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Hezbollah's Invincibility? By: Lee Smith
Weekly Standard | Thursday, August 10, 2006


I recently traveled to Tel Aviv University and met with Martin Kramer, who's been writing about Hezbollah since the '80s. "Their motto back then," he told me, "was, 'the Islamic revolution in Lebanon. And now it's 'the Islamic resistance.'" Maybe that partly explains why so many academics, as Kramer says, "fell for this idea about the Lebanonization of Hezbollah. So, you have all these people who ignored the ties with Iran, ignored the theology, and imagined Hezbollah was a national resistance group."

Clearly the experts were naive; Western intellectuals, for instance, who might be alarmed by the religious sentiment of the president of the United States had no problem contextualizing the medieval theological opinions of Hezbollah officials.

It's useful to keep in mind that the experts who keep telling us that Hezbollah is such an integral part of Lebanon and Lebanese politics have a vested ideological interest in saying so. Never mind the fact that in the last month somewhere between 150,000 to 250,000 Shiites have found refuge in Syria; or that many of the Shiite regions in the South and the Bekaa valley and parts of the Daheyh from which they came have been demolished; or that hundreds of Hezbollah fighters and political officials have been killed.

Or that the group's charismatic leader will likely be bunkered for the rest of his life. The group's capacity to provide its much-vaunted social services is also greatly diminished and many other local political actors will be looking to take revenge for the destruction of Lebanon not just on Hezbollah, but the Shia community itself. And so the possibility that Hezbollah might very well be on its last legs does not seem to register with the Hezbollah experts who insist that the party of God is a permanent part of Lebanon's social fabric.

Hezbollah specialist Amal Saad-Ghorayeb's father conducted a "poll" showing that 87 percent of Lebanon now supports the Islamic resistance. In the Arab states, where real polling is often difficult, if not impossible, local sages frequently cite statistics for the purpose of shoring up their own opinions with official-sounding numbers. But the Saad-Ghorayeb poll is questionable, to say the least.

Without even counting the Christians (who, despite Michel Aoun's pronouncements to the contrary, do not overwhelmingly support Hezbollah's war) let's consider the Muslim community, usually estimated as some 60 percent of Lebanon's population. Maybe a majority of Shiites do support the party, but what about the Druze, whose leader, Walid Jumblatt, has been threatened repeatedly by Hezbollah and their Syrian sponsors? Then there are the Sunnis, the moderate business class who are losing scads of money in this war. And the Sunni jihadists in the north, in whose ears Zarqawi's final words, calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah, must be ringing more loudly than ever. It's unclear how many Lebanese actually support Hezbollah, but the people who have staked their professional reputations on the party of God are seeing their careers follow Hassan Nasrallah in occlusion.

My Jerusalem hotel is filled with refugees: Jews, Druze, and Israeli Arabs, from the north, who can afford to pay for the respite from the ongoing Hezbollah rocket attacks. Right around the corner is the American Colony, one of the best-known hotels in the region, famous not just for its beauty and elegance, but also its guests: U.N. employees, journalists, academics, NGO workers, civil society officials. In other words, the Arabist establishment. Some of them are truly anti-Semitic, like the one Arab who explained to me how Jews ruin everything around the world. This, he continued, is why the French put them on reservations back in the 1880s. However, most of the Arabists do not wish to see Israel disappear; they do not hate Jews or even Israelis.

But nor do they love the Arabs. If they did, they would not have lied to themselves that Hezbollah and Hamas are national resistance movements that have moderate, democratic impulses. These illusions have not been helpful for those living in the Middle East.

One night at the hotel bar I was seated between two middle-aged men, one a Palestinian-born U.S. citizen, the other a Palestinian who runs an NGO on USAID money. In short order, the conversation came around to how Americans are kind and decent but that they know nothing about the Middle East--and so they pay the price for the evilness of their stupid government and the greedy Jews who run the media. Of course, this line of reasoning is essentially a threat: If U.S. policy were in line with what we want, we wouldn't have to kill you.

But brothers, I asked, what is there for my countrymen to understand? For years, Arabs have been telling Americans that they must order the Jews to leave occupied lands and that only then would there be peace in the region. So, Israel left Lebanon and Gaza. And today, instead of peace in the Middle East, we have only more war. Israel is fighting on two pre-1967 borders. Perhaps Americans don't understand the details, but we do grasp the essentials. Israel is defending itself, and that the Arabs are not resisting occupation; they are waging an eliminationist war.

Lee Smith, a Hudson Institute visiting fellow based in Beirut, is writing a book on Arab culture.

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