Changing the script

Print edition : September 08, 2006

United Nations peacekeepers from France on the outskirts of the port city of Tyre in Lebanon. In the background is a huge poster of Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. - LEFTERIS PITARAKIS/AP

At the end of the day, Hizbollah emerges as the symbol of resistance against the U.S.-Israeli unilateralism in West Asia.

THE German military strategist Charles Clausewitz defined war as the "the continuation of politics by other means". Like wars that preceded it, the high-intensity conflict in Lebanon that began on July 12 and lasted 33 days was also a monumental clash of political wills. At the outset, Israel had said that it wished to defuse the "security threat" along its northern borders by "weakening" the Lebanese militant group Hizbollah. This, it believed, could be achieved by rooting out Hizbollah from the area between the border with Lebanon and the Litani river, 30 kilometres inside Lebanese territory. It wanted to create a security zone; it was also obvious that Hizbollah could be weakened only if it was effectively disarmed.

Many analysts, however, are of the view that the war had other objectives. One of them was to dissuade Hizbollah's ally, Iran, from considering a confrontation with the Israeli-United States alliance, by demonstrating its capacity to cause massive destruction inside Lebanon. A Hizbollah defeat would have also reinforced pressure on Syria, which supported not only Hizbollah but also Palestinian militants, especially Hamas. In other words, a victory in Lebanon would have opened another flank for reshaping West Asia in accordance with the wishes of the Americans and their chief regional ally, Israel.

By offering effective resistance to Israel, Hizbollah has emerged as the symbol of resistance against U.S. unilateralism in West Asia imposed with Israeli help.

Irrespective of the results on the battlefield, the Hizbollah is aware that it has emerged as a stronger political force. Appearing on Al Manar television after the ceasefire was announced, Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared that his group had secured a "strategic and historic" victory over Israel. In his address, he, however, said that elaboration on "this historic junction and, about the next stage" would come later.

As the dust the conflict raised begins to settle, it has become clear that Israel has been unable to achieve its key war goals. For instance, it has been unsuccessful in disarming Hizbollah, despite suffering enormously from the barrage of rockets that the latter unleashed during the course of the conflict. According to some estimates, Hizbollah fired 4,000 rockets, demolishing or damaging 12,000 Israeli homes. The Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot estimated that the damage caused by the rockets topped $1.3 billion. Hizbollah rockets also damaged around 1,600 cars, 600 businesses and 100 factories. By attacking Israel, including its industrial hub of Haifa, Hizbollah has challenged the military "deterrence" that the Israeli state had been able to impose on the region in recent years.

Members of a family displaced by the war, with a Hizbollah fighter in front of their damaged house in Beirut.-HUSSEIN MALLA/AP

The clearest justification for Hizbollah's refusal to disarm came from Nasrallah in his August 14 address. He pointed out that Israel had continued to occupy the Shebba farms - an area in the trijunction of Israel, Lebanon and Syria. Besides, the question of the exchange of prisoners - a large number of Hizbollah men are lodged in Israeli jails had also not been addressed. Neither was Lebanon given any security guarantees. "Lebanon is still in danger, and may be attacked at any moment. Who will protect this country?" he said.

Elaborating, the Hizbollah leader said that the Lebanese army in its present state was too weak to stand up to the Israeli war machine. Neither was there any certainty that the United Nations peacekeeping force that would be deployed on the border as part of the ceasefire deal would guarantee Lebanon's protection. Addressing his detractors, Nasrallah said: "What alternatives do you offer? The Lebanese Army? We support its deployment south of the Litani river, and we said so. But is the Lebanese army, in its present state and with its present capabilities, capable of conducting a war, if war is forced upon Lebanon? Even if the emergency international forces are reinforced with 10,000, 20,000 or 50,000 [troops] - when Israel attacks Lebanon, will these forces come to Lebanon's defence?"

Israel has also been unable to enforce its stated preference for having an international stabilisation force comprising North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) troops deployed between the border and the Litani river. Instead, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 has sanctioned a 15,000-strong multinational force, which would work in tandem with a Lebanese force of equal numbers. The U.N. force would not function under the provisions of Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which would have allowed it to take offensive missions to enforce its will in its area of operation.

The Lebanese government has made it amply clear that it will not be involved in disarming Hizbollah. "There will be no confrontation between the army and brothers in Hizbollah.... That is not the army's mission," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi was quoted as saying, as the deployment of Lebanese troops got under way.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora praised Hizbollah for successfully countering the Israeli military assault. In a nationally televised address, Siniora said the resistance had showed that Israel's military was "no longer a force that cannot be resisted, an army that cannot be defeated."

Israel has also been unable to dent Hizbollah's capacity to run its extensive charity and welfare services network in Lebanon. Nasrallah has already said that his group would provide the displaced Lebanese with enough money to rent a home for one-year and to purchase furniture, in addition to removing the rubble. Nasrallah also urged engineers, contractors and furniture dealers not to inflate prices and to participate in the reconstruction effort.

Instead of chastising Syria and Iran, the war appears to have boosted the morale of the leadership in both countries. In a defiant address on August 15, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad praised Hizbollah for "the glorious battle" that it waged, which "shifted the security balance in the region". From a military perspective, "it [the battle] was decided in favour of the resistance. Israel has been defeated from the beginning," Assad said. He added that Israel had surrounded Beirut within seven days of its invasion of Lebanon in 1982. In comparison, "after five weeks it [Israel] was still struggling to occupy a few hundred metres." Assad said the U.S. had failed to impose its will on West Asia. "The Middle East [West Asia] they [the Americans] aspire to... has become an illusion," he said.

Returning to their homes in Qana in southern Lebanon after the ceasefire came into effect.-BEN CURTIS/AP

Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also praised Hizbollah generously. "What you have granted the Islamic nation is beyond my description, your brave jehad proved once again that modern and lethal weapons are ineffective in the face of faith, patience and devotion," he said. Hinting that the struggle against Israel had not reached closure, Khamenei said "patience, prudence and devotion will be decisive in the jehad you are waging now in the new arena which is as important as your devoted jehad on the battlefield."

In a region starved of heroes, the war has turned Nasrallah into a cult figure. A poll by the Bin Khaldoun Centre for Development Studies in Egypt pitched Nasrallah as the most popular figure in West Asia. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who operates from an office in Syria, took the second place. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in the third position.

In the Palestinian territories, Gaza is awash with the yellow Hizbollah flags and posters of Nasrallah are in high demand. At weddings and other public functions, a new song: We Hail Thee, Hope of Lebanon, is the latest craze. In the Syrian capital of Damascus, orange-and-green hoardings bearing the picture of Nasrallah have been positioned at prominent locations. Service taxis and mini-vans ply the streets with posters of Nasrallah and Assad plastered on the rear screens.

Inside Lebanon, Hizbollah, in combination with former Prime Minister Michel Oun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), is emerging as the nucleus of a proud and united Lebanon. The FPM, which has strong support among Lebanese Christians, has signed a document with Hizbollah, which envisages the emergence of a consensual democracy based on the principle of equality and individual rights for all citizens irrespective of their religious affiliations. The two do not favour the existing confessional system where leadership positions are shared on the basis of religious and sectarian affiliations. At the Beruit Centre for Research and Information, which carries out opinion polls, it is predicted that around 64 per cent of the Lebanese population supports the Hizbollah-FPM combination.

With the war providing an impetus to a new wave of home-grown nationalism and democracy, Hizbollah is engaged in projecting itself as an independent Lebanese organisation dedicated to promoting Lebanese national interests.

It would however, have to ready itself to counter a propaganda barrage from Israel and the U.S. that would try to portray it as a proxy of Syria and Iran and as a terrorist group.

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