The Hezbollah wants an Intifada, an internal uprising in Palestine.
By Anchal Vohra
Hezbollah, which was born out of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, is today the strongest anti-Israel force and poses an imminent threat to the Jewish state. It managed to force out the Israelis in the year 2000 and routed them again in 2006 despite being tiny in both numbers and military might when compared to the enemy. The resilience it displayed raised the group’s stature, making it a legend of sorts — a force that can take on Washington backed Tel Aviv.
Funded and trained by Iran under Khomenie who laid the path of the resurgence of the Shia, the Hizbollah stood by the patron and fought for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war. The decision to fight for Assad was easy because the Assads are Alawites, an offshoot of the Shia sect in Islam and because Syria is a member of the Resistance to Israel. The Hizbollah also trained the Shia militias — since upgraded to paramilitary groups — in Iraq, to fight the American forces and later the ISIS. War hardened and with much more battle experience, the Hizbollah poses a serious challenge to the state of Israel and aims on liberating all the Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation.
If one must believe their ideological stand and all the rhetoric that comes with it, the Hezbollah faces insurmountable odds. Pro Palestine factions are riddled with rivalries, led by the Saudis. The Gulf seems keener on developing an understanding with Israel even if it means a pro-Israel resolution to the conflict than join pro-Palestinian resistance and there seems to be a sense of fatigue amongst the Palestinians in Palestine and the Palestinian liberation authority. Let us look at Hizbollah’s strategy for Palestine.
Will there be war?
Late last year, on 4 November, the clouds of war moved from Syria and shrouded Lebanon once again. Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned while in Riyadh, sending shockwaves to the region, leaving one question on every lip — Will Lebanon be next? It was perceived as a Saudi move to threaten the rise of Iran and its proxy, the Hizbollah in the Levant. Groups backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey were biting the dust as the Shia allies succeeded in making a mark by defeating the rebels — who were Sunni — on the ground and handing victory to Assad. By threatening Lebanon’s stability, the idea was to have Iran and Hezbollah stop support to the Houthis in Yemen. Hezbollah came out shining with its appeals for calm and the war was averted.
Ali, a Hezbollah fighter who also drew maps of the war zones in Syria, doubles up as an ‘Uber’ taxi driver in Beirut during what he calls ‘peace time’. He gave an insight into why the Hezbollah is acting cautiously.
“We have been at war in Syria, Iraq, Yemen,” he said navigating the Corniche in Beirut. “We are tired and need a break,” he added.
Hezbollah spearheaded pro-Assad foreign legions in Syria. According to the American weekly magazine Newsweek, it sent 15,000 to 25,000 fighters, composed of Shias from Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, to Syria. The battle left many dead. Hezbollah does not give out the statistics, but the Newsweek estimates that 2,000 to 2,500 Hezbollah fighters were killed in the war.
At every other corner in ‘Dahiya’ — the southern suburb of Beirut which is the hub of the Hezbollah — posters of the martyrs are hanging from the pillars and pasted on bus stops.
“See, another friend of mine, who died in Al-Qusyr in Syria,” Ali says pointing to one such poster. Driving me through ‘Dahiya’, which is also where Ali lives, he spoke about the Hezbollah’s determination to take on Israel, ‘but not right away’, he said.
“The fighters need to rest not because they are scared, but because we need some time off,” Ali told me.
He fought in Syria with a ‘Kalashnikov’. An engineer by training, Ali is looking for a job in Germany. Speaking in broken English and fluent French, Ali is currently learning German with the hope he can restart his life.
“America thinks we are terrorists but we are not. We are all educated young men of Lebanon who want a good life, but not at the cost of Palestine,” says Ali.
War fatigue and the human cost of the Syrian war has not changed Hizbollah’s raison d’être of seeking Israel’s annihilation. It has though temporarily dented the will of the ‘party of God’ to go to another immediate war.
“War with Israel, yes there will be one just not yet,” says Ali.
His view is resonating in the pro-Hezbollah expert lobby in Lebanon. Kemal Wazni, an economist and a political analyst, is one of them.
“The Lebanese people are not ready for another war”, he told the author at his residence in Beirut. “But there will be a war with Israel when all the variables are in place,” he added.
Preparing for war
In what could have been yet another spark to inflame the passions in the region, US President Donald Trump announced the move of shifting the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the 6 December. This effectively meant an end to the two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict. Jerusalem is at the heart of the conflict because it is considered holy by the Muslims, the Christians and the Jews. East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in the six-day war in 1967 and since then, internationally it is seen as the territory occupied by Israel. The status of Jerusalem, the international community agrees, is to be resolved at the later stages of the peace talks. In strong opposition to Trump, on 22 December, the UN General Assembly decisively backed a resolution calling on the US to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The Arab world condemned Trump’s move, but the protests held were broadly symbolic.
Trump’s ill planned and ill-timed declaration though vindicated the claim of the Resistance to Israel that the US can’t be trusted as non-partisan in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah used it to make the case of an armed, and not political, path to resolving the crisis and reinvigorated Iran and Hizbollah’s call of ‘death to Israel’.
In a rally against Trump on Jerusalem, the Hezbollah chief said the group and its allies in the region would renew their focus on the Palestinian cause after what he called their victories elsewhere in the region.
This begs the question — If the Hezbollah does not want a war with Israel which reaches Lebanon, what exactly are they up to?
Hezbollah’s anti-Israel groups
On 11 December, the Hezbollah chief called for the Resistance to Israel to unite and come up with a common strategy to regain Jerusalem.
The Hezbollah has greatly expanded its reach in the recent wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and is now soliciting the support of the several groups it trained to join the resistance.
For instance, Asaib Aal Al-Haqq, one of the most feared Shia militias in Iraq, has been funded by Iran since 2003 and sought help from the Hezbollah. As a pay back, the commander of the group, Qais Al-Khaz’ali, toured the village of Kafr Kila in South Lebanon near the Israeli border and pledged fighters for the Palestinian cause. In a video sent out to pro-Hezbollah media in Lebanon, Khaz’ali is standing on the edge of a mountain in Kafr Kila and introspecting the valley beyond which lie territories under Israeli control. In the video, Khaz’ali says, “We are on full alert to help the jihad fighters of the resistance and to stand in the same trench with the Lebanese people and with the Palestinian cause, opposing the oppressive Israeli occupation that is hostile to Islam, to the Arabs and to humanity.”
Entities funded by Iran like the Badr militia, another paramilitary group in Iraq, and several others like Liwa Al-Imam Al-Baqr militia in Syria are sure to join the Hezbollah in challenging Israel.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad owes the most to Iran and the Hezbollah. Until 2001, he was seeking a deal with Israel and the west, entailing a handover of Golan — occupied by Israel in 67 — in lieu of ties with Iran and backing off the Palestinian issue. Seven years later, he has managed to survive because of the resistance axis and is in no position to resist their demands, and will provide all support to the resistance facing off the Israelis on the Golan.
Myriad Sunni Palestinian groups are also coming around despite a complicated history with the Shia Hezbollah in the past. PFLP or Popular front for the Liberation of Palestine; a leftist group and the Islamic Jihad are also offering allegiance to the Hezbollah which is purportedly fighting for the Palestinian cause.
“We should all be with the Hezbollah,” says Abu Mujahid, one of the local leaders of the PFLP in Lebanon. “The Arabs are conducting conferences, it is all rubbish” dissing the Saudis and the rest, Mr. Mujahid applauds the Hezbollah and paints it as the only remaining hope, “Hizbollah does what it says, that is why we believe them” he added.
The last two months of 2017 saw a string of meetings between the Hezbollah and several other factions to build a coalition to challenge Israel. Amongst many who are possibly accepting the idea, Hamas- the main armed Palestinian rival to Israel, has a daunting relationship with the Hezbollah.
Hezbollah building bridge with Hamas
Amal Saad, a professor at the Lebanese university and author of ‘Hezbollah: Politics and Religion’, calls Hamas a traitor to the cause of the resistance.
“Hamas helped the ‘Takfiri’ rebels in Syria against the resistance,” she said of Hamas’s opposition to Bashar al-Assad and the Hezbollah in the Syrian war by choosing to side with the rebels.
According to the Oxford Islamic Studies, in the modern context, Takfiris are those who follow the ideology of the father of modern violent Jihad Sayyid Qutb — the ideological guru of the Muslim Brotherhood and an inspiration to the likes of Osama bin Laden.
Ms. Saad says Hamas is considered Takfiri. “They have always had a Salafi mind set because they are backed by the Brotherhood,” she says.
Speaking of the problems between the Hezbollah and the Hamas and the bad blood between the two, she adds, “Hizb trained Hamas in the past with several things like building bunkers etc. and Hamas abused that knowhow against Assad.”
Hamas and the Hezbollah are the most difficult to be allies in this arrangement and yet Iran and the Hezbollah have opened their arms to Hamas’s leadership. In June 2017, Saudis cornered Qatar to cut the immensely wealthy but tiny kingdom to size. Ironically, amongst other things it targeted Qatar for sponsoring and sheltering terrorists. Under pressure, Qatar ousted a few Hamas leaders.
Saleh al-Arouri was one of those. He has since been promoted by the Hamas as the deputy of the group and has reportedly moved to Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s parleys with Hamas leaders like him began even before Trump’s Jerusalem fiasco. The first reported meeting took place on the 31 October. Nasrallah and Arouri discussed ways to unite their efforts to oppose Israel.
On 24 November, Hamas confirmed that they were cooperating with the Hezbollah despite differences in the past over Syria. He told the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, “there is cooperation between Hezbollah, Hamas and other elements of the resistance, and Iran.”
According to the Syrian daily: Al-Watan, Iran and the Hezbollah are also mediating to bring Hamas and Assad closer and to that end, Saleh al-Arouri visited Syria in October. Though Al-Akhbaar which closely identifies with the Hezbollah analysed that not much headway has been made in bringing Hamas and Assad together.
Hezbollah is widely advertising its efforts of sewing up a grand coalition to fight Israel but the differences between Hamas and the Hizbollah are deep rooted and highly sectarian. Dwelling on it, Ms. Saad says, “The sons of some of the Hamas leaders are very sectarian towards the Hezbollah and that is a problem.”
Undeterred, the Hezbollah is busy forming a war room to confront Israel. According to Lebanese newspaper, The Daily Star, the Hiebollah, Iraqi PMU militias, Hamas, and five other Palestinian armed organisations in Gaza and the West Bank [unnamed] are currently acting to form a joint war room to synchronise their military action in response to Trump’s Jerusalem announcement.
Hezbollah strategy effective?
The success rate of Iran backed Hezbollah strategy can’t be ascertained just yet. While they all have the same cause, varying sponsors and their interests would intervene in achieving the goal. Hamas has also recently climbed down on its position which is different on Israel from that of the Hezbollah. While the Hezbollah does not recognise Israel, Hamas conceded to making peace if Israel agrees to pre-1967 borders. Ideologically much more separates the two.
On the domestic front, unless attacked first by Israel, the Hezbollah can’t launch a war of mutual destruction. Collectively, the Lebanese will only support a war against Israel if Lebanese sovereignty is under question and not merely to support the Palestinians. To provide financial and other assistance to fighters within the west bank is also iffy because the Palestinian Liberation Authority which runs the area — to whatever extent the Israelis let it — isn’t yet clear on how it wants to counter Israel and Trump’s Jerusalem manoeuvre. The Hezbollah wants an Intifada, an internal uprising in Palestine, but in the current conditions that seems unlikely.
“So far, all the variables are not in place,” he adds, “Until then, the war has to wait,” sums up Mr. Kemal Wazni aptly.