LEBANON--Hezbollah Coalition

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Hezbollah is a unique and fascinating group to represent. Unlike many believe, it is an extremely complicated organization. In the West, we see Hezbollah as a single entity devoted to terrorism as a means by which to evict Israel from Lebanese lands. The truth on the ground is much different. Hezbollah is at once a terrorist entity, a resistance movement, a political party, a professional militia, and a fundamentalist Islamic society. Like all major parties, it is constantly evolving. As Hezbollah ages, different aspects of its organization have become more or less pronounced. When you represent Hezbollah, it is necessary to realize that all of these different aspects of your organization exist in a precarious balance. A terrorist action could totally delegitimize your political party and lead to the disarming of your militia wing. Below, we will demonstrate the gray nature of Hezbollah and the strengths, as well as the weaknesses, that this bestows.

The origins of Hezbollah go back to 1948. The 1948 Arab-Israeli war resulted in over a hundred thousand Palestinian refugees taking refuge in southern Lebanon. For Lebanon, a small country with limited resources, the influx of refugees into the south taxed the nation's resources. It was not until the 1970s that the roots of armed conflict took hold in Lebanon. As is often the case in Lebanese history, we must look to another country as the source. In September of 1970, Jordan took military action against the militant Palestinian groups within its borders. The result was a war that lasted until July of 1971, when Jordan successfully expelled the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) from its borders. But, the PLO was not defeated. Several thousand fighters escaped from Jordan and reorganized in southern Lebanon. It was from their new foothold in Lebanon that the PLO would continue its objective of forcing the Israelis out. The PLO began a long period of back and forth strikes with Israel, utilizing southern Lebanon as a base for attacks. Finally, Israel attempted to demolish the PLO completely. The 1982 Lebanon war brought the birth of Hezbollah. Israeli forces attacked Southern Lebanon in an effort to destroy PLO military forces, who had been successfully launching attacks into northern Israel.

Had the Israeli attack into Lebanon focused only on the PLO, Hezbollah would probably have evaporated like so many other temporary militias. After all, Hezbollah is a distinctly Shiite and Lebanese organization while the PLO is very much fighting for Palestinians. During their invasion of Southern Lebanon, Israel blurred the lines between Lebanese and Palestinians. Israel not only targeted Palestinians, but also Lebanese Shiites, in an attempt to help the Maronite Christian minority gain control of the country, and insure a friendly state to Israel's north. The plan could not have backfired in a more spectacular way than it did. The Sabra and Shatila massacres resulted in between 2,000 and 3,500 massacred Lebanese and Palestinian civilians. Israeli Defense Forces encircled the camps and allowed armed Christian gangs to enter the camps. When the massacre began Israeli forces refused to intervene and, in fact, fired flares into the air to aid the Christian attackers. The leader of this Israeli Defense Forces unit was Ariel Sharon. The U.N. condemned his actions and found him personally responsible for having allowed, and aided, the massacre. Sabra and Shatila was a clear sign that Israel was interested in targeting Lebanese and Palestinians. The war and subsequent massacre provided the motivation for Hezbollah, by presenting Israel as an immediate threat to both Palestinians and Lebanese. Israel did not make a clean retreat from Lebanon. Instead, it kept a stretch of Southern Lebanon as a "buffer zone" against Lebanese retaliation and artillery strikes. This provided Hezbollah with a long-term rationale for its existence. What had been a temporary incursion into Lebanese land had developed into an occupation of Lebanese territory. It is this occupied territory that provided a decade's worth of momentum for the Hezbollah movement. In 2000, Israel withdrew the remainder of its forces from Lebanese lands except for a disputed territory called Shebaa Farms). It is a small area, originally under the control of Syria but always claimed by Lebanon. The exact dimensions of the area are unstated. However, it is a stretch of land roughly 9km by 2km. The Israeli presence on this land has become the heart of Hezbollah's rallying cry. Any Israeli patrol into this area is immediately reported on Hezbollah's TV channel as a "Zionist invasion." This is a tool that Hezbollah has utilized well to create an atmosphere of constant antagonism between itself and Israel, further helping to justify its existence.

While we have a very basic understanding of the events that contributed to the birth of Hezbollah, the question still remains, what is Hezbollah? Hezbollah is an armed resistance group which was established in response to Israeli military strikes into Southern Lebanon. It is a deeply religious movement, which represents Shia Islamic beliefs. To say that Hezbollah is a terrorist entity is a stretch, though Hezbollah has certainly been a terrorist entity in the past. Hezbollah has become a pragmatic group that utilizes the methods it feels are best capable of achieving its political goals. In the past, this has included hijackings, suicide bombings, and armed cross-border assaults. However, as Lebanese politics opened up and Hezbollah became more and more engaged in politics, its tactics have evolved. It is now less and less willing to be seen as an aggressive terrorist entity, responsible for the slaying of innocent civilians, preferring to be seen as a shield against Israeli aggression. To accurately portray Hezbollah you must understand that it has two different identities. The first, and most important, is as resistors to Israel. The second is as a religious movement. With all of the rhetoric, it is easy to view groups like Hamas and Hezbollah as motivated primarily by religious concerns. However, politics and democracy force them to calm these drivers. In a democratic society, one cannot hope to force their religious beliefs down the throat of a society, without a majority consensus. Hezbollah has nowhere near a majority. Thus, they must focus on social and domestic issues.

Evolution of Hezbollah

To understand Hezbollah one must understand Lebanon. The idea that one can be an Islamic Militia, and still be open to a democratic process and the input of many different faiths, seems foreign to many Americans. Especially since Lebanon, better than perhaps any other country in the world, knows the cost of religious conflict. To call the Lebanese civil war complex would be a gross over-simplification. However, the war must be discussed, in brief, to set the stage for Hezbollah. Like many nations in the Middle East, Lebanon is artificial. It was created by the Ottoman Turks and later reconfigured by the French according to their outside interests. In the rest of the world, borders are normally drawn between different ethnic groups, as a way to limit tensions. On this side of the line is yours, do as you wish; on this side of the line is mine, I will do as I will. The Ottomans and French ignored this simple logic, and grouped disparate peoples together according to what they viewed as politically expedient. The result in Lebanon is a country that includes many different religions and communities. Sunnis, Shia, Druze, Maronites, Suffis, and Jews are all components of the religious and cultural fabric of Lebanon. Of course, this has also led to tensions between these groups.

Small conflicts and tensions had been building between the different groups in Lebanon for years. However, on April 13, 1975 these tensions erupted into a brutal war that would last, on and off, until 1990. On April 13, Phalangists, a Christian Militia, set up roadblocks throughout Beirut. They murdered over 200 Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims in revenge for the murders of four of their own. The spiral of retaliations and retribution that followed tore the country apart at the seams. The war was so massive that a quarter of all Lebanese civilians were wounded over the course of the war. This is the same as saying that one person in every average family was shot. The war was so staggering and long, that the Lebanese realized that this sectarian conflict was not acceptable and they were moved to act. A war like this was unsustainable for all parties involved--a peaceful way out was needed.

The Taif Agreement was the first to codify an agreed-upon electoral system for the Lebanese parliament. It is a confessional system, in which seats are allotted to each group based on the percentage of the populace they constitute. The confessional system resulted in some odd electoral situations in Lebanon. For example, a Christian who lives in a Muslim area is allowed to vote, but all of the candidates in his area are going to be Muslims. The result is an odd symbiosis, in which people of the same sect are running against one another, and require the votes of other sects to push them over the top. This, hopefully, results in a moderating force, where politicians need to listen to everyone regardless of their sect. The Taif Agreement also required all militia to disarm, and all except Hezbollah agreed to do so. Hezbollah agreed to the political demands, and participates in elections, but it considers itself a resistance movement, not a militia, and refuses to disarm even to the present day.

Hezbollah's unwillingness to disarm has not disqualified Hezbollah from taking part in the Lebanese political system. In 2007, the government attempted to apply pressure on Hezbollah to remove some of its security apparatus. The result was a seventeen month long political stalemate. While there was some violence, Hezbollah was much better prepared. The outcome is known as the Doha Agreement. The Doha Agreement is pivotal because it helped engrain a concept into Lebanese politics whereby differences are solved by discussion, not arms. While Hezbollah certainly gained some political concessions, it conceded sovereignty and right to rule to the Lebanese government. It also affirmed that the use of force was off the table in settling political disagreements. The Doha Agreement is seen as a positive move forward in Hezbollah's evolution into a political organization. Just because Hezbollah signed a document, however, does not mean that it is changing its tactics. If we look to recent history, we can see that Hezbollah is using politics as its weapon of choice. In the 2009 election, Hezbollah was able to secure a friendly prime minister. Though, the position of Prime Minister was guaranteed to a Sunni, Hezbollah was able to ensure that a friendly Sunni won. Najib Miqati was successfully elected as a replacement to the pro-western Saad Hariri. Hariri was generally seen as a pro-western parliamentarian who opposed much of Hezbollah's platform. Four members of Hezbollah are charged with the assassination of Saad's father, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Outside Influence

Lebanon is a country with strong international connections. In many arenas, external influences are stronger than domestic influences. Hezbollah is not free from external pressures. In fact, many of its founding principles are based on another revolution, the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Hezbollah is strongly connected to Iran and Syria. Ideologically, Hezbollah and Iran share the same concept of what an Islamic government should look like. Not only did Iran give Hezbollah much of its founding capital, it also provided it with a theological base. This base is called Valiyat al-Faqiyah. Essentially, this is a form of government in which religious law is interpreted by scholars and applied to the new challenges of a modern state. While implementation of such a form of government in Lebanon is impossible, it is still a central concept within Hezbollah. It also forms the basis of a strong connection between Iran and Hezbollah. This deep-rooted ideological connection has made Iran and Hezbollah ideal partners in pursuing common goals. Hezbollah's importance to Iran is very obvious. Iran is hampered by an unusual problem; should it be attacked by Israel, there is no means of retaliation aside from the use of ballistic missiles. This is owed to the lack of a land border between the two countries. While Iran does have a massive stockpile of such missiles, it is far less of a deterrent than being able to launch ground actions or even use short-range and inexpensive missiles. Hezbollah provides a partner capable of delivering such attacks in retribution for an Israeli attack on Iran. While it is not certain that Hezbollah would carry out such an attack, it is likely. Iran has banked on this by providing Hezbollah with training, advanced anti-air capabilities, and a large supply of missiles capable of hitting most parts of Israel. Importantly, Iran has also provided Hezbollah with advanced anti-armor weapons which were very effective at halting Israel's advance into Southern Lebanon in 2006.

Not long ago, it would have been impossible to write about outside influences on Hezbollah without discussing Syria. The Syrian and Lebanese people have had a long and tightly intertwined relationship. However, this relationship has had many struggles. Syria and Lebanon share much of the same culture, and a large volume of trade. Syria is also an unusual country; it is ruled by a minority of Alawites and Shia. As such, it is a natural ally of the Shia militia Hezbollah. Syria is also the main land route between Iran and Hezbollah. This makes it an incredibly important path for weapons shipments, as the Israeli navy has proved very adept at seizing weapons shipments transported over the sea. Furthermore, both Syria and Hezbollah share the same view of Israel. Each has land claims, which it believes Israel has violated. This makes them key allies in maintaining a united front against Israel.

Relations between the two nations have not always been good. The general populace of Lebanon has not always been as accepting of Syrians as Hezbollah has been. In 2004, Rafik Hariri was assassinated by Hezbollah agents because of his opposition to the presence of the Syrian troops who remained in Lebanon. While the Syrian troops had originally been called in to maintain peace during the Lebanese Civil War, they had failed to leave when the war ended. Hezbollah denies the charges of murder and blames Israel, but an international tribunal has charged four Hezbollah members with carrying out the attack. It is believed that Hezbollah took this action in order to maintain favor with Syria, and to ensure Syria's political and financial support. The assassination backfired though, leading to the 2005 Cedar revolution that saw the end of Syrian occupation and its quick withdrawal of troops from Lebanon. The assassination of Rafik Hariri was not the only misstep in relations. During the 2012 uprisings, Bashar Al-Assad has brutally attacked civilians within his own country of Syria, killing thousands. His actions have been condemned by almost every nation in the region, except for Iran and Hezbollah. Here, we see Hezbollah in an uncomfortable position. Do they support a tyrant who has shown favor to them and risk alienating their supporters, or do they condemn Assad and hope that the repercussions to their supplies are minimal? Groups such as Hamas have already chosen to condemn Assad and have seen their access to arms limited. While Hezbollah, because of its strong connection to Iran, as well as its strong political position within Lebanon, is in a stronger position, it is still faced with an uncomfortable decision. It is likely that any government that succeeds Assad will not be as friendly to Hezbollah as the Assad regime has been. This is because it will be headed by Sunnis, many of whom will remember Hezbollah's lack of condemnation of Assad. So far, Hezbollah has hedged its bets by not condemning Assad or supporting the revolution. Rather, they have tried, unsuccessfully, to strike a middle ground. As Assad ratchets up the pressure on dissidents, the Lebanese people will continue to increase pressure on Hezbollah to do something. Reports of Hezbollah sending fighters to Syria to bolster Assad have sparked quite the firestorm. Hezbollah may soon be faced with having to envision an existence without Syria, or risking everything to maintain the status quo.

Hezbollah Tactics

Hezbollah's successful entry into Lebanese politics has limited the tactics it is capable of using. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, in order for Hezbollah politicians to be successful they must be accessible to the general populace. Someone cannot run for office from a foxhole in the mountains. This means that they are susceptible to retaliation. Israel has proven willing and capable of assassinating those people abroad whom it deems to be a threat. Hezbollah politicians who condone the use of suicide bombings or are involved in the targeting of civilians, undoubtedly place their necks on the line. This does not mean that Hezbollah will never use such tactics. However, the algebra used to calculate risk versus benefit is altered. The risk of using violence has to provide greater rewards than it did in the past. While, in the past, Hezbollah had been known to stage bombings or kidnappings to gain world attention, these such tactics are no longer acceptable.

Furthermore, Hezbollah must have legitimacy. That is to say that if Hezbollah wishes to be taken seriously as a true international actor, parties must be able to trust that Hezbollah will play by the same rules. This is why the Taif Accords and Doha Agreement are so important. In both cases, we have examples of Hezbollah participating in the establishment of those rules, and through recent elections, proving that it is willing to participate within the bounds of those rules. In what cases is Hezbollah likely to use force? Hezbollah wants to be seen as the protector of all Lebanese people. Hezbollah is likely to use force when it sees its territory being violated by Israeli forces. Border skirmishes between Israel and Lebanon are not unheard of. However, Hezbollah does not want to be seen as the aggressor. If they launch an attack which kills four or five Israelis and Israel retaliates and kills fifteen civilians, the Lebanese people will be left wondering what was gained. This raises further complications, to wit, are people going to vote for a political party which brings death to their nation? No.

Still, the Lebanese people do not want to have their land violated by Israel. The 2006 war is a superb example of the use of force. Several Israeli troops near the Shebaa Farms killed several Hezbollah members. In retaliation for the violation of its claimed land, Hezbollah launched rocket attacks against Israel. Here, we see the most common cause for violence, wherein one side violates the other sides' claimed borders. Israel retaliated with a full-scale ground war. Here, the difference between Lebanese forces and others in the region comes into stark relief. Unlike many militaries in the region, Hezbollah militants are highly trained and well equipped. They are armed with high-tech weapons such as night vision goggles, and Russian made anti-vehicle rockets. This makes them a very strong defensive force. In the 2006 war, they turned what Israel had expected to be an easy victory into a hard-fought war. The 2006 war was not a victory for Hezbollah in the traditional sense, as they merely prevented Israel from claiming victory. Hezbollah was able to inflict heavy casualties on the Israeli forces, though, and to avoid being overrun. This clearly conveyed to Israeli command that, while possible, defeating Hezbollah would require a higher investiture of blood and resources than Israel was willing to make.

Remember, for you as Hezbollah to use force there must be something to gain which outweighs the possible repercussions, repercussions which include loss of political power, the freezing of all your financial assets, and the assassination of your members.

Hezbollah and Charity

In the Muslim world, charity is a very serious affair. The giving of alms is one of the five pillars of Islam and is something that has grave implications in politics. Many politicians, throughout the Arab world, make a point of demonstrating their generous nature. Political parties also frequently use charity as a means by which to spread their message. To western eyes this can seem strange, as in many western cultures political parties serve only to get their candidates elected. To do this, they attempt to win the hearts and minds of the electorate by any means possible. In the U.S. this is generally limited to boring speeches and ads. However, in Lebanon the weak government has opened another means to political parties; social welfare.

Here we should explain what we mean when we say social services and social welfare. These are services which are provided at little or no charge to a population for the express purpose of doing a general good. These are services which, generally speaking, are not delivered for any reason other than the betterment of society. Social services include things like education, poverty relief, free construction, maintenance of roads, job placement, counseling, medical services (in the U.S. we have a for-profit medical service model; this is not the worldwide norm) and much more.

The Lebanese government is not as poor as some. Still, it struggles more than many to care for its populace. This has opened the way for many well-funded religious groups to provide necessary services to the people of Lebanon. Hezbollah's position as a religious and political institution does not detract from these services either. It simply strengthens the idea that Hezbollah is invested in the welfare of the people. How important is Hezbollah's involvement in Social Services? Fifty percent of Hezbollah's yearly budget goes to providing social services. Hezbollah, the militant Islamist party, spends more money on helping the poor than it does on its military or political wing.

The reason for this is simple; social services have a direct and lasting positive impact on the community and the communities' view of Hezbollah. For example, the 2006 war with Israel was brutal. Urban fighting in Southern Lebanon left entire areas flattened. For Hezbollah, this damage was a godsend. While one might hate the person who blew up their house, the man who arrives with water and nails to rebuild it is loved. The next day, or in some areas even while fighting was going on, Hezbollah first responders arrived at the scene. They began distributing food supplies, construction supplies, and low interest loans to help the people recover. While this strengthens Hezbollah's Islamic credentials it also supports its political goals. Who would you vote for, the party who promises you a tax break, or the party that sent people to help you rebuild your community? Perhaps the party that runs the local clinic that you and your family attend for free? Through its provision of charity, Hezbollah has made itself into an integral piece of the social welfare framework of southern Lebanon. It is important to note that because people from all religions vote for the parliamentary seat of their region, Hezbollah does not distinguish between religions in the provision of its social services. From a cynical point of view, one could say that Hezbollah wants everyone's vote, or perhaps it doesn't care.

What types of civil services does Hezbollah provide? Hezbollah runs several very successful charities. These charities help pay for benefits to those wounded during conflicts and those who have been killed in conflicts. This also helps defuse the tensions caused by Israeli incursions into Lebanon that target Hezbollah. Hezbollah also provides basic and advanced medical care to citizens. Hezbollah provides employment during times of need to Shia Muslims. Hezbollah further provides reconstruction services to those who are rendered homeless because of war or natural disaster. Hezbollah also provides some education services, especially religious education.

It is also important to point out that the civil service section of Hezbollah is its most effective fundraising arm. It has a track record of providing good and reliable service within its country. While the U.S. views all of Hezbollah as a terrorist entity, many Western nations have exempted Hezbollah charities from this categorization. While they agree unanimously on the designation of the Hezbollah military, the Hezbollah charities are debated. While some money might disappear into military coffers, many believe that the charities are genuine and do good for the Lebanese people. At least enough good to warrant status as non-terrorist entities.

Put simply, Hezbollah has seized advantage of the holes in the social welfare net. Where government should have been operating, but was not, Hezbollah has inserted itself. By providing aid to people who need it, Hezbollah has enhanced its image greatly. To many Lebanese, the social services department of Hezbollah is seen as a do-gooder. They are viewed much like we view the Red Cross. This positive view translates directly into support at the polls. Hezbollah knows that it has a winning strategy in the provision of civil services. It will take advantage of any opportunity it can to be seen as the savior of the Lebanese people. Hezbollah realizes that this is not just limited to military actions, but also to the provision of basic aid to the Lebanese people.

It should also be noted that the provision of civil services is such a successful tool that it has been copied by various different groups throughout the Middle East. Originally introduced in Iran, civil service as a part of a parties platform has spread to Egypt, Palestine (particularly Gaza), Lebanon, and many other places. Wherever a government fails to provide the necessary basic services, political parties find a direct route to the hearts and minds of their constituents. As a representative of Hezbollah you should try to find ways to help the people you serve, and to publicize your good deeds.


Your primary goal is attaining control of the Shebaa Farms. This, you contend, is part of Lebanon and was wrongly taken by the Israelis. The bulk of your rhetoric focuses around the reclamation of this area. However, it does not exclude the Palestinian cause. You see Israeli Zionism as a great danger in the region, and the Palestinians as brothers in the conflict. To that end, you support the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from areas occupied during the 1967 war. Ideally, you would love to see the nation of Israel dismantled, however, you also know that this is impossible. Hezbollah is a rational actor, and as members of such an entity, you set realistic goals. Return of lands occupied since 1967 is a realistic goal.

You also need to preserve your ties to Iran. Iran is your main source of weaponry and training. Through your partnership with Iran, you gain access not only to Iranian weapons, but Russian-made weapons that are equal to if not superior to Israeli weaponry. If Iran pulls its support from your group, you will be unable to wage a defensive war against Israel. In 2006 Israel proved that it was fully willing to wipe Hezbollah out. It was the Iranian training and Russian weapons that saved your group. Towards that goal, preservation of a Syrian transport route is pivotal, though much more complex.

Syria poses a several fold threat. If you support Assad and he falls, the Syrians will undoubtedly retaliate. They could strike a powerful blow against you by merely denying you your transport routes. However, if you do not support Assad and he wins, he may do the same. To make the situation worse, if you support Assad overtly, you may be punished at the polls, or by a loss of popular support. Hezbollah is faced with a true political crisis. Thus far, Hezbollah has provided covert support as best as it can, and has struck a middle ground with its rhetoric. It has deplored the actions of "armed gangs," most likely meaning army defectors opposed to the government. However, Hezbollah has also called for a restrained use of force and a limiting of civilian casualties. You are unwilling to throw Assad under the bus, but also unwilling to be seen as propping him up. Remember, outright betrayal or support of Assad will have severe repercussions. Neutrality, or at least the appearance of neutrality, is key.

Maintaining political legitimacy. As a newly emerging political party, it is key that you maintain your political legitimacy. This means being seen as a party that respects the rule of law, and with whom negotiations can be had. The Taif and Doha agreements are pivotal here, and each represents Hezbollah making key political steps in this direction. You must avoid military conflicts which will cost you seats in the parliament, and the support of the people. Currently, as part of the Doha Agreement you hold 11 of thirty cabinet seats. This gives you veto power in the cabinet. You must make sure that you remain a legitimate political player and maintain control of those seats.

You must also maintain control of your weapons supplies. There are many in Lebanon who wish to see Hezbollah disarmed. Not least of these is Sa'ad Hariri, head of the Sunni Future Party and the March 14 Coalition. Weapons are key to Hezbollah's survival. Unlike other political parties, you face an existential threat from Israel. Furthermore, your platform of opposition to Israeli occupation requires that you have some capability to resist Israel. Thus, you must maintain your weapons stockpiles. Remember, you are a resistance movement. While the use of force is to be a tool of last resort, the threat of force is something which maintains your relevancy.

The de-legitimization of the United Nations Special Tribunal on Lebanon. This is a tribunal which was established by the United Nations for the investigation of Rafik Hariri's murder. It has recently indicted four Hezbollah members for the murder, a charge which Hezbollah disputes. Hezbollah claims that the tribunal is a farce, a tool of Western powers to discredit Hezbollah. In the past, Hezbollah has gone so far as to remove its support for the coalition government, and force a restructuring of government which would reject the findings. The fact that the killing of a popular politician was carried out on behalf of Syria, a foreign power, is something which Hezbollah cannot acknowledge. For a group which struggles against outside domination, to be seen as under the control of outside influences would be very detrimental. To achieve this goal you have used every political tool in your immense toolbox. Now that the Tribunal has indicted these four members, you simply refuse to turn them over. This has created a bit of a stalemate. Prime Minister Saad Hariri is not exactly a friend to your cause, though with an ally in President Michel Aoun, it is unlikely that the government will force your hand.

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