From Hobson's Choice
Hizbullah is a radical Islamic movement founded by Shi'a in Lebanon. This site uses the spelling Hizbullah as the conventional Arabic transliteration, and to distinguish it from Hezbollah, a political movement in Iran.
The organization is a combination of three movements whose functions are intended to complement each other. One is a militia; another is a social movement; and the latest is a conventional political party. Each of these functions emerged in the "Israeli Phase" of the Lebanese Civil War.
The Lebanese Shi'a before Hizbullah
Lebanon has historically has a small government that provides minimal social services. Its politicians are generally excellent disciples of Milton Friedman and Murray Rothbard. Taxes are low and personal fortunes have traditionally been large. Prior to the Civil War in Lebanon, per capita GDP in Lebanon was several times that of neighboring Syria, and compared favorably with Israel (LoC). However, the gap between rich and poor was extremely wide and there was almost no social spending. While Lebanon has had a large Shi'a population for many years, for most of the country's history they were farm workers in isolated agricultural areas of the south and east.
Prior to 1960's, Beirut was a coastal city that mainly lay along the north-facing coast of St. George's Bay; the western end was mostly Sunni and Druze, while the eastern end was overwhelmingly Christian (Maronite). A large number of Shi'a migrated to the city, fleshing out the hilly area to the south. The Shi'a slums were crowded and lacked basic services, so they turned to their confessional leader, viz., Musa al-Sadr. Musa founded the Amal ("Movement of the Disinherited") in 1974 and built up the organizational structure to supply some basic charitable services. A year later it had merged with a Shi'a militia, in anticipation of civil war. During the early phase of the civil war, it fought the PLO for control of the Palestinian refugee camps. Early intervention by Syria sidelined the Amal by tying it closely to the will of Damascus.
In the early 1980's, as Syria's diplomats attempted to broker a peace agreement between Muslims and Christians, splinters appeared in Amal. Amal's leader, Nabih Berri, was especially accommodating to Syrian and the United States and hence, potentially a liability as far as the Shi'a standing in Lebanon was concerned A splinter group led by Hussein al-Musawi repudiated Amal's pro-Western policy and declared itself "Islamic Amal." This was part of the future Hizbullah.
Hizbullah as Militia
The core of the movement is the militia; this is, in fact, different from other guerrilla movements in the Middle East, because usually the militia arose out of a social movement. The Islamic Amal was not Iranian in origin, but favored an Islamic revolution similar to the one in Iran. It later joined an armed contingent of about 1,500 Iranian professional soldiers, still under the influence of the initial revolutionary fervor. In the eternal battlefield of Lebanon, they developed both extraordinary zeal and extraordinary skill. There is some controversy as to when Hizbullah was founded. Sometimes it is alleged to have been formed in 1982,  usually in order to accommodate the claim that it was involved in the October '83 truck bombing of the US Marine Barracks. While it is usually the State Department that makes this allegation, it does so in a hedged fashion. Indeed, the strongest claim the State Department has for listing Hizbullah as a terrorist organization is that three men affiliated with it also, on behalf of a different organization, hijacked a TWA airliner. In fact, the State Department itself is unsure as to whether or not Hizbullah existed in its present form at the time of the Oct '83 bombing.
Hizbullah had inherited from its Basiji ideologues the "Guevara Doctrine" of guerrilla war. Readers familiar with his foco theory will be startled by my assertion, since (a) Guevara's foco theory is widely thought to have been discredited, and (b) everyone knows that the Hizbullah has a huge popular following, provides a large volume of social services, and has an absolutely immense media network for purposes of indoctrination. However, readers need to understand that Hizbullah inherited much of the social network it presently enjoys from Amal (see below); and the militia ought to be regarded as an entirely detached unit from the social and political wings. The militia does have a policy of operating with profound detachment from the civilian population.
The notion that Guevaran techniques are not worth attempting (and therefore, Hizbullah is doomed to failure) may itself be outdated. First, there is the matter of the modular organization, connected through a carpet of internet and cellular communications. Ernesto "Che" Guevara himself failed to implement his theory; the theory itself has been modified and adapted copiously in the Islamic world. At the back of the Guevara Doctrine is the concept of drawing the USA into a greatly enlarged version of the Vietnamese Civil War, from which it cannot withdraw without drastic political fallout, and which it cannot in any sense "win." Guevara's outlook is eminently compatible with the philosophy of Sayyid Qutb's notion of violent purification.
Relations with Iran and Syria, in my opinion, are far more pragmatic and mutually autonomous than the impression one gets from the American popular press. Typically we hear US officials speak as if Hizbullah were merely an agent of Syria (as if that actually meant anything). In fact, Hizbullah and the Syrian government are presently allies, and are both shrewd enough to avoid any conflict with each other. This sort of congenial transaction is common. No party in the Syrian government could possibly stop Hizbullah's campaign; Hizbullah would never act in such a way as to render itself dependent on anyone, since the experience of the Lebanese Civil War is that one can never know when one's partner will need to make new arrangements. Hizbullah itself "stole" Damascus from Amal; Israel "stole" the USA from Damascus. What Hizbullah gets from Syria is access to professional expertise and technical support for weapons most guerrilla armies cannot deploy; from Iran, it gets the military experts, intelligence, and volunteers (veterans of Iran's wars, typically of exceptional ability). Hizbullah is ideologically close to some of the more "Trotskyist" of Iran's revolutionary factions; but knowing that there are other factions in Iran as well, it likewise retains a certain autonomy from Iran.
It must never be forgotten that revolutionaries do in fact believe the better part of their rhetoric; it seems reasonable to take Hassan Nasrallah at his word when he declares that his objective is to liquidate Israel, and, by humiliating the USA, bring about its ruin. What the longterm outcome of this is, I shall discuss at length.
Hizhullah as Social Movement
Hizbullah was forged, in large measure by events beyond the control of anyone. Israel's methods for fighting it were crude and useless; it became self-evident that the IDF depended on punishing random Lebanese in order to extort peace from their enemy, since Hizbullah itself was too elusive. Hizbullah, in turn, fought a major war with its rival in the Shi'a community, Amal (1988-1990). Amal was easily defeated in its battles but was saved by its powerful Syrian friend, and a compromise was reached between the two. Amal has remained a shadow of Hizbullah, popular among conservative Shi'a for providing an alternative to the radical outlook of the much-larger Hizbullah
A typical account of Hizbullah's social role includes a mention of the intense, grinding poverty faced by much of Lebanon's Shi'a community. During the war, it provided medical care, education, and housing to the Shi'a; indeed, it was the only entity that did so. Information on the exact nature of Hizbullah's social welfare system is somewhat difficult, but it inherited a cluster of charitable organizations in the regions it controlled; in other countries where guerrilla movements have taken over social networks from a rival or from the state, the transition of bosses has been awkward to disastrous; Hizbullah appears to have managed to do so with great tact, preserving above all each organization's ties to their constituents. It essentially captured the Shi'a community network through large infusions of cash and access. Each time it made fresh political alliances, it managed to get the ally to pay up front—and pass the contributions onto the poor.
The Lebanese Forces (Phalange; now defunct) likewise provided education, health care, and housing for followers; all of the confessional militia did. However, the Shi'a were unable to leave the country (something the Maronite elites could and did) and they tended to be more reliant on the social services. The money came from Iran and from heroin trafficking. In latter years, Hizbullah has been able to rely on businesses that it owns.
Hizbullah as Political Party
Hizbullah has formed an electoral alliance with Amal; they run together on the same list now (Resistance and Development Bloc), and are both members of the ruling cabinet. Despite this, Hizbullah's military arm and its political arm maintain a polite autonomy from each other; Hizbullah ministers did not mention to the prime minister their impending attack on IDF personnel. Ideologically, they are united by one issue, which is the Syrian presence in Lebanon. Opposing calls for Syria's withdrawal, they have united to oppose the sectional issues favored by the anti-Syria crowd. In the 2005 elections], Hizbullah placed fourth, with 14 seats, behind Amal (15).
Politically, Hizbullah does not compete for votes like a conventional party; because of Lebanon's old confessional system, parties represent a religious community; Hizbullah represents a segment of the Lebanese Shi'a, who have no one else to vote for. So it has other motives, chief of which is to preserve its power and freedom of action.
- ↑ James Brandon, Factfile: Hezbollah, al-Jazeera (14 July 2006)
- ↑ US Department of State, "Listing of Terrorist Groups" (PDF ), p.15
- ↑ Partly to distinguish between Arabic and Farsi, I render the Iranian party "Hezbollah" and the Arabic parties "Hizbullah." Some people are passionate about their transliteration schemes; I am extremely flexible.
October 1983 Marine Barracks Bombing, Beirut: a common allegation made of Hizbullah is that it carried out this bombing, that killed 241 US Marines. In the USA this attack is regarded as an atrocity since there was no declared state of hostilities between the US and Hizbullah; it would be analogous to the Pearl Harbor attack. Earlier, a group had carried out suicide truck-bombings of the French and US embassies (18 April) using gas-enhanced bombs of extraordinary size power, and hence, technical sophistication. 63 Persons, including 17 US nationals, were killed in that attack.
An account of the Pentagon's report on the 23 October bombing ("Report of the DoD Commission on Beirut International Airport Terrorist Act") does not include a single mention of any entity known as Hizbullah or Hezbollah. In the case of both bomb attacks, an organization called "Islamic Jihad" claimed responsibility, although there are numerous organizations so-called. In addition to the IJ, a group calling itself the Free Islamic Revolutionary Movement identified the two drivers of the truck with the bomb (BBC).
The US Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, insisted there was "strong circumstantial evidence" that Iran was behind the attacks but did not rule out possible Syrian and Soviet involvement.I am anxious to discover if any evidence has arisen since the committees of inquiry were undertaken by the DoD that would lead the State Department to suggest Hizbullah might be linked
- ↑ For two discussions of foco theory and the doctrines of guerrilla war, please see The Guerrilla Problem in Retrospect (PDF ), George H. Quester (1975), esp. pp.5-6. Also online is "Che Guevara in Bolivia," Major Donald R. Selvage, USMC (1985), for more detail.
For my allegation that Hizbullah's tactics follow the focotheory, please see Salon, "The 'hiding among civilians' myth" by Mitch Prothero (28 July '06).
Although Israel targets apartments and offices because they are considered "Hezbollah" installations, the group has a clear policy of keeping its fighters away from civilians as much as possible. This is not for humanitarian reasons -- they did, after all, take over an apartment building against the protests of the landlord, knowing full well it would be bombed -- but for military ones.
"You can be a member of Hezbollah your entire life and never see a military wing fighter with a weapon," a Lebanese military intelligence official, now retired, once told me. "They do not come out with their masks off and never operate around people if they can avoid it. They're completely afraid of collaborators. They know this is what breaks the Palestinians -- no discipline and too much showing off."
- ↑ For Amal's class composition, see Norton (PDF ), p.23; for coolness of Tehran's attitude towards the Lebanese Hizbullah, see p. 18. Just like the USA, Iran is a complex society with multiple politically active institutions and competing interests. A major conflict in Iran is between revolutionary non-clerics like Mahmud Ahmadinejad, whose career passed through membership in the basiji (revolutionary guards), and clerics like Rafsanjani. The clergy are actually more moderate in deeds, but in the early 1980's there were some like Montazeri who were actually fire eaters. The basiji would orchestrate attacks on the embassies and later fought internal opposition to the regime.
- ↑ See, for example, Helena Cobban, "Hizbullah’s New Face: In search of a Muslim democracy," Boston Review (April/May 2005)
- ↑ "Reconstructing the ‘House with Many Mansions’: The Rise and Fall of “States within States” in Lebanon" by Marie Joelle Zahar, Universite de Montreal (2001).
- ↑ List of political parties in Lebanon
- Martin Kramer, "Hizbullah: The Calculus of Jihad" (excerpt from Fundamentalisms and the State, University of Chicago)
- Helena Cobban,"Hizbullah’s New Face," Boston Review April/May 2005 issue.
- Lebanon Daily Star
- Rhonda Roumani, Christian Science Monitor
- "Can Syria really rein in Hizbullah?" (24 July 2006-via The War in Context)
- "Hizbullah's attacks stem from Israeli incursions into Lebanon", Christian Science Monitor, 1 Aug 2006
- "Hizbullah's attacks stem from Israeli incursions into Lebanon," Christian Science Monitor, 1 Aug 2006-via Prometheus6)
- Tony Karon, "Six fallacies of the U.S. Hizballah campaign" Rootless Cosmopolitan (23 July 2006-via The War in Context)
- A. Nizar Hamzeh, "Lebanon's Hizbullah: from Islamic revolution to parliamentary accommodation" (1993)
- Augustus Richard Norton, "Hizballah: From Radicalism to Pragmatism?" Middle East Policy Council (1998)
- Augustus Richard Norton "Hizballah of Lebanon: Extremist Ideals vs. Mundane Politics" , Council on Foreign Relations, New York, 1999
James R MacLean (17:14, 4 October 2007 (PDT))