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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Feb 25th
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Intelligence arrow Is Hezbollah finally on the back foot?
Is Hezbollah finally on the back foot? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Hanin Ghaddar, NowLebanon   
Wednesday, 21 October 2009

UNIFIL checks the area where a member of the militant group Hezbollah was seriously wounded in southern Lebanon on Monday. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)
UNIFIL checks the area where a member of the militant group Hezbollah was seriously wounded in southern Lebanon on Monday. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)

The Teirfelsay explosion has, once again, raised concerns over Hezbollah’s activities in South Lebanon. An Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) video was released on Wednesday showing aerial footage of Hezbollah operatives immediately closing down the area around the warehouse where the explosion took place, driving in two trucks and removing weaponry from the site.

The next day, Hezbollah denied the Israeli pictures with the party’s Al-Manar television station broadcasting its own footage taken in daylight, showing men outside a garage putting a rolled up metal shutter into a truck and being monitored by a Lebanese soldier and two UNIFIL peacekeepers.

Either way, the incident, and a similar one that took place this summer in Kherbet Selem, shows that Hezbollah is being monitored and scrutinized by the international community, UNIFIL, the Israelis and even the Lebanese army, and that UN Security Council Resolution 1701 may just be working.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah has been suffering a number of military, political, and financial setbacks. The party is also no doubt anxiously observing regional developments between Iran and the US, and Syria and Saudi Arabia. In addition, the party’s aura of secrecy, purity and invincibility may have lost some of its luster.
High points

In Spring 2000, Hezbollah arguably was at its most popular, when, on May 24, 2000, the IDF unconditionally withdrew from its so-called security zone in southern Lebanon.

Ever since, even with its so-called Divine Victory in 2006, the party’s image as squeakily clean and oh-so-noble guardians of the nation’s dignity and defenders of its borders has taken body blow after body blow.

Militarily, Hezbollah’s hands are tied in the south of the Litani River because of Resolution 1701, so the party is setting up its main defensive line north of the Litani. As Hezbollah relies considerably on short-range rockets (Katyusha), fired from launching pads south of the Litani, its military punch has been weakened. With long-range missiles still not totally reliable, Hezbollah might not have the same capability of firing rockets that it did in 2006.

Hezbollah’s support base within the Shia community in Lebanon, accepted the “Divine Victory” as long as it would not be repeated. The damage and death inflicted upon this community was a very painful price and Hezbollah would think twice before starting another war with Israel. It is worth mentioning that the party still hasn’t yet fulfilled the pledge to revenge the death of one of their key leaders, Imad Mugniyah, who was assassinated more than a year ago in Syria, presumably because of its fear of Israeli retaliation.

The Iranian factor

On the political level, hopes of the birth of a new government in Lebanon, set off by the Saudi-Syrian summit last week, have started to decline as no measurable progress has been achieved. No one knows to what context Lebanon was discussed; however, as Hezbollah’s reactions to the summit were vague and formal, one can assume that Iran hasn’t given the green light for the cabinet formation.

Iran was certainly on the agenda as the Saudis sought to coax Syria back into the Arab fold, namely through the Arab Peace Initiative. The Saudis are aware that the process will be lengthy and Syria is still not ready, nor able to “leave” its most powerful ally.

But Iran is also moving in a different direction and using the negotiations with the West to buy more time for its nuclear program. Hezbollah is certainly looking suspiciously at the second meeting between Iran, the United States, Russia and France on October 19 at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria.
In any case, whether these negotiations lead to confrontation or accord, Hezbollah will be either sacrificed or used in a regional confrontation. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Yet another blow

The 2009 parliamentary elections constituted a large blow to the party and its supporters. After continuous promises of victory, March 14’s victory left Hezbollah defeated and vulnerable.

The setback came one year after the May 7 crisis, when Hezbollah-led gunmen from the Amal Movement and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) took to the streets to overturn a government bid to dismantle its autonomous phone network. 

Although hailed as a “glorious day” by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the repercussions of Hezbollah turning its guns “inwards” still haunt the Shia community.

Those who live in Dahiyeh, the mainly Shia southern suburbs of Beirut and who work in blue-collar and poorly-paid jobs in other areas of Beirut, have begun to feel the resentment over what was tantamount to an attempted coup. They have been tarred with Hezbollah’s brush whether they support the party or not. Jobs, mainly in Sunni-owned companies, have been lost, and livelihoods are on the line.

Financial fall out

In the predominantly-Sunni Gulf states, where Lebanese Shia have been working for years, in some cases providing for more than one family, contracts, visas and work permits have suddenly became more difficult to renew or obtain. This month, 300, mostly Shia, Lebanese have been forced to leave the UAE. The deportations are likely the result of attempts to cut off supplies of funding to Hezbollah. Meanwhile, financially, the Shia community was rocked by the bankruptcy of Salah Ezzeddine, a man with a hitherto pristine reputation and a Hezbollah supporter.

The upshot of all this has been a localized economic meltdown in Dahiyeh. An Internal Security Forces (ISF) source and several Dahiyeh residents have reported an increase in crime, especially prostitution and drug dealing, but also street crime such as purse snatching and car theft. To make matters worse, the global financial crisis, coupled with Iran’s internal political and financial problems, means that Hezbollah cannot rely financially on Iran as it used to before 2006.

Discipline may have been affected as a result. The talk is of Hezbollah morphing from the well-drilled unit it claimed it was into a street militia similar to the Amal Movement, the SSNP or the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon during the civil war. The party’s military wing is even understood to have dropped its recruitment standards in the wake of the 2006 war.

Talk of loutish behavior on the streets of Beirut, such as last week’s stabbing in Ain al-Remmaneh, is increasing and people are starting to complain of corruption and intimidation.

Hezbollah is still very strong politically and militarily. However, these blows might harm the party on the long run, and thus lead to a weakened organization. Maybe it is time for the Party of God to start communicating with other Lebanese.

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