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Hezbollah: Politics and mega-terror

By Yehudit Barsky

Since the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah was created by Iran in 1982, it has metamorphosed from its early beginnings as a localised terrorist organisation into a significant armed presence in Lebanon that has demonstrated its ability to carry out terror attacks far beyond the borders of the Middle East.

Today Hezbollah is the only armed force that controls a political party in Lebanon. For its supporters in Lebanon, Hezbollah is the sponsor of social welfare agencies that provide education, health care, employment, and other services. Hezbollah uses these institutions as a mechanism for indoctrination and a pool for recruiting new members.

Hezbollah came to the forefront in March 2005 as the Lebanese and international community pressed for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Hezbollah openly opposed the Syrian withdrawal because of Syria’s longtime sponsorship of its activities in Lebanon. Although Syria officially withdrew its troops on April 26, it is still maintaining a presence in Lebanon via pro-Syrian Lebanese political parties, Syrian intelligence agents, and Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has emerged as a primary operative in Gaza and the West Bank, carrying out terrorism against Israelis, and it also poses a threat to the Palestinian Authority.

These activities should be the focus of concern by Western governments.

The "Party of God"

Hezbollah, Arabic for the "Party of God," is a radical Shi`i Islamist terrorist organisation created by Iran and based in Lebanon. The organisation is led by Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, its "spiritual mentor," and by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, its secretary-general. Hezbollah has a twenty-three-year history of attacking Americans, other Westerners, Israelis, and Jews. Its ultimate goal is to eradicate Western influence from the Muslim world.

Iran created Hezbollah for the purpose of exporting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran provides the organisation with US$100 million annually. It also has established a network of terrorist cells "in at least twenty states, including the US, Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Pakistan." Former CIA Director George Tenet testified in 2003 that twelve Hezbollah cells were operating in the US, involved in "actively casing and surveilling American facilities."

In 1997, the US State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism designated Hezbollah a foreign terrorist organisation. On November 2, 2001, President George W. Bush updated Executive Order 13224 of September 23, 2001, to include freezing US assets of organisations and individuals linked to Hezbollah. The European Union has not yet listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation as the result of a lack of consensus among its members.

Hezbollah is presently one of the few state-sponsored terrorist organisations in the world. Iran’s support has transformed Hezbollah over the past decade from a localised terror organisation in Lebanon to an important, disruptive factor in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It assists Palestinian terrorist organisations such as Hamas, the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, and branches of the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah organisation, including the Tanzim and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Hezbollah has also provided weaponry directly to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in the January 2002 attempt to transfer arms via the Karine-A ship, which Israel captured at sea.

As it engages in funding, training, and providing arms for Palestinian terrorist organisations, Hezbollah continues to deny publicly that it is involved in terrorist activities. Throughout its history, Hezbollah has never claimed direct responsibility for terrorist attacks. Factions of the organisation using various aliases have claimed responsibility for violence ranging from suicide car bombings to bombing attacks and kidnappings.

In 2004, US$9 million dollars – nearly 10 percent of Hezbollah’s US$100 million annual budget –was devoted to funding Palestinian terrorist groups operating in Palestinian Authority areas. Each cell is reported to receive between $5000-$8000 a month from Hezbollah for expenses, including arms, cell phone calling cards, and spending money.

"Unit 1800," a secret wing of Hezbollah, is reportedly taking control over Hamas, Fatah, and other Palestinian terror groups. More than forty terror networks operating in the West Bank and Gaza are managed from Hezbollah headquarters in Beirut. As of October 2004, 80 percent of the terror attacks that took place in or originated from the West Bank against Israelis were coordinated by Hezbollah. Hezbollah is reported to award bounties of $5,000 for each Israeli killed by Fatah terrorist cells.

Hezbollah also has a longstanding relationship with al-Qaeda. Since September 11, 2001, the chief of Hezbollah’s Foreign Operations Department, `Imad Mughniyah, has been responsible for having organised the escape of dozens of al-Qa’eda elements to Iran after they fled Afghanistan. Reports from Lebanon in early 2002 indicated that Hezbollah had assisted between twenty and fifty senior members of the al-Qa’eda leadership who had arrived in Lebanon. Twenty other al-Qa’eda members were hosted by Hezbollah in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. Eighteen months later, approximately 200 members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban were residing in `Ayn al-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.

Since mid-2004, Hezbollah has reportedly been transferring operatives into Iraq via the Iraq-Syria border. Iran is supporting this activity to aid Iraqi insurgent forces and destabilise Iraq’s efforts at establishing its new government and the rule of law.

More recently, Hezbollah in Iran has openly declared that it will carry out suicide attacks against Ma-TV, an Iranian exile-operated television station in the UK.

An Armed Force in Lebanon

Syria’s close relationship with Iran and control over Lebanon ensured that Hezbollah was the only Lebanese militia permitted to keep its arms after the 1989 Ta`if Accord ending Lebanon’s civil war. Hezbollah maintains its own army along Lebanon’s border with Israel, made up of 1,000 operatives, together with additional reserve forces that number several thousand more. After Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon on May 25, 2000, Hezbollah placed its forces along the border between the two countries, preventing the Lebanese Army from deploying there.

From the withdrawal through July 2004, Hezbollah carried out over thirty attacks against Israelis; six civilians were killed, fourteen were wounded, and one was kidnapped abroad. During the same period, thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed and fifty-three were wounded.

Hezbollah continues to be armed by Iran, which supplies it with military-grade weaponry that includes long-range 240 millimetre Iranian Fajr 3 and 333 millimetre Fajr 532 surface-to-surface missiles, wire-guided TOW missiles and AT-3 Sagger anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft cannons, SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles, Katyusha artillery rockets, sophisticated explosive charges and small arms.

By the end of 2004, Iran had reportedly provided Hezbollah with 13,000 short-range artillery rockets and long-range missiles. Hezbollah also has acquired long-range 220 millimetre Syrian missiles. Both the Syrian and Iranian long-range missiles can reach northern Israeli cities, including Haifa, Afula, and Hadera.

Since the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, the anti-Syrian movement in Lebanon has called for Hezbollah’s disarmament. Sheikh Nasrallah has denounced both diplomatic and public efforts to disarm Hezbollah. "Two representatives of the [Maronite] Patriarch visited me before his departure [to Washington] and I told them that to take firm positions on this question would not be opportune," said the Hezbollah leader. "The matter of the resistance [i.e., Hezbollah’s Islamic Resistance] is an internal Lebanese affair. Neither the United States, nor the UN Security Council nor anyone else has the right to raise this question."

Nasrallah has declared that Hezbollah’s armed status is necessary to defend Lebanon from Israel. "I am firm in keeping our arms because I believe the resistance is the best option for defending Lebanon against Israeli threats," he said. He further asserted that Hezbollah would keep its weapons for "as long as Lebanon is threatened, even if we remain threatened for a million years."

Seeking Political Legitimacy

Hezbollah participates in the Lebanese political system, currently holding twelve seats in the 128-seat Lebanese parliament. On March 8, 2005, Hezbollah organised a demonstration together with pro—Syrian forces in Beirut to counter earlier Lebanese demonstrations that called for Syria to completely withdraw its troops from Lebanon. At the demonstration Sheikh Nasrallah denounced international efforts to pressure Syria to withdraw its troops. "We tell the whole world that we refuse the [UN’s] 1559 resolution."

Hezbollah has also engaged in efforts to be recognised as a political entity outside of the Middle East. In September 2004, Hezbollah participated in the "International Strategy Meeting" of the anti-war and anti-globalisation movements that was held in Beirut. It was the first time that Hezbollah had participated in an anti-globalisation conference. At the event, Hezbollah was praised as "one of the leading welcoming organisations [and] an example of successful, targeted, and organised resistance."

Hezbollah has also recently engaged in self-styled efforts at interreligious dialogue to boost its legitimacy. In October 2004, Sheikh Nabil Qauq, Hezbollah’s leader in south Lebanon, met with members of a delegation from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Hezbollah used the encounter as part of its propaganda broadcasts on its al-Manar television station. Al-Manar is broadcast in Lebanon and via satellite throughout the Arab world. Until recently, the station also was aired via satellite in the United States and in Europe, but the broadcasts were shut down or blocked due to al-Manar’s programming content, which promoted Hezbollah’s ideology and glorified acts of terrorism.

As Hezbollah seeks greater legitimacy both within Lebanon and internationally, it continues to operate as a tool of Iran and continues its efforts to spread its Islamist totalitarian ideology. Hezbollah has also continued its terror activities on a scale that is far beyond that of any localised terrorist organisation. Hezbollah engages in mega-terrorism: It not only carries out acts of terror itself, but provides weapons, training, and logistical assistance to like-minded terrorist organisations. Iran’s creation of Hezbollah and its continued support for it ensures that these activities will continue.

Hezbollah is employing a long-term strategy by which it uses all means at its disposal to indoctrinate and support its followers in the belief that they will enable Hezbollah to eventually realise its vision. For Hezbollah to truly metamorphose beyond a terrorist organisation, it would have to stop being Hezbollah. It would have to disarm, renounce the propagation of its totalitarian ideology, and, ultimately, completely change its ideology.

At the present, however, Hezbollah’s participation in Lebanese politics and its self-styled efforts at interreligious dialogue are only being used to empower it in its current form and to legitimise its radical vision and its ultimate goals. Hezbollah continues to destabilise Lebanon and carry out terror attacks against Israel across its northern border and from within the Palestinian Authority territories. Together with Iran, it has set its sights on the nascent democracy in Iraq and on the American forces operating there.

Hezbollah must be recognised for the threat that it is. It must be disarmed of its weapons and its totalitarian ideology.

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