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Franklin Lamb: Lebanon War - What Price will Hezbollah pay?

Handicapping Israel’s 6th war on Lebanon
by Franklin Lamb
Oxford, UK
Part II

Israel’s 6th war on Lebanon: What Price will Hezbollah pay?


The price Hezbollah will pay during Israel's coming 6th war on Lebanon will likely be less militarily consequential long term, than the near certain acceleration of the Party of God's loss of its "Resistance" brand. The latter already being eschewed by much of its Shia base for economic, social and political reasons.


Hizballah 'martrys'
(Image by CazzJj)
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Hezbollah will quite likely survive Israel’s 6th War on Lebanon militarily, even though Israel will destroy much of South Lebanon, South Beirut, and the Bekaa valley while simultaneously carpet bombing dozens of other areas on both sides of the Syria-Lebanon border from Al Quneitra in South Syria near the Golan Height to Tartus in far North Syria.

These being areas where Israel claims to know the location of Hezbollah’s rumored 150,000 missiles and other weapons. Hezbollah would presumably be rearmed by Iran unless Israel, the US and the Saudi block also decides to attack the Islamic Republics IRGC and more than a dozen Shia militia (basij) that Tehran has brought into Syria from seven countries and which the Party of God helps train, arm, command and increasingly fights alongside of.

Why the “Resistance” has lost much of its Palestinian support.

A much greater threat to Hezbollah’s future and to Iran’s goals in the region is the fact that it’s claimed raison d’etre of resisting Israel’s occupation of Lebanon and championing the Palestinian cause are increasingly ridiculed even in the Shia community as well as across sectarian lines as being irrelevant and viewed with growing disdain. Moreover, Israel’s occupation of Lebanon ended 17 years ago and it’s increasingly claimed even in Shia neighborhoods that Hezbollah’s arms should be turned over to the Lebanese army.

To Hezbollah’s credit, its 22 years of confrontations with Israel and the 2006 34 day war added credence to its claim to be the “Resistance.” But its “Resistance brand” began to fray even before Tehran ordered Hezbollah into Syria.

Decades of Palestinian Popular Committee and other camp pleas to Hezbollah officials that the “Resistance” should begin in Lebanon’s camps and please help us” are claimed to have fallen on deaf ears.

As Hezbollah is well aware, most health indexes among Lebanon’s Palestinian have plummeted. Communicable diseases, respiratory problems, drug use, poor nutrition, have risen due partly to polluted water in the camps, intermittent electricity and scarcity of potable water. These and many more camp problems, result from Palestinians being barred from most jobs, condemning the majority of camp residents to poverty.

Palestinians in Lebanon, 37 years after the Nakba and 35 years after Hezbollah was organized, so the Party of God claims, to advance the Palestinian cause, Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian camps and 42 “gatherings” have sunk ever more deeply into squalor, poverty and despair. This according to camp leaders and residents while the self-anointed “Resistance” watches and refuses to assist with much needed infrastructure improvements or to help lessen the sharp deterioration of health, security and economic conditions of Lebanon’s camps.

Despite being regularly updated and petitioned on these and other quality of life problems in Palestinian camps, Hezbollah has not responded as many Palestinians think a true “Resistance” surely would. A common observation by camp leaders and residents is that “True Resistance begins in the camps not in Syria as Hassan Nasrallah claims!” Hezbollah continues to avert its attention from the camps but it does maintain, according to camp residents and popular committees, spy networks as well as giving protection for certain Bekaa Valley “business interests” that operated in every one of the 12 camps.

Another common criticism of Hezbollah’s posturing as the leader of the Palestinian “Resistance” resulted from actions taken by Hezbollah during the August 2010 Lebanese Parliamentary debate seeking civil rights for Palestinians in Lebanon including the right to work and to own a home. Hezbollah withheld its support for the Palestinians right to work initiative thus blocking Lebanon’s Parliament from granting the only refugees on earth thus denied--the elementary civil rights to work and to achieve home ownership. In the intervening seven years Hezbollah has annually refused to promote these civil rights.

For its part, Lebanon’s Parliament continues to ignore the subject.

When pressed over the past seven years on this fundamental “Resistance” issue by the Beirut and Washington DC Palestine Civil Rights Campaign (PCRC) two Hezbollah’s politburo members finally candidly admitted to this observer and two Palestinian faculty member at the American University of Beirut, that granting the right to work and home ownership to Palestinians in Lebanon was not a Hezbollah political priority nor is it with Iran.

For years Iran has also been petitioned to encourage Hezbollah to use its votes in Parliament to grant these elementary civil rights but both former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Bint Jbeil Lebanon and current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, during a 2015 appearance at Mohammad Hussein Behesthi University in Tehran personally promised this observer to look into the matter. But neither has acted to date.

Nor is there any indication that Hezbollah plans to support civil rights for Palestinians in Lebanon including the right to work or to own a home. Not without specific instructions from Tehran.

Today Hezbollah is in deep flux. Once a champion of Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, the group's popularity in the Middle East currently hovers at a new low partly due to its nearly seven years of fighting in Syria. In a 2015 Zogby poll, 96 percent of Egyptians agreed that Hezbollah has contributed to growing regional extremism. This while other Arab countries have also expressed their disapproval, with 86 percent of polled Jordanians expressing a strong negative view of Hezbollah.

Some Palestinian in Lebanon and elsewhere also condemn Hezbollah for killing more Palestinians from Yarmouk and Syria’s other ten camps during its six years fighting in Syria than Israel has killed during the 67 years since the Nakba. Consequently some are speaking publicly about their beliefs that Iran and Hezbollah, while pushing the “Resistance” brand are no longer interested in the Palestinian cause other than to gain some credibility among the Arab masses that do tend to support the Full Right to Return to Palestine. Hezbollah is widely believed, like so many others in this region, to “play the Palestinian card” for its own political objectives.

Moreover, today’s “Resistance” message and interest is demonstrably shifting away from Palestine. Nasrallah's rhetoric, once laden with anti-Israel and anti-West vitriol, has shifted since the group's involvement in Syria. Its message is less focused on Palestinian resistance, and has taken on a thicker sectarian gloss and Nasrallah's speeches generally focus on new target in the region: Saudi Arabia and the seeming numberless “Takfiri terrorists” across the region who need to be eradicated at any price.

The still intensifying Shia-Sunni sectarianism in Syria and across the Middle East has also severely eroded Iranian support for Palestine although some of its leadership still publically pay political lip service to the “Resistance” especially during events like the June 21 Al Quds Day which was initiated by Ayatollah Khomeini following the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

There are similarities between what Hezbollah is experiencing from Lebanon’s increasingly restive Shia population and the mounting pressures on Tehran from its own population. The likely aftermath of Israel’s 6th war on Lebanon and the destruction of thousands of Shia family homes in Lebanon will intensive both.

As is increasingly widely known, women who are the majority of students in Iran’s universities must abide by a strict dress code: a headscarf, long trousers and a coat that covers the hips. Those who flout the rules risk the wrath of the morality police. Women’s rights are severely restricted in Iran, to the point where women are even forbidden from watching men’s sports in stadiums. That ban includes Iran’s national obsession – volleyball. Human Rights Watch has documented many instances of serious discrimination with respect to marriage, divorce, and child custody. Because the government wants Iran’s population to grow, it’s moving to ban voluntary medical procedures for women who wish to avoid becoming pregnant. Many Iranian women are being jailed for publicly speaking out in favor of equal rights for women while more are attending women only parks. Males over five years of age, even their own children, are forbidden by the government to enter. Women typically remove their headscarves and coats and dance and sing sometimes donning shorts showing their legs and tight short sleeved tee-shirts. This rebellion is spreading fast and along with other human rights issues threatens the regime.

Today’s Iran is a very different country to that of 1979, 1989, 1999, or even 2009. The population increasingly has a democratic mindset. There is a genuine desire to find a transformative path to a world of live and let live. Unstoppable socio-political change is in motion with women at the lead as Iranians fulfill their own destiny, one that will be better for Iran for Iran and the region.

A fainter version of the women’s rebellion in Iran is taking hold among some Shia women in Hezbollah areas of Lebanon where women enjoy more rights than they do in Iran. Today, Lebanon’s Shia are also on a transformative path of live and let live. Whatever the military impact of Israel’s 6th War on Hezbollah, it will face a women’s liberation movement challenging the Party of God’s authority.

The difficulties faced by Iran’s regime to maintain the support of the Iranian people stem from its failure to provide economic opportunities and individual freedoms. Hezbollah faces a similar economics issue but despite recent security crackdowns in Hezbollah areas of Lebanon its repression of freedoms is so far not among Shia residents main complaints. Both Iran and Hezbollah are facing the growing secularization of their populations both of which increasingly reject religious dogma based on Karbala and notions of ‘Martyrdom” as a ticket to heaven guaranteed by Seyyeda Zeinab, the Prophet Mohammad’s granddaughter. They want contact with Europe and the West generally as well as freedom of expression, and press and the curtailing of both the enforcement of Islamic law and government interference in civilian lives. In addition, both Iran and Hezbollah are experiencing a growing gap between regime institutions and the religious establishment on one side and the younger generation on the other. A majority of young people are moving away from Iran’s 1979 Khomeini led revolution and Hezbollah’s “Resistance” rhetoric and adopting a more modern life style that is accelerating the erosion of the dominance of Hezbollah and Iran’s clerics.

Among issues currently being discussed among Lebanon’s and Syria’s Palestinians is the fact that Hezbollah has lost more “Resistance” fighters in Syria since 2011 than in all its battles with Israel combined since the early 1980’s. Hezbollah has also killed more Palestinians in Syria since 2011 than Israel has since the 1948 Nakba and many Palestinian families in Syria have been victims of Hezbollah ‘starve or surrender’ sieges.

Why many in the Shia community are rejecting Hezbollah’s “Resistance brand”

A greater price that Hezbollah will likely pay from Israel’s 6th Israeli war on Lebanon than its loss of Palestinian confidence are the myriad existential threats emanating from within its own Shia community.

Among Hezbollah fighters and supporters, an oft expressed opinion is that: such individuals want jobs or loans to start businesses in Lebanon not to fight in Syria for Hezbollah which has been assigned by Iran’s Ali Khameni to become Iran's regional military arm and template-trainer for more than a dozen Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) from half a dozen countries armed, indoctrinated and funded by Iran as part of its ‘Land Bridge-Shia Crescent’ in several countries and to function as Iran’s “Foreign Legion.”

In Lebanon’s Shia neighborhoods, specifically in this observer’s neighborhood of Dahiyeh there is mushrooming objection to sending young men to die in Syria for nothing.

Shia neighborhoods in Lebanon are also increasingly objecting as their sons faded “Martyr posters” cover walls in Hezbollah areas with some demonstrations report. Families are telling their menfolk not to go to Syria insisting that it is a death sentence but rather let Iran send its youth to die.


Photo taken on June 22, 2017 on Abbas Mousawi Street in South Beirut by Al Manar. Courtesy of the family of the much loved gentleman slain while fighting in Aleppo.. Fplamb.

Given Hezbollah’s escalating military involvement in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, families of deceased fighters and Hezbollah employees are being asked to accept delays and reductions in their benefits until the fighting ends. A recent Hezbollah financing campaign includes Hezbollah officials visiting Shia businessmen and asking them to finance the children of Hezbollah dead or wounded ‘martyrs’. The results to date have been mixed.

Shia women in Hezbollah neighborhoods increasingly express feelings of being abused and exploited as their loved ones, sons and husbands die in Syria and they must fend for themselves financially while sometimes being heavily pressured by Hezbollah officials to engage in fixed often short term marriages known as “mut’a” (Hezbollah accepts Arabic dictionaries definition of mut'a as temporary enjoyment, pleasure, delight') which many Shia women consider forced ‘prostitution,’

In Lebanon’s Shia neighborhood there is a fast-growing “Resistance” to sending young men to die in Syria. Families are telling their menfolk not to go to Syria which is a death sentence. “Let Iran send its youth to die” is being proposed on the streets.

Even though many Hezbollah neighborhood youth want to avoid Syria and are seeking economic opportunities outside Hezbollah’s purview there frankly are not many jobs available to them so many still sign up for a two year contact that promises between $ 500-$ 1200 per month depending on experience. Few down and out Shia youth, some as young as 16, have any military experience and survival prospects fighting ISIS aren’t significant. But they need money for their families.

One of the many negative consequences for Lebanese Shia which results from Hezbollah acting as Iran’s regional military arm in Syria, Iraq and Yemen is that Hezbollah’s budget from Iran increasingly caters to fighters and their families through provision of basic services such as medical care and some monetary compensation. It is claimed by the Financial Times that Hezbollah’s monthly payroll includes 80,000 individuals but as many as 400,000 when family members are included. This number exceeds 25% of Lebanon’s population. With evermore financial resources from Iran and Hezbollah being channeled for military needs in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, families of deceased fighters and Hezbollah employees are being asked to accept delay in their benefits until the fighting ends and a recent Hezbollah campaign includes Hezbollah officials visiting Shia businessmen ask them to finance children of Hezbollah wounded ‘martyrs’. The results to date have been mixed.

Israel’s 6th War on Lebanon will surly ignite unpredictable and deadly dynamics for both warring parties and until it’s over no one can confidently predict the damage each inflicts on its enemies and sustains from them. Many Israel’s army high command are insisting that while the next war will be a painful one for Israel, Lebanon, and Syria, Hezbollah will face a number of deadly surprises and the war will not last long. Hezbollah is making similar claims.

It is doubtful that if Hezbollah neighborhoods are obliterated as Israel has repeatedly claimed that they will be, perhaps in fewer than 36 hours, that Hezbollah’s increasingly wayward base will yet again uncritically accept its “Resistance” mantra or its claims to be their protector.

Time will tell whether Israel’s 6th war on Lebanon, surely intensifying tensions within Hezbollah’s base and Lebanon generally, will result in Hezbollah losing its remaining political legitimacy. And thereby relegating its status to being just another implanted Iranian basij in the region operating under the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Time will tell whether Israel’s 6th war on Lebanon, intensifying tensions within its Shia base and Lebanon generally, will result with Hezbollah losing political legitimacy thereby relegating its status to being just another implanted Iranian basij in the region operating under the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Franklin Lamb can be contacted c/o franklin.lamb@hmc.ox.ac.uk. Please visit http://mealsforsyrianrefugeechildrenlebanon.com for the latest Updates on feeding malnourished Syrian Refugee children in Lebanon.

[You may wish to read Part I: Israel's Coming 6th War on Lebonon.]


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