Invoking God’s affiliation in Mideast conflicts
A close look at the tenuous relationship between Lebanon and Hezbollah. Hezbollah is neither a unique “state-within-a-state” phenomenon in the region nor the only entity proclaiming to be a “Party of God”. One can see analogous dynamics in Israel settlers’ movement.
By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
In Arabic “Hezbollah” stands for “Party of God”. This Lebanese party, which has ardent supporters and detractors, has been on the rise in political power over the past three decades. Despite its negative image abroad, this military, political and social service movement is integrated within Lebanese society.
Lebanon has been enjoying a phase of political calm for the past two years. This summer Lebanese expatriates and Gulf States tourists expect to enjoy safe visits to this small Mediterranean country assuming that Israel and Hezbollah would not engage in a new round of fighting. We are told neither side has the appetite for a mutually destructive conflagration, but minor miscalculations can easily lead to war.
Lebanon’s parliamentary elections will take place on May 6. The big electoral winner is expected to be Hezbollah’s party and its political allies. With the overwhelming support of its Shiite community Hezbollah and its (also Shiite) ally the Amal Movement can count on about 40 % of seats. A pragmatic alliance with the (Christian) Change and Reform party adds about 15% of the parliamentary positions to Hezbollah’s electoral bloc. The third layer of support to the Party of God comes from the so-called “progressive” parties: secular, leftist and pro-Syrian groups.Hezbollah billboards in Lebanon celebrate Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah and the righteous war against Israeli extremism and fanaticism. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Lebanon’s “Progressives” consider Hezbollah a critical force of defense and deterrence in the protection of Lebanon’s porous national borders against Israel’s recurrent air and land incursions. Hezbollah supporters justify the active role of the Resistance (a popular name for Hezbollah) in helping President Assad defeat Islamist rebels in Syria’s ongoing war. Informed sources predict that Hezbollah and its electoral partners is likely to take about two thirds of the parliamentary seats. Incidentally, in this round of elections the proportion of women candidates is high by regional standards: over 10 %. The ballot box is usually monitored by local and international observers, and the mood so far is indicative of a free election.
The survival of the Syrian regime, with the help of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, has brought the Syrian and Lebanese regimes closer and has enhanced the position of Hezbollah in the coming elections. Moreover, the resilience of Hezbollah in the Syrian war has changed its status from a local militia to a regional actor.
Voters supporting Hezbollah overlook the fact that the Resistance is run within a sectarian framework, its leadership is too close to Tehran, and its expanding power undermines Lebanon’s state authority. But there are more compelling issues for the Lebanese today. There is a traumatic 15-year civil war, with minimal healing, in the background. There is a bellicose Israeli army on the southern border. There are armed Palestinian refugee camps and over a million displaced Syrians on Lebanese soil. Lastly, there is an ongoing war in next-door Syria. In such a highly insecure environment, for many, Hezbollah is vitally needed for the foreseeable future.
Supporters of the Resistance assert that without Hezbollah Lebanon would not have been able to stop Daesh (ISIS) from invading the country or forced Israel to withdraw from south Lebanon in 2000. Regardless of where one stands on the issue of the Resistance, as long as the Lebanese political system stays sectarian and the leaders are the same warlords of a bygone era, the Lebanese army will remain too shaky to defend the country on its own.
Israel still holds on to some Lebanese villages it occupied in 1967. Moreover, a few weeks ago Tel-Aviv threatened military intervention to stop Beirut from launching offshore exploration of oil and gas along its territorial borders, which Israel considers overlapping with territory of its own.
Hezbollah is neither a unique “state-within-a-state” phenomenon in the region nor the only entity proclaiming to be a “Party of God”. One can see analogous dynamics in Israel settlers’ movement. The settlers assert to be God’s “Chosen People” living on their own Holy Land. They are strong rivals to the government, armed and act as a state within a state- geographically and politically. The settlers are an occupation within an occupation; too militant and too organized to be regulated by the Israeli state. They too, therefore, can be described as a “Party of God”.
Just as Hezbollah’s presence is rationalized as a national security requirement for Lebanon the settler communities are justified as a necessity for Israel’s national security; just as Hezbollah is now mainstream in Lebanon the settlers are currrently mainstream in Israel.
Comparing Hezbollah to the Settlers will probably offend most Israeli readers of this column, as it is hard for them to see parallels between a “residential” community of their own and what appears to them as a “militant” movement “bent on destruction”. However, on the other side, there are those who find Hezbollah heroic and the settlements “cruel”: displacing Palestinians, annexing indigenous territory, extending the occupation and obstructing peace.
Back to the elections, they are a sign of hope. Lebanon deserves a break from toxic regional intervention.
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