Hezbollah; the Iran s Iron Fist to Israel

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1 Hezbollah; the Iran s Iron Fist to Israel AUTHOR Mehdi A. Jovini January

2 Introduction & Historical Background: The social structure of the Shiite Lebanese community The last three decades of the twentieth century showed signs of the rise of the Islamic movements in the Middle East as they become a leading power factor in the resistance to the existent social and political order, that paved the way for the emergence of radical elements in the Shiite community. The social structure of the Lebanese Shiite community, until the mid 1960 s, can be separated into three strata: ZUAMA: The political- economic elite included the members of the rich families in the south of Lebanon. ULAMA: The religious elite included the members of the families comprising the Shiite religious establishment. All the peasants, laborers and small merchants The rise of new forces in the community in the 1960s, the move from the village to the city, the expansion of education, the change of employment patterns, the emergence of new competitors in the form of the Lebanese leftist parties, and the power struggles taking place within the elite posed an actual threat to this elite and gradually diminished its control over the power sources and its influence within the community. The role Imam Musa al-sadr in mobilizing Shiite community The most essential conceptual change in the Shiite community occurred in the 1960s. It symbolized most of all, the transition of the community, as a body, from passivity and political isolationism to activism and political involvement. It developed due to the feelings of discrimination and frustration, the acceleration of the processes of modernization and urbanization, and the appearance of a charismatic Shiite leadership in the form of Imam Musa al-sadr. The latter, using impressive rhetoric and organization abilities on the one hand and religious pedigree and economic independence on the other, succeeded in recruiting the support of the Shiite masses while simultaneously challenging the traditional elite and the political system. He demanded from them an end to the discrimination against the community by giving it the representation appropriate to its size in the Lebanese population. 2

3 The Shiite awakening in Lebanon is a social-political protest movement in its essence. The man who led and shaped the patterns of this social Shiite protest in the 1960s and 1970s was Imam Musa al-sadr, a Shiite cleric with the characteristics of a religious and political leader. He was born in Iran to a family of privileged religious scholars of Lebanese descent and was educated in the Shiite seminaries of Najaf and Qom. There he absorbed the fundamentals of the Shiite activist thought that was developed in those years by the greats of the Shiite Ulama. In 1959, he started to serve as the Shiite Imam of the city of Tyre. In less than two decades, he succeeded, with exhausting activity, charisma, and high rhetorical ability, in organizing the Shiite community, characterized for hundreds of years by passivity and isolationism, and in mobilizing it into collective activity for the realization of social and political goals. Birth of AMAL During the first half of the 1970 s Imam Musa al-sadr founded the Shiite militia AMAL and began establishing client- patron relations with Syria. He used Syria as his trump card to survive in the violent Lebanese arena and a counterbalance to his relations with the Shah s regime in Iran. This system of relations between the AMAL Movement and Syria was kept even during the days of his successors in the AMAL movement. The Islamic revolution in Iran and Israel s invasion of Lebanon shook the Shiite community in Lebanon and sparked an internal debate between followers of pan- Islamic approach, who advocated loyalty to Imam Khomeini s leadership and nor recognize the validity of the Lebanese state and the AMAL movement which perceived itself as a national- secular Lebanese movement operating within the framework of the Lebanese political system. Diversion from AMAL and crystallization of Hezbollah Hezbollah (God s party) grew on the infrastructure of pre -movement groups that took shape among the members of the Shiite community and within the AMAL movement on the 1970 s and early 1980 s. AMAL leader after Imam Musa al-sadr, Nebih Berri decided to join the Lebanese National Salvation Front. A break occurred in the movement following this step, and some of its members, including Berri s deputy, Hosssein al-mousavi, retired from it. 3

4 These dissidents, in full agreement with Shiite fighters and a group of young clerics who had graduated from the religious schools in Najaf, founded Hezbollah in the summer of 1982 with Iranian assistance. The fundamental trends in Hezbollah s development on the basis of the five stages model: 1. The foundation stage: This stage was characterized by uncontrolled acts of extreme violence, carried out by secret groups and cells with a kinship to the movement s framework. In late 1982, Iran s delegates in Lebanon succeeded in helping those radical groups get organized under the umbrella of Hezbollah around the pan-islamic vision and harnessed them for violent activity against the West in general and against Israel in particular. 2. The formation stage: ( ) During this stage, the ideological framework became crystallized, and the extreme violence, led by a charismatic pro-iranian revolutionary leadership, continued. The movement broke into international awareness in 1983, after a series of attacks against the multinational forces (MNFs) and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in Lebanon. They caused the withdrawal of the MNFs from Beirut (February 1984), the withdrawal of the IDF into the Security Zone (May 1985). 3. The expansion stage: Between 1986 and 1991, an developing institutional system of the movement appeared as a consequence of the increase in the number of its activists and the scope of its activities. Alongside this, the extreme violence continued and reached its peak in the late 1980s with the eruption of the struggle for control of the Shiite community against the AMAL movement. 4. The institutionalization stage: This is the stage at which the movement has been from 1992 on. During this stage, it integrated into the political system of Lebanon. Its activities are characterized by pragmatism and political realism, and it is driven by cost-benefit calculations. During the 1990s Hezbollah handled three significant challenges: The end of the civil war and the growth of the Lebanese regime. The establishment of Syrian hegemony in Lebanon. The peace process in the Middle East. 4

5 5. Seizing rule/decline: This is the fifth stage in the model of the development of protest movements. Hezbollah has not reached this stage yet. The movement adopted a pragmatic Lebanese policy and diminished its revolutionary characteristics and pan-islamic approach. Decisions were translated into activities. The movement s delegates were elected to the 1992 parliament and from 2005 even served in the Lebanese government. The role of Iran and Syria The year 1976 was a turning point as far as the Syrian involvement in Lebanon was concerned. Syria entered Lebanon under the invitation of the Christian Lebanese government, which was about to collapse, and started acting to fulfill its policy and to maintain a new Syrian order in Lebanon. As more time went by, it became more apparent that the application of this policy was encountering difficulties stemming from the complex nature of the Lebanese society and the more the Syrian leadership tended to adopt an integrated policy that relied, on one hand, on a high absorption ability and, on the other hand, on the use of considerate diplomacy that made use of violence. The AMAL movement, which depended on Syria, became an instrument in its hands in carrying out its policy in Lebanon. This fact did not bother Syria in allowing the establishment of the Hezbollah movement, during the summer of 1982, despite the potential threat its establishment posed to AMAL s hegemony among the Shiite community. Iran Along with the increasing Syrian influence upon the community, changes occurred in the influence of the Imam Khomeini supporters on groups among the Shiite community, mainly among the graduates of the Shiite colleges in Najaf and their followers. This process was further accelerated after the outbreak of the revolution in Iran. The sympathy and the identification of the Lebanese Shiites with the new regime in Iran permitted the laying of the first foundation for the adoption of the Iranian model in Lebanon as well. Connections between the Lebanese Ulama and their Iranian colleagues and teachers, along with work contacts and proximity to the Iranian exiles who operated in Lebanon facilitated the distribution of the Islamic message and increased the affinity between the Shiites in Lebanon and the Iranian revolution. The new Iranian regime, under the pressure of the religious clerics, refused to acknowledge Lebanon s sovereignty and even regarded secular AMAL as a factor delaying the exportation of the revolution. 5

6 Revolutionary bodies established in Iran started organizing and supporting Islamic fundamentalist Shiite groups in the region s countries, including Lebanon. In 1982, after the outbreak of the first Lebanon War, Iran sent, in coordination with Syria, hundreds of Revolutionary Guard Corps activists to Lebanon, not only for the stated purpose of supporting the ongoing struggle against Israel, but also for the purpose of fulfilling the policy of exporting the revolution. These activists settled down in Baalbek and began operating among the Shiite population in the area. In June 1982, the Revolutionary Guard Corps activists helped the Islamic groups that operated in the AMAL movement s margins and outside of them establish an all-encompassing framework under the joint leadership of the Lebanese Ulama and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. This loose organizational framework, founded in the summer of 1982, provided the organizational foundation upon which the Hezbollah movement was based. It also organizes training exercises between Iranian and Hezbollah military personnel. As a result of its success in bringing about Israel s withdrawal from Lebanon, Iran views Hezbollah as a model for leadership within the current Israeli-Palestinian struggle. The roots of Hezbollah s Ideology Hezbollah is a political, social, economic, and military organization whose focus and general identity in Lebanon resembles the militancy and ideology of the Iranian revolution. The organization is primarily inspired by the radical Shiite Islamist philosophy of the late Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini, and sees the Iranian regime as the front line and new nucleus of the leading Islamic State in the world. Hezbollah is dedicated to the removal of all non- Islamic influences from the Middle East as well as the global exportation of their Iranian-inspired Islamic revolution, the final result of which is a worldwide Islamic republic headed by Shiite clerics and governed by Shiite Islamic law (Ja fri Sharia). There are two unique aspects of the Shii a doctrine and their importance in the present context: First: An absolute clerical hierarchy that is absent in Sunni Islam The Shi a hierarchy has two strands, the first of which being the Imamate, the spiritual leadership descending through the lineage of the movement s founder, Imam Ali ibnabi- Talib, and ended in 874 A.D. when the twelfth descendant went into a state of occultation. In the absence of the Imamate, a traditional clergy is tasked with leading the community, with the most prominent leaders attaining the unofficial rank of marja taqlid ( source of emulation ) 6

7 Second: The role of martyrdom in Shii a tradition The origins of the concept of martyrdom derive from the legend of Imam Ali s son Imam Hussayn dying on the battlefield in defense of the Shii a tradition. The leaders of the Islamic revolution in Iran (most notably Ayatollah Khomeni) centralized this issue and numerous times applied its lessons to the dynamic between the monarchy and the populace. Hezbollah s Objectives The original agenda of Hezbollah since the early 1980s centered on the eviction of Israeli military forces from Lebanon and, in the long-term, the conversion of Lebanon into an Islamic state. The group s stated objectives include: 1. The removal of all western influences from Lebanon and the region, to include the liberation and sovereignty of all claimed lands, the protection of Lebanese civilians, public relations campaigns with the Lebanese people, and more state involvement in this liberation struggle. 2. Creation of an Islamic republic in Lebanon modeled after the Islamic Republic of Iran and established on the concept of vali e-faqih, or political rule of the Islamic jurist. Specifically, this process would include the abolition of political sectarianism, a balanced electoral system, and the patronage-based government bureaucracy currently ruling Lebanon. 3. Liberation of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) via proxy Palestinian rejectionist groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). 4. The creation of a pan-islamic International Community. Organizational Structure and Leadership Hezbollah is governed by the Majlis al-shura (decision making council; an oligarchy of religious authorities) with an executive Shura administering the organization s daily activities. 7

8 Majlis al-shura Convened on May 28, 1986, the Majlis al-shura is the supreme decision-making authority and consists of seven committees: ideological, financial, military, political, judicial, informational, and social affairs. Each of these committees is replicated in regional areas. The Supreme Shura Council, consisting of seventeen members, meets frequently to set policies, and makes decisions based on majority vote. However, in the case of a deadlock, they are referred to the vali al-faqih, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran, as the definitive jurisconsult. The Executive Shura The Executive Shura, under the control of Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, oversees daily Hezbollah activities, conducts meetings, and makes all financial, military, judicial, social, and political decisions. Said Hassan Nasrallah In February of 1992, Said Hassan Nasrallah was unanimously elected commander of operations after Hezbollah Secretary-General Abbas Mussawi was killed in an IDF helicopter raid on February 16 of that year. Nasrallah was reelected to this post in 1993, and has served in this capacity ever since. Like his predecessor, he was a founding member of the Islamic Resistance. Born in 1960, he was a key figure in the AMAL movement before joining Hezbollah in The Hezbollah Israel Summer 2006 War In 2006, Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers patrolling the border between Lebanon and Israel, provoking a month long war in which 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and 128 Israelis, most of them soldiers, were killed. For weeks, Israeli warplanes bombarded Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut s southern suburbs and in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah militants fired thousands of rockets into Israeli army zones and fought Israeli forces in Lebanon s border villages, in the heaviest fighting in Lebanon since the end of its civil war in In the war between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Hezbollah revealed the Lebanese militant organization s effective efforts at improving both its defensive and offensive military capabilities since the IDF s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May

9 With Syrian and Iranian (particularly IRGC) assistance, Hezbollah utilized the intervening six years of relative calm to build up an advanced arsenal as well as organize itself much like a modern army, complete with specialized intelligence, antitank, explosives, engineering, and communications units. In addition, it established an elaborate network of defensive positions throughout southern Lebanon, its traditional stronghold, specifically designed to exploit both this indigenous environment and IDF tactical weaknesses. Conclusion: These days Hezbollah acts in order to promote the resistance and the movement s interests. The revolutionary elements were removed from the movement and its institutions. Thus Hezbollah is a revolutionary Lebanese social movement that has been through procedures of change from a pan-islamic revolutionary movement to a pragmatic Lebanese movement, which uses a combination of open activity within the Lebanese political system and confidential, violent activity outside this system. Hezbollah operates in the environment of three different systems: the Lebanese, the regional, and the international. These systems uphold complex and dynamic reciprocal relations between themselves that influenced and still influence the movement s directions of development. Bibliography Eitan Azani, Hezbollah: The Story of the Party of God (From Revolution to Institutionalization)- Palgrave Macmillan, Yonah Alexander and Milton Hoenig, The new Iranian leadership: Ahmadinejad, terrorism, nuclear ambition, and the Middle East, Praeger Security International, Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: a short history, Princeton University Press,, Mehdi A. Jovini- Contributor Analyst, Strategic Outlook and Independent Journalist 9

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