Tony Badran

Accomplices to Hezbollah

"Al-Quds [Jerusalem] International Day" in Beirut

In the past two months, the European Union designated Hezbollah’s “military wing” as a terrorist entity, and the Gulf Arab states announced their intention to target Hezbollah associates and financiers on their soil. So, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah’s public address last Friday, which was delivered in person and was heavy in its Shiite overtones, came at a time of great stress, and was aimed at further binding together the party and the Shiite community. Nasrallah’s bid to show full identification between the group and its base, however, is about more than just boosting morale.


Hezbollah has been leaking to the media how it views the EU’s decision and the Gulf Arab states’ measures as an attempt to target the party by squeezing its Shiite base – the “foster environment,” in Hezbollah parlance. According to the group’s talking points, rehashed by Al-Akhbar, the Gulf Arab states’ punitive steps against Hezbollah financiers and supporters are part of a campaign “against [the group’s] environment working in the Gulf” aimed “to place [Hezbollah’s] popular base in the vise of economic punishment.” The party’s leadership, as noted by a journalist close to Hezbollah circles, “implicitly fears that the wider objective of the European decision is to dry up the broad popular ‘foster’ [environment] in whose pathways the party has been swimming for a long time.”


A dominant view in academic literature on Hezbollah has been that the group could not be labeled terrorist on account that it represented such a large social constituency. Far from being a vanguard or an outlier group with roots grounded in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hezbollah is deeply embedded in the Lebanese Shiite community. Some argued that assigning this label to a party that had a genuine and large base, which supported the group’s activities, would implicate the party’s members of parliament, who represent Lebanon’s Shiites. Consequently, this would unfairly tarnish the Shiite community itself as supporters of a terrorist group.


This view has failed to grasp that blurring all distinction between party and community was precisely what Hezbollah figured is the best way to shelter itself. The party has long been clear that integrating the Shiites – and also Lebanon more broadly – into the so-called “resistance” project, is at the heart of Hezbollah’s strategy. The party’s deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem, articulated Hezbollah’s vision seeing “the society of resistance” – the very same “environment” mentioned earlier – shielding the group: “we always called for a society of resistance, and never settled for a band of resistance… whoever is going after [us as] a band of resistance will tire mightily for they would face the society of resistance.”


The implication is clear: because Hezbollah embeds itself in the Shiite community (and Lebanon more broadly), this will force its adversaries to stop short, out of concern for the citizenry and the country as a whole. For example, in 2006, when Hezbollah dragged the country into a devastating war, even the US, which had long designated the group as terrorist, worked with the Lebanese government at the United Nations to stop military operations out of concern for the Lebanese state and its citizens. Put differently, the Shiites and the other Lebanese have been, in effect, human shields – regardless of whether they perform this function willfully or not.


However, as Hezbollah explicitly developed this into a doctrine – i.e., in the famous “the Army, the people, and the resistance” synergetic formula – it deliberately implicated the people and the state. In the context of any confrontation with Israel, the consequence of this doctrine, from a military standpoint, is to make legitimate targets of any civilian or governmental infrastructure that the organization uses. Indeed, this has been the Israeli response to Hezbollah’s decision to turn Lebanese villages into military compounds. If you want to turn the entire society into an auxiliary of Hezbollah, then so be it. The “Army, people, resistance” formula, by definition, gets you the “Dahiyeh doctrine.”


But as the decision of the Gulf countries shows, the consequences extend beyond the military context with Israel. When prominent Saudi commentators start writing that the Lebanese state had become “part of the problem” and that Lebanon “should pay the bill” for Hezbollah’s actions, you know you’re in trouble. Perhaps finally sensing the danger inherent in the Lebanese government officially codifying a doctrine that binds the state and the citizenry to Hezbollah’s actions, Lebanese president Michel Suleiman rejected including the group’s “Army, people, resistance” formula in a future cabinet’s policy statement. “The Resistance unilaterally decided to get involved in Syria without consulting the army and the people,” Suleiman said.


However, Hezbollah’s reaction to the EU decision has been to implicate the Shiite community even further. For instance, as the organization issued threats against UNIFIL’s European contingent, unnamed sources from Hezbollah’s senior leadership rhetorically asked, “how will the resistance’s foster environment…deal with UNIFIL?” Hezbollah’s message is that its popular base could be one instrument of retaliation against Europe. And this might well extend beyond UNIFIL. As Al-Akhbar editor Ibrahim al-Amin, a regular conduit for Hezbollah threats, openly warned, “any European presence in our countries and region” is unwelcome, and Europe “should behave, henceforth, as though it is moving in hostile terrain.”


Some Hezbollah experts have cautioned that targeting Hezbollah as a terrorist group “would easily escalate into a war against an entire society in which the organization has immersed itself.” But these experts have glossed over the obvious: by deliberately implicating Lebanese society in its terrorism, Hezbollah has moved beyond using the Lebanese as shields. It is turning them into accomplices.


Naim Qassem crowed the other day that “Lebanon needs the resistance in order to protect its future generations.” In reality, a Lebanon entangled with Hezbollah cannot possibly have a future.


Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets @AcrossTheBay.

"Al-Quds [Jerusalem] International Day" in Beirut's southern suburb. (Image via AFP)

"This view has failed to grasp that blurring all distinction between party and community was precisely what Hezbollah figures is the best way to shelter itself."

  • stefanheger22

    A totally biased article. don't agree even with a single sentence...

    September 3, 2013

  • Fenrir | No God but (...)

    Damn dude! You're saying it was the Lebanese people themselves you brought about the destruction? Way to go, you have hit a new low. Hezbollah IS the people, just like Zionists are the people of which drew condemnation at receive so much hatred. In a way, you have given Hamas perfect reason to kill Jews. I know you are doing your best, but still suck. Pretty low to hit your own people that low. And if the Zionist Entity hadn't been so filthy and scummh in the first place, Hezbollah would have never had to do what they did. Just like back in '82. Am I right, bub?

    August 14, 2013

  • politik

    ELIYAHU.BENABRAHAM.7 I think you meant to reply to JBRAM not me.

    August 14, 2013

  • eliyahu.benabraham.7

    " the political representative of a large swathe of the Lebanese population" Likewise, the German National Socialist Workers Party [NSDAP] was the the political representative of a large swathe of the German population. Does that make them democratic? Humane? A resistance movement with goals worthy of being supported, like the French Maquis during WW2? Recall too that Hitler took power in a legal manner. The Nazis did not get most of the votes in the late 1932 election to the German parliament. but other parties failed to form a govt and then the German president Hindenburg asked Hitler to try to form a govt. So what? Politik, Do you also support the Syrian National Socialist Party? Doesn't the Hizb have a Nazi attitude toward Jews? Did the French Maquis massacre German civilians? Does the Hizb act as a political tool of the Iranian ayatollahs in Lebanon?

    August 11, 2013

  • politik

    JBARM. So what do you propose? The Lebanese state and those citizens who do not subscribe to the Hizbollah project for the region should just enjoy the ride that Nasrallah and Iran has in store for them? It's long past time that Hezbollah loses the bonus points of its success versus Israel and its so called "organic" birth in the South and lets start looking clearly at the present and how dangerous this sole armed militia from the Civil War is to the nations future. Apologists like you don't seem to be able to explain how Hizbollah is a benefit to the Lebanese state? Being critical of Hizbollah automatically makes someone Right wing? And being anti-West gives them some sort of revolutionary leftist credentials?

    August 10, 2013

  • Jbram

    The whole premise of this argument presents Hezbollah as an isolated entity which has then immersed itself in its environment. To be sure, that environment (hostility to Israel, the resistance and so on) was fostered at the time of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and was a factor in Hezbollah's early success. It was not one which was artificially manufactured as this article claims. I These articles come out thick and fast from right-wing, reactionary think tanks, like the one the author works for. The articles which are heavily critical of Hezbollah and call for a more belligerent attitude toward the party. We should examine their utility, their ultimate goal. This one at least acknowledges a basic fact which others do not, that the organisation is the political representative of a large swathe of the Lebanese population. With that in mind, I would be interested to know what the purpose of this belligerent attitude will be? What does an article like this actually advocate? It advocates an entire society, labelling them all terrorists and encouraging confrontation with them. Read some history and try to figure our where that usually leads us.

    August 9, 2013

  • Jbram


    August 9, 2013