops, 800 tanks, attack helicopters, bombers and fighter planes, supported by missile boats, and laid waste to Muslim-inhabited areas. Over 15,000 Lebanese perished in the invasion, mostly civilians. In the aftermath Israel claimed portions of Lebanese territory and placed militias within Lebanon. Hezbollah was thereby born out of the need to resist Israeli occupation and defend the lives and resources of the Lebanese population, particularly Shia Muslims disproportionately targeted by Israeli attacks.

Shia Muslims constitute about 40 percent of Lebanon’s population, the largest demographic in terms of religious affiliation. Due to a sectarian political system imposed by France in exchange for Lebanon’s 1946 independence, Shias are under-represented in the country’s political field, and economically deprived as a result. Hezbollah is unapologetic in their allegiance to Shia-led Iran that—following the 1979 Iranian Revolution—became an inspiration for Muslims struggling against the twin imperialist militaries of the United States and Israel. Although almost all its members are Lebanese, Hezbollah claims the Supreme Leader of the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as a spiritual guide. Hezbollah has also forged close ties with Syria through their battle against Wahhabi contras—such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda—largely funded by Sunni extremists in Saudi Arabia.

In 1996 Israel invaded Lebanon again, conducting over one thousand air raids and dropping 25 thousand bombs as part of Operation Grapes of Wrath, this time paying closer attention to Hezbollah but failing to weaken the Resistance. By 2000, Hezbollah had claimed its first great victory on the battlefield as Israel finally withdrew from Lebanon, although Israel insisted on occupying two contested areas, the Seven Villages and the Shebaa Farms.

In 2006, Israel launched a much larger attack on Lebanon. Though it claimed it was attempting to neutralize Hezbollah and free two captured soldiers,[2] Israel Defense Forces (IDF) blanketed populated areas with millions of bomblets, dropping cluster bombs “in the middle of towns and villages.”[3] The Israeli Air Force flew 12,000 flights over Lebanon, far more than its 1973, 1978, 1982, or 1996 attacks on Lebanon, concentrating on Muslim-inhabited areas in the countryside, in Southern Beirut, and in the cities of Tyre and Sidon.

“The government estimated that 125,000 houses and apartments throughout Lebanon were destroyed,” writes Nicholas Blanford. “As much as 80 percent of some villages in the south were reduced to rubble. Ninety-one bridges were blown up, and highways, roads, and lanes were cratered and rendered impassable from the south all the way up to the remote Akkar district in the far north of Lebanon.”[4]

By 2006 Hezbollah had constructed an array of secret underground bunkers, from where it launched a relentless counterattack of missiles into Israeli territory, forcing Israelis into bomb shelters. The level of retaliation made Zionist attacks untenable, and the war lasted only 33 days before Israel agreed to a ceasefire. In the waning days of the war IDF frantically multiplied its attacks, raining over four million cluster bombs onto Lebanon in the three days after the UN ceasefire was passed on August 11, but before it took effect on August 14. Israeli cluster munitions contaminated over 4.3 million square meters of urban areas and left unexploded bomblets all over the country.[5] On August 11 IDF also launched the ill-fated Operation Change of Direction 11, a final offensive that tripled IDF ground forces. IDF’s vaunted Merkava tanks were disembowelled by Hezbollah rockets, over 400 IDF soldiers were wounded, and the offensive was called off halfway through.

Through meticulous planning, battlefield tactics, courage in combat, and surprising intelligence and communications capabilities, Hezbollah soundly defeated the Zionist army and established a heroic stature for the Resistance, not just among Shias in Lebanon or Iran, but throughout the Muslim world and beyond.

“Far from facilitating the efforts by Washington and its Arab clients to more deeply drive a wedge between Sunnis and Shiites,” wrote Achchar and Warshawski, “it led many prominent mainstream Sunni preachers to proclaim open support for Hezbollah.”[6]

The IDF’s veneer of invincibility was shattered, and by extension the myth of US military might—the US had contributed $2.3 billion in military aid to Israel in 2006 alone, and over $100 billion since 1967.[7]

“Hezbollah’s military defeat of Israel was decisive,” concluded Crooke and Perry, “but its political defeat of the United States—which unquestioningly sided with Israel during the conflict and refused to bring it to an end—was catastrophic and has had a lasting impact on US prestige in the region.”[8]

The Resistance Enters the Political Field

The flipside of Hezbollah’s sword, no less fearsome, is its rise in the political field, where it now plays a decisive role in Lebanon. Originally leery about entering the morass of Lebanese politics, by the ‘90s an internal Hezbollah council voted to enter politics, and the Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc was formed. In 1992 eight Hezbollah representatives were elected to Parliament.

“Our participation in the elections and entry into the [parliament] do not alter the fact that we are a resistance party,” said Nasrallah in 1992. “We shall, in fact, work to turn the whole of Lebanon into a country of resistance, and the state into a state of resistance.”[9]

In 2006 Hezbollah formed a coalition with Michel Aoun, former Commander of the Lebanese Army and founder of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) political party. Aoun renounced his anti-Syria stance and joined the March 8 Alliance dedicated to preserving the integrity of the country against imperialist attacks by USA, France and Israel. In 2016 Aoun was elected by parliament to serve as president of Lebanon, a post that must always be held by a Maronite Christian. Hezbollah currently has 12 members in Parliament, behind only FPM. Including groups and individuals politically aligned to it, Hezbollah won at least 70 percent of parliament’s seats in the 2018 elections.[10]

“The majority of Lebanese support Hezbollah and its resistance to the Israeli occupation and plans to dominate Lebanon,” said Beirut-based political analyst Laith Marouf. “Hezbollah symbolizes sovereignty to the majority of Lebanese, no matter what their sect is.”[11]

Following Israel’s destruction of Lebanon in 2006 Hezbollah gave $300 million to restore the country’s infrastructure, rebuilding schools and community centers, issuing $10,000 cash to landowners whose houses had been razed.

“Hezbollah guards, discreetly carrying their AK-47 rifles in soft sheepskin-lined holsters, surrounded the Mahdi high school in Beirut’s southern suburbs, where hundreds of claimants filed through the doors to collect their cash handouts,” describes Blanford. “The high security was not without good reason. There must have been millions of dollars stacked on tables and in cardboard boxes. Posters on the walls urged claimants to be patient, remain organized, and follow instructions.”

“The speed and organization with which Hezbollah turned to the relief and reconstruction effort underlined just how powerful it had grown in Lebanon,” details Blanford. “Its construction wing, Jihad al-Bina, had leaped ahead while the government remained mired in spats over which ministry or agency would handle the process and which companies—usually owned by politicians—would win the lucrative contracts to clean up the mess.”[12]

Hezbollah also founded a network of commercial and social organizations desperately needed by the Lebanese population. In many cases Hezbollah provides the only security net for Lebanese abandoned by an embattled state now facing US and EU sanctions, resulting hyperinflation, and economic disarray.

As Marouf explains: “One of the most important things that Hezbollah did, beyond the liberation of Lebanon in 2000 from the Israeli occupation, and from Wahhabi contras’ occupation—what they call the second liberation, in 2016—is the network of social services it provides, not only to the Shia communities and their ghettos, towns and villages, but to a majority of the working class, because it offers all these services to anybody no matter what their sect it. That’s a huge achievement. Hezbollah created a parallel economy outside the control of the Americans… Remember that the central bank of Lebanon is basically controlled by the United States.”

“Some of the social services, beyond health, education and housing, that Hezbollah provides are banking, with zero interest loans for working class people, and even gas stations,” continues Marouf. “In the last few years, the gas prices went up, under pressure from the United States and the collapse of the Lebanese lira. But it was Hezbollah’s network of gas stations that continued to provide gasoline.”[13]

Hezbollah’s successes, both on the battlefield and on the electoral field, demonstrate that resistance against imperialism is not futile. In the diminutive nation of Lebanon, which contains less than seven million inhabitants, the Resistance organized and defeated the military might of Israel and their US and European backers, and of Wahhabi and Salafist terrorists backed by the wealthy Arab Gulf nations. With great popular support the Resistance then made gains through the electoral process, perhaps their most threatening accomplishment to the “champions of democracy” who wish to destroy them.

Notes

1. Blanford, Nicholas. Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel. Random House, 2011.

2. Mouawad, Jad and Erlanger, Steven. “Israeli Planes batter Lebanon Again, Killing 30 People.” New York Times. July 18, 2006.

3. “Meeting the Challenge: Protecting Civilians through the Convention on Cluster Munitions.” Human Rights Watch. 2010.

4. Blanford, Nicholas. Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel. Random House, 2011.

5. “Meeting the Challenge: Protecting Civilians through the Convention on Cluster Munitions.” Human Rights Watch. 2010.

6. Achcar, Gilbert and Warschawski, Michel. The 33-Day War: Israel’s War on Hezbollah in Lebanon and Its Consequences. Paradigm, 2007.

7. “US Foreign Aid to Israel (1949-present)”. Jewish Virtual Library. from Jeremy Sharp, “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” Congressional Research Service, 2018, 2019.

8. Crooke, Alastair and Perry, Mark. “How Hezbollah Defeated Israel.” Counterpunch, October 13, 2006.

9. Nasrallah, Hassan. Voice of Hezbollah: The Statements of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Verso, 2007.

10. “Factbox: Hezbollah and allies gain sway in Lebanon parliament.” Reuters, May 22, 2018.

11. Laith Marouf, interview with the author, December 2020.

12. Blanford, Nicholas. Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel. Random House, 2011.

13. Laith Marouf, interview with the author, December 2020.


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