The Aging Revolutionaries Must Make Room for the New Ones

Every revolution brings to the global limelight new ideas, and a new corps of leaders, who, by becoming successful in carrying out that revolution, prove to the world that the ideas and the regimes that they replaced were anachronistic and irrelevant.  The Arab awakening is one such revolutionary movement.  It is focused on ousting the aging (and not so aging) dictators and establishing democracy.  In the process, it is proving, among other things, that Hezbollah of Lebanon – a revolutionary movement of the 1980s – has become anachronistic.

When the Hezbollah party was created by Iran in the early in 1980s, it was based on the ideology that carried out the Islamic revolution, which had ousted “America’s Shah.”  That ideology was brimming with Shia pride.  The establishment of an Islamic government in Iran was not only a revolutionary idea in its own right, but it also created the possibility that such a major change had also paved the way for creating Islamic governments in other Muslim countries.  As participants of the Islamic revolution, the representatives of Iran went to Lebanon in their zealotry to politicize the Shias of Lebanon, who were disenfranchised and marginalized by an anachronistic Sunni-Christian power system that was ruling Lebanon.  The Mustadafeen (the deprived or dispossessed ones in the vocabulary of Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini) of Lebanon had to be empowered through a process of militant politicization.  Hezbollah was created out of that endeavor.  Iran’s politicization of the Shias of Lebanon gave them a new self image.  They were taught that the Sunni-Christian power arrangement was highly corrupt, and that, in order to acquire what is their right, the Shias of Lebanon had to fight for it.

Consequently, the Shias of Lebanon erupted on the political scene with a vengeance. They had had enough of being pushed around by the corrupt elites of their country.  They were also getting especially tired of becoming victims of Israeli retaliations in response to the attacks launched on the Jewish state by the Palestinian refugees of Lebanon.

Around the same time, the Israeli government invaded Lebanon to “finish off” the Palestinian “terrorist” attacks.  However, in the process of invading Lebanon, the Israeli leaders also decided to become the kingmakers of that country by forging an alliance with the Christian Phalangists.  In fact, according to one source, creating a Christian state in Lebanon has been a long dream of the Israeli leadership.  Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, was of the view that Israel “should prepare to go over on the offensive with the aim of smashing Lebanon, Transjordan and Syria. The weak point of the Arab coalition is Lebanon for its regime is artificial and easy to undermine. A Christian state should be established, with its southern border on the Litani River. We will make peace with it.”[1]

It was during the initial phase of the Israeli invasion and the occupation of Lebanon that Hezbollah intensified its activities.  Its shadowy predecessor was blamed for the mass assassination of the U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983.  President Ronald Reagan, as much as he was interested in cooperating with the Israelis about promoting a Christian dominant regime in Lebanon, wisely decided to pull out the American forces from that country.  And Hezbollah continued its presence and dominance of the Lebanese political scenes.

Hezbollah’s finest hour was the 2006 war against Israel.  During that short war, the Jewish state swore to eradicate it, and unleashed a campaign of intense bombing of Lebanon.  However, when the dust settled, Hezbollah was bruised but still standing.  In the Arab world, the outcome of that campaign was interpreted as a “victory” for Hezbollah over Israel.  In the aftermath of that episode, the political popularity of Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, witnessed new heights in the Arab world.  No Arab leader had the reputation of challenging the military might of Israel and surviving it.  In fact, before the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli war, Israel had the reputation of handing a crushing defeat to the Arab armed forces, thanks to its decisive victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Along with Hezbollah, Iran’s political reputation as the chief backer of that party also grew in the aftermath of the 2006 war, as the entire Sunni Arab leadership watched with a mixture of envy and frustration. Even the United States, whose occupation forces were then fighting an uphill battle with the Iraqi insurgents and al-Qaida-related Islamists, appeared vulnerable to encountering a defeat in Iraq. While the Arab leaders were attempting to hide their envy of Iran and Hezbollah by coining highly pejorative phrases such as the threat of the rising so-called “Shia crescent,” Hezbollah proceeded to further dominate the internal
power distribution of Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s dominance of Lebanese politics might have lasted for quite awhile, except for the Arab awakening that is currently sweeping through the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. One of the current targets of that movement is the growing revolt inside Syria – one of the chief backers of Hezbollah.  As Bishara Assad has turned loose his killing machine against his citizens, his regime, instead of getting strong, is looking increasingly desperate and weak. That is bad news for Hezbollah and Iran, which had been playing a major role in Lebanon, thanks to the Syrian occupation of that country since 1976. Even though that occupation happily ended in April 2005, Syria remained an influential actor inside Lebanon because of its geographical proximity to that country, and also because of the highly proactive resolve of both Iran and Syria to influence the internal power
dynamics of Lebanon through their support of Hezbollah.

As the future of Bishara Assad’s murderous rule appears bleak in Syria, Hezbollah, and its long-standing nexus with Syria and Iran, looks increasingly anachronistic.  If or when the Assad regime falls, Iran’s influence in Lebanon will also suffer a major setback.

One option for Hezbollah is to revise its strategy of dependence on Syria and Iran.  But there is no alternate strategy for Hezbollah to fall back on.  As a Shia entity, it was heavily reliant on Shia Iran and on the Alawite-ruled regime of Syria.  Even though the Alawites (a minority Shia sect) comprise no more than 10 percent of the Syrian population, they have been ruling that country for several decades.  Hezbollah has no other friendly state supporting it.  In fact, some rare good news for the Sunni Arab leaders – who have been highly wary about Iran’s rising influence in Lebanon and Iraq, and who were also manifesting their antipathy toward Iran by airing their concern through muttering the phrase “Shia crescent” – is that the future of Hezbollah’s continued dominance of Lebanon’s  internal politics also appears shaky and highly questionable.

The Arab awakening is the revolutionary movement of today.  How it will change the political face of the Middle East is not yet known or understood. But, like the aging monarchs and dictators of the Middle East, Hezbollah has little reason to be optimistic. The march of history in the Middle East promises to throw Hezbollah – the revolutionary of yesteryear – into the dustbin of history.

[1]  C. Nowle, “The Israeli Occupation of Southern Lebanon,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 8, No. 4, 1986) pp 1351, cited in “Lebanon, Israel & the Hezbollah (mis)Fit”

One thought on “The Aging Revolutionaries Must Make Room for the New Ones”

  1. There are no Hezbollah in the North? Oh, I didn’t realize that. I kinda fieugrd they wouldn’t have all their bases and hideouts right next to Israel, or at the very least that their leaders wouldn’t stay in the south once the bombing began, but would flee to the North. But I could be wrong.I also realize that the Lebanese government was basically a puppet of Syria for a long time, which is also why I think the Israelis gave them a pass for the first four years of not living up to their commitments to confront Hezbollah and secure the South. Now we’re in year six though, and I for one can understand why the Israelis feel that year six will become year 10, which will become year 20…I’d also like to say that I love that you argue that destorying Hezbollah can’t be the objective of Israel, because the Israelis aren’t “pounding them into submission” just yet. Well, I for one am pretty sure the reason the Israelis aren’t “pounding them” as much as they could be is because they’ve surrounded themselves with civilians and the Israelis are trying to avoid as many civilian casualities as they can. I just don’t think the Israelis are using Hezbollah as “cover” to take over all of Lebanon, as you imply. Frankly, if that were the Israeli’s goal I think casualties would be much higher by now. In fact, I rather believe Lebanon would basically belong to Israel right now.As for the reasoning behind Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia siding against Hezbollah, there you and I are in agreement. You’re absolutely right. My point was rather that Syria and Iran are basically the only countries on the planet that want Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Jordanians don’t want it, the Egyptians don’t want it, the Saudi’s don’t want it, the U.S. doesn’t want it, the Lebanese don’t want it…My point is that condemnation of Israel would be much stronger, and much more one sided, if the Israelis weren’t doing what everyone else (Iran and Syria excepted) wish they could do. So, while I abhor the civilian casualties on both sides, I have trouble not backing an action whose goal I beleive is desired by everyone on the planet outside of Iran and Syria (or, I should say outside of the GOVERNMENTS of Iran and Syria). Because frankly, I don’t care what Iran and Syria want. In fact, I think on most issues I rather want the opposite of what they want. And that’s the case here.

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