Hezbollah and the Building of a New Lebanese State

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah
Credit: Khamenei.ir

Sectarian differences between the pro-Iranian Hezbollah movement and the nationalist Lebanese Forces are looming in Lebanon.

Just over a year ago, on Aug. 04, 2020, in the midst of a deep political, economic and social crisis, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history destroyed part of Beirut. A massive quantity of over two thousand seven hundred tonnes of the highly explosive ammonium nitrate, irresponsibly stored in the port of the Lebanese capital for years.

To all this must be added an unprecedented economic crisis, with a 90% devaluation of the currency, presaging an uncertain future for the Arab country. The economic crisis is aggravated by political differences within the Lebanese government itself, which has changed hands several times in recent months. The international community is making the delivery of aid conditional on economic reforms, but the lack of internal agreement is preventing it from arriving, which means that the crisis is worsening by the minute and popular unrest is increasing.

The latest violence erupted a few days ago when members of Lebanese Shiite groups, Amal and above all the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, demanded the resignation of Judge Tarek Bitar, a particularly popular figure in the country and the man in charge of the investigation into the explosion a year ago, which killed more than 200 people, injured 6,500 and devastated the city. Judge Bitar has begun to summon and link some political and administrative officials to the case, which has caused some unease within the government.

Hezbollah and its influence in Lebanon

Hezbollah emerged in the early 1980s during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon, although some previous events were decisive, notably the return of Shia students and clerics who returned to Lebanon from Iraq in the 1970s, the Lebanese civil war of 1975, the disappearance of Musa Sadr in Libya in 1978, and the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Through significant historical support from Iran and Syria, Hizbollah has managed to have a large security apparatus, act as a political organisation, and build a network of social services in Lebanon, where the group is often described as a “state within a state”. Hezbollah sees itself as a resistance group against Israel’s actions and Western intervention in the Middle East. For its part, both the US government and EU countries consider it a terrorist group and a threat to regional stability.

In 2000 Hezbollah succeeded in getting Israel to leave Lebanon. In 2005, after the end of Syria’s presence in Lebanon, major protests took place over the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, a Sunni, for which 5 members of Hezbollah are currently on trial in absentia.

Hezbollah also emerged strengthened from its 2006 confrontation with Israel, which lasted 34 days. Periodic clashes between Hezbollah militants and Israel led to a month-long war with Israel during the summer of 2006, during which Hezbollah launched thousands of rockets into Israeli territory. In addition, the use of sophisticated anti-ship and anti-tank weaponry, suspected to have been supplied by Iran, surprised the Israelis. A UN-mediated ceasefire was formalised in August of the same year. Since then, it has been a key player in Lebanese politics and the key to stability in the Levant country.

Hezbollah and the Beirut blast investigation

On Oct. 14, a demonstration was called by Shiite parties Hezbollah and Amal, two political groups with great influence in the country and which seek to avoid being tainted by the investigation. However, unknown gunmen and snipers opened fire on the protest, starting exchanges of fire that recalled bloody chapters of the past and alarmed a civilian population fleeing in desperation, fearing the worst. Six people, including members of Hezbollah, were killed. The wounds of a civil war (1975-1990) are still fresh and seem to have held back a new outbreak of war in the country.

Hezbollah is now demanding an investigation into the shooting, which it says should conclude that those responsible for opening fire belonged to the so-called Lebanese Forces, a nationalist party supported only by part of the local Maronite Catholics, led by Samir Geagea. The party, however, rejects the accusations.

However, in a televised message, the leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, not only demanded an investigation into the shooting, but again called for the judge verifying the mega-explosion to be dismissed. He claimed that he was not the enemy of Christians, and furthermore that the main threat to the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party of Samir Geagea.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.