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The · Psychohistorian

Hezbollah on the ropes?

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A week ago, Hezbollah was insisting that Israel not only return to the border, but also give up to Lebanon the Shaba farms area that Israel took from Syria in 1967, all before a cease fire could be discussed. Two days ago, they declared that cease fire was not to be considered as long as there were Israeli soldiers "even one meter" into Lebanon. They were even able to get the Lebanese government to adopt these hard line positions, preventing any real chance at negotiation.

Now, though, we're hearing a rather different story. Now, they want a cease fire without insisting on conditions. Now, "removing Israeli soldiers from Lebanon could be resolved through political discussions". Now they want both sides to stop the bombs and rockets. What changed?

Pretty clearly what changed was that Hezbollah did not feel threatened before, and now, after a broad based Israeli ground invasion, they do. Perhaps the Israelis are finally about to find and destroy their missile caches. Perhaps Hezbollah is worried they'll lose their popular support. The specific reason doesn't matter; what matters is that, in the face of adversity, Hezbollah crumbles. That makes a couple of things clear.

First, dealing with Hezbollah requires the willingness to use force. They're happy to rain missiles on towns as long as they aren't threatened, even if it results in hundreds of civilian Lebanese casualties, but if it's made clear that any violence on their part will result in a loss for their own organization, their activities can be limited to the political realm. That means that if an international force ends up occupying a buffer zone in south Lebanon, the force had better be able and willing to fight them.

Second, Hezbollah is not like the terrorist organizations which - whether or not one agrees with their methods - truly try to represent the interests of an oppressed group. That kind of organization doesn't knuckle under to force, because it's just strengthened by adversity. That kind of organization must be handled with different methods.
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On August 6th, 2006 10:27 pm (UTC), readsalot commented:
I couldn't find that statement from Hezbollah; where did you see it? (I'm mostly reading the New York Times, and I know their coverage isn't complete, but I'm not sure where to go for something better.)
On August 8th, 2006 12:45 am (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
I usually read multiple news sources from Google to try to get several points of view. Here's one link, from Friday 4 August:


About eight paragraphs in, there's a quote from "Hezbollah lawmaker Mahmoud Komati" that "The priority is to reach an unconditional cease-fire first".... "the subject of removing all Israeli soldiers from Lebanon could be resolved through political discussions."

I saw a similar quote from a different Hezbollah member in another source, but I can't find the source in my history any more.

Of course, they must have been reading my blog, because within hours of my posting this, Hezbollah was back to making unreasonable demands. Okay, more likely Nasrallah returned from Syria with the promise of more aid, so they weren't desperate any more.

Hopefully people will remember the lessons learned in Viet Nam regarding dealing with externally supported guerrilla forces: keep the pressure on until they actually come to an agreement, not just until they agree to talk.
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On August 9th, 2006 05:25 am (UTC), dcltdw commented:
Granted, I'm a miserable politics student.

But another reason that I've heard is that Hezbollah has already achieved what it wants: political relevance. They're not a bunch of random goons who can be ignored and/or just killed; now they're big enough that a nation-state is negotiating with them.

"We stood up to the Israelis and made them negotiate with us" doesn't seem like a bunch of random goons crumbling to me.

If this makes you throw up your arms in disgust at my political naivete, see the opening disclaimer. :D
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On August 10th, 2006 12:38 am (UTC), psychohist replied:
By the way, that previous anonymous comment was mine.

Hezbollah already had political relevance within Lebanon; it's an established political party there with a substantial minority in parliament. It's not clear to me that Hezbollah has gained any political relevance outside of Lebanon; no one is negotiating with them directly, and even they seem happy to do their political negotiation through the Lebanese government.

Hezbollah was at one time a resistance movement against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. The thing is, they already won that one: Israel left in 2000. Unfortunately, when a resistance movement is successful, some members are unable to adapt to a more peaceful lifestyle.

Those people may be getting what they want: a return to a more violent environment where they can stick with their old, familiar violence in the face of an Israeli occupation. Nasrallah may also be trying to steal some of Hamas' glory, or trying to succeed Arafat as a popular icon among Arabs. I have to question, however, whether the members of Hezbollah who spent the last half decade building hospitals and performing humanitarian work in southern Lebanon are getting what they want when the fruits of their labors are being destroyed.
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On August 10th, 2006 04:54 am (UTC), dcltdw replied:
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On August 10th, 2006 12:44 am (UTC), greyautumnrain replied:
[i]now they're big enough that a nation-state is negotiating with them[/i]

It seems to me that nation-states were negotiating with them since Iran-Contra. As for their relevance in the region, some analysts of the region have been saying that Nasrallah has more credibility in the region than the president of Syria, at least among anti-Israel factions, ever since the death of the senior Assad.
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