Last week the Treasury Department leveled sanctions against Hezbollah for providing support to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in his efforts to put down the 17-month-old rebellion meant to topple his regime. Since Hezbollah has already been designated as a foreign terrorist organization, this latest round of sanctions has little practical effect on the Lebanese militia. The purpose of the action, an American official tells NOW Lebanon’s managing editor Hanin Ghaddar, is in “highlighting the true nature of this organization, willing to assist the brutal crackdown of an illegitimate regime against its people.”
In other words, the sanctions are meant to undermine Hezbollah’s carefully constructed self-image of a resistance organization whose sacred weapons are used only to defend Lebanon from Israel. The reality is otherwise. In addition to using the arms of the resistance to assist Assad in his slaughter, the Shiite militia that now controls the Lebanese government previously turned those arms against its neighbors in May 2008. Hezbollah members stand accused of killing former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, and the party is also alleged to be responsible for a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations, stretching from at least 2004 to the present day. For instance, last month the head of Hezbollah’s explosives unit was reportedly behind an assassination attempt on Lebanese MP Butros Harb.
The result is that some Lebanese believe that the resistance is a “liability.” As a recent editorial in NOW Lebanon puts it: “There is no place in modern Lebanon for a political party that is stronger than many of the region’s national armies. Lebanon wants to build on its democratic aspirations, create strong state institutions – and that includes the army – and build international relations through the offices of state.”
Even more noteworthy is the editorial’s description of Israel and its perception of Lebanon. This is perhaps one of the clearest and most accurate statements regarding Israeli policy toward an Arab state to ever make its way into the Arab press:
Is Israel really a threat? Does it really want to attack Lebanon? Israel has invaded Lebanon in the past, most notably in 1978, 1982 and 2006. It also occupied much of South Lebanon for nearly two decades before withdrawing in 2000. In all cases, Israel was chasing down either the Palestinian Liberation Organization or Hezbollah, organizations that it would not tolerate on its northern border.
There is no evidence to show that Israel has territorial designs on Lebanon, nor would the international community tolerate it. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a tract held up by many conspiracy-obsessed Arabs as proof of Israel’s expansionist ambitions, has long been exposed as rubbish. There may be disputes over water and perhaps even oil and gas, but there is no suggestion that these will turn into all-out war.
Thus the Resistance is a liability. As long as the party maintains, and even adds to, its sophisticated arsenal of long-range missiles – something it calls a deterrent – Israel will always be nervous and on a heightened sense of alert. It sees the party as a non-state actor that owes its ultimate allegiance to Iran, and Hezbollah’s activities in the border region is more likely to lead to war than if it were not there at all. This was most keenly demonstrated in 2006, when a bungled kidnap attempt on Israeli soldiers led to a full-scale response that cost over 1,000 lives, over a million displaced and billions of dollars in damages.
Time is running out for Hezbollah. With its Syrian ally fighting with its back against the wall, the Party of God will eventually pay a price as costly as Assad. “I saw the birth of Hezbollah,” anti-Hezbollah Shiite political activist Lokman Slim told me in the spring. “I will see its end as well.”