Hezbollah: A History of the "Party of God"by Dominique Avon
Hezbollah’s revolutionary role in global politics has invited lionization and vilification, rather than a clear-eyed view of its place in history. Now that the party is in power, how will Hezbollah reconcile its regional obligations with its religious beliefs? This nonpartisan account offers insights that Western media have missed or misunderstood.
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From Chapter Three: A Model of Recovered Pride, a Contested National Party
During the Beirut summit in spring 2002, the divisions within the Arab world burst forth once again. At that time, King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia relaunched the “proposal” that his brother had pushed through twenty years earlier during the Fez summit: peace between Israel and the Arab League states, in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from all the occupied territories. Ariel Sharon’s government, involved in a test of strength with Yasser Arafat—he was under siege in the Palestinian Authority Mukataa in Ramallah—ignored the proposal. Arafat’s fate elicited no unified response from the Arabs. On the contrary, the Syrians decided to prohibit his speeches from being retransmitted to Beirut via satellite. That cacophony served the political line defended by the Hezbollah, whose leaders again declared that no negotiated solution with the “Zionist entity” could be considered. They also acknowledged that the Hezbollah was providing light arms to Hamas, the chief Palestinian movement opposing the Oslo Accords. In the months that followed, however, that position was undermined by the Iraqis. Because they were Shiites, the Hezbollah leaders offered no support to Saddam Hussein, who had persecuted their coreligionists and expelled some of them. But in Nasrallah’s view, the Iraqi regime’s disappearance would occur only at the cost of a US presence. On the eve of hostilities, he proposed a reconciliation between the existing power and the opposition forces, which garnered, at best, polite disapproval from the Iraqi Shiites. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Hezbollah’s secretary general—to shouts of “Death to America”—declared his support for all forms of “resistance” against the “occupation,” but without choosing sides between the two antagonistic Shiite organizations on the Interim Governing Council: the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution and al-Da‘wa Party.
The front was no more united among the Western powers. The “antiterrorist” campaign launched by the Bush administration after the attacks of September 11, 2001, targeted a vast constellation of movements that embraced Islam. Alongside al-Qaeda and other Sunni radical elements, Washington strategists had their eye on the Hezbollah, with the active support of the pro-Israel lobby. Without consulting its partners, the United States outlined a proposal for reconfiguring the Near and Middle East, whose map had been drawn by the British and French colonial powers after World War I. In October 2002, the United States urged the European Union to put the Hezbollah on a financial blacklist, but France blocked the move. The United States did not participate in the Paris II meeting, which was intended to raise massive financial aid for the Lebanese, whose debts had reached a new high. In the forefront of the dispute between the United States and France was a disagreement about how to resolve the crisis with Iraq. After Bush imposed his views, Chirac ventured an attempt at rapprochement at the Évian Summit. The area of agreement between the two men was Lebanon. France felt that the “Land of Cedars” ought to recover the place it had held before the war. For the United States, Syria no longer constituted a bulwark against Iraq, which was now under US control, and so became once more a convenient pariah, since it harbored no fewer than ten Palestinian organizations engaged in intifada, including Hamas. Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, met with Nasrallah from time to time in the Syrian capital.
Anxieties were keen among the authoritarian Arab regimes, caught between accusations from abroad (“You are not democratic”) and those from within (“You are no longer fighting Israel”). The weight of that dual criticism was increased by Arab fears of an axis connecting Tehran and the southern suburbs of Beirut via Baghdad and Damascus. In the name of Arab identity and Sunnism, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and Abdallah, king of Jordan, agreed to oppose what they called a “Shiite crescent” run by Iran. The reality was more complex. Iran was no more opposed to the fight against partisans of al-Qaeda than was Syria. Iran did play a role in Iraq, but the clerics of Qom, though they had close ties to their counterparts in Najaf, were also in a rivalry with them. The leader of the Najaf clerics was Ayatollah Sistani, who had never issued a call to arms against the coalition led by the United States.
Meet the Author
Dominique Avon is Professor of Modern History at the Université du Maine, France.
Anaïs-Trissa Khatchadourian is a doctoral candidate at the Université du Maine, France.
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