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Hezbollah’s New and Old Wars: From Ideological Struggle to Fight for Survival?

Hezbollah’s New and Old Wars: From Ideological Struggle to Fight for Survival?

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This policy brief argues that the conflict in Syria poses particular challenges for Hezbollah.
This policy brief argues that the conflict in Syria poses particular challenges for Hezbollah.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Nov 06, 2013
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About this Series
Op-Med is an ongoing series o opinion pieces on topical issues in Mediterranean politics rom a transatlantic perspective. Te series brings together European, North American, and southern Mediterranean experts through the German Marshall Fund–Istituto Affari Internazionali strategic partnership. Te series examines key questions surrounding the political, societal, and economic evolution o specific Mediterranean countries as well as the broader regional and international dynamics at play in the Mediterranean region as a whole.
Hezbollah’s New and Old Wars: From Ideological Struggle to Fight for Survival?
by Filippo Dionigi 
1744 R Street NW Washington, DC 20009 1 202 683 2650 F 1 202 265 1662 E ino@gmus.org
November 2013
Hezbollah has seen the ronts o its struggle multiply over the last two years. It is both engaged militarily on the Syrian ront and is dealing with a domestic situation in which it aces unprecedented attacks. Further-more, its international reputation is increasingly challenged. he EU has recently added the military wing o Hezbollah to its terrorist blacklist, and the Special ribunal or Lebanon has added a ith Hezbollah member to its list o indicted persons. Whatever its outcome, the Syrian crisis will not leave Hezbollah unchanged.
The Domestic Front
Criticism o Hezbollah is not a new phenomenon in Lebanon. At least since the end o the Israeli occupation in 2000, several political groups have  voiced discontent over its arsenal. he phenomenon has become acute over the past two years, as Salai groups have begun to eel empowered by the sectarian discourse that is poisoning the entire region, and have bluntly attacked Hezbollah. he most obvious case is that o the Salai preacher Ahmed al-Asir, who is now a ugitive ollowing a Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) operation that disbanded his base in Sidon with the aid o Hezbollah.But the operation was not suicient to ease the increasing tension within Lebanon. A stream o attacks targeted Hezbollah-dominated areas in Beirut and culminated in August with a bomb that killed dozens in a majority Shi’a area. A ew days later, car bombs exploded near two mosques in ripoli killing dozens o Sunnis. Hezbollah has ound itsel entangled in a spiral o violence caused at least in part by its intervention in Syria, which has exposed Lebanon to the sectarian renzy that has enguled the whole region. It is also important to note that other Lebanese jihadi groups have also intervened in the Syrian crisis, although not as openly as Hezbollah.Politics have been equally aected by the Syrian conlict. he government o Lebanon resigned in March, and negotiations to appoint a new cabinet have been underway under the guid-ance o amam Salam, a prominent Lebanese leader, since then. Hezbollah and its allies have strenuously opposed any governmental ormula that is not based on the “blocking third”
Opinions on the Mediterranean
Opinions on the Mediterranean
mechanism, which allows political actions a veto over the cabinet’s decisions. his enables Hezbollah and its allies to prevent decisions that may conlict with their political and strategic interests, and also prevents any new govern-ment rom tipping the balance o Lebanons regional stance toward one side or another o the Syrian war. he political equation is urther complicated by the pros-pects o an emerging hydrocarbon economy in Lebanon, over which political actions have ound new ground or conrontation. he act that recent geological surveys have identiied possible gas and oil reserves in the Lebanese maritime region has created expectations o signiicant economic revenues. Until an agreement over an equitable redistribution o this potential wealth is reached, this issue risks becoming yet another source o division or the country. Within this picture, the most positive note is that South Lebanon has remained relatively quiet. Even when there have been minor incidents, they have ailed to provoke an escalation on either side. Neither Hezbollah nor Israel seems to have an incentive to engage in open conlict at the present time.
What Does Qusayr Mean for Hezbollah?
Although Hezbollah’s leadership has repeatedly declared that the battle o Qusayr in May 2013 does not mark an historical turn or the movement, it is diicult to agree. Hezbollah was ormed to ight against the Israeli occupa-tion o Lebanon, and its intervention in Syria can hardly be justiied on the same basis. o be sure, it is not the irst time that Hezbollah’s struggle has turned inward. In the early 1990s, it ought an internecine war with Amal’s militia (paradoxically supported by Assad’s regime), and in 2008, it resorted to orce at the peak o an internal political crisis, participating in a ew weeks o civil unrest in Beirut and elsewhere. Furthermore, Hezbollah has also played a role in the Iraq war, although the actual extent o its involvement is yet to be assessed. But the scale o the conrontation in Syria is dierent. he intervention, motivated by the vital strategic value o the Syrian regime and pushed or by Iran, marks a publicly declared stance that widens the gap between Hezbollah and all those Arabs who believed in a reer world in the wake o the 2011 uprisings. From a revolutionary orce, spearheading the discourse and practice o “resistance,Hezbollah has morphed in the eyes o its opponents and at least some o its supporters into a orce that deends the regional status quo and that justiies its military activities on the basis o sel-interest. It will take some time beore it will be able to requaliy its public image, although history shows that it is resourceul in its public relations. he Syrian crisis is still an open-ended story.
A New Wave of International Condemnations
I Hezbollah’s regional and domestic role has brought criticism rom within, international actors have, unsurpris-ingly, adopted measures that have complicated the move-ment’s position. In July 2013, the European Union added Hezbollah’s military wing to its list o terrorist groups. As a recent GMF policy brie argues, this move was indicative o a degree o convergence among transatlantic allies ater years o divergent policies towards Hezbollah.
 he measure — praised by the United States and Israel and similar to decisions taken by the Gul Cooperation Council — is linked to the role that Hezbollah is alleged to have played in a terrorist attack on an Israeli target in Bulgaria. Countries such as the U.K. and the Netherlands had been pushing or this decision or a long time, but other EU member states had contested the strategic value o the measure. Member states such as Italy and Spain have troops deployed in South Lebanon within the ramework o the UNIFIL mission, and the adoption o measures that may heighten tensions with Hezbollah could jeopardise the sae continuation o a relatively unctional mission. he result was a compromise o dubious eectiveness. Only the so-called military wing o Hezbollah is subject to restrictions that orbid it rom engaging in inancial activi-ties within the EU. Furthermore, the EU has declared that its relations with all Lebanese political actors will remain unchanged. Only a ew days ater the adoption o the deci-sion, the EU’s ambassador to Lebanon met publicly with a high-level Hezbollah oicial, conirming the limited impact o the decision. In act, in the overall context, the EU’s deci-sion is only a minor hitch or Hezbollah; thus ar there have been no reports o the eective application o the restric-tions to any individual ailiated to Hezbollah. he main cost o blacklisting or Hezbollah is to its reputation but, on the other hand, the EU has eroded part o its political
1 Hassan Mneimneh, “Transatlantic Divergence in the MENA Region? The Question of Hezbollah,”
GMF Policy Brief 
Opinions on the Mediterranean
capital as a neutral actor, at least in the eyes o Hezbollah, its allies, and supporters. International pressure on Hezbollah has also come rom the Special ribunal or Lebanon, which has recently identiied another suspect allegedly connected with the terrorist attack that killed Raiq al-Hariri in 2005. hat person is the ith indicted individual that has some orm o ailiation with Hezbollah. No eective measures to carry out the arrest warrant issued by the Special ribunal in Lebanon have yet been implemented in this respect, but the indictment o yet another Hezbollah-related person adds to the pressure that is being applied to it internation-ally.
Dealing with an Intractable Situation?
wo main lines o action have dominated the oreign poli-cies o states when dealing with Hezbollah. he irst has been the ull rejection o relations with the group in order to isolate it and progressively undermine its cohesiveness. he second has been moderate and qualiied engagement in an attempt to acilitate Hezbollah’s normalization and inte-grate it in the Lebanese political process. Both approaches have delivered only partial results, but cautious engagement with the group has more oten coincided with some stra-tegic shits. For instance, the establishment o a reinorced UNIFIL mission in South Lebanon has until now coincided with a phase o relative stability, which would not have been possible without a degree o commitment rom Hezbollah. he overall regional situation does not allow or a signii-cant margin o action or Western states, and in particular or the United States and the EU. heir inability to act is not only symptomatic o inherent weaknesses and lack o cohesiveness in their oreign policies, but is also due to what seems to be an intractable situation in which only bad options are available. Hezbollahs disarmament has never been as unrealistic as it is now, considering that its perceived insecurity is at a peak. Nonetheless, i negotiated as part o a comprehensive ramework that addresses the overall crisis, Hezbollah may consider the possibility o withdrawal rom Syria, which is an option that has been already mentioned in inormal reports in the Lebanese media. Ater all, involvement in Syria is strategically necessary or Hezbollah, but also dissipates political capital and exposes Lebanon to regional tensions. Both these latter aspects may be strong incentives or a reduction o Hezbollah’s role in Syria.Another aspect that policymakers may be willing to explore is the act that Hezbollah has recently accepted the deploy-ment o the LAF in Dahie as well as the Bekaa in the wake o recent attacks. Hezbollah has never relied to such an extent on the LAF, especially in areas as critical as these. his could be an opportunity to encourage a process o conidence-building between the LAF and Hezbollah, which might be conducive to urther cooperation. From a long-term perspective, conidence-building between the LAF and Hezbollah may lead to the institutionalization o the monopoly o orce or the Lebanese state, a key achieve-ment or the state-building process o the country.he political context is stalling and, as long as the Syrian situation remains uncertain, Lebanese politics will not be able to bring about any change. It may sound unambitious, but the best contribution that the EU and the United States can provide, at this stage, is to acilitate processes that are already taking place or that are likely to succeed, without upsetting the ragile Lebanese balance. In particular, the continuation o the UNIFIL mission in the south is essential, and this can hardly be decoupled rom a degree o indirect and mediated engagement with Hezbollah in that region. As long as engagement does not come at the cost o the credibility o the international military orce, and as long as it eectively delivers the core objectives o the mission, there can be no reason to alter this approach, especially considering the unstable regional ramework. Furthermore, the reugee crisis is a crucial issue over which assistance rom the EU and the United States can make a real dierence. Such assistance can ease the tensions that this crisis could easily provoke. he history o Lebanon teaches us a painul lesson o how reugees can be a source o instability, and this situation thereore deserves the utmost attention. Moreover, both the EU and the United States should keep their channels o cooperation with Lebanese civil society open. Finally, both the United States and the EU should ensure that the prospects o a hydrocarbon economy in Lebanon do not become a source o urther instability, polarization and corruption or either the country or the region. he key tasks in this regard are ensuring the trans-parency o the companies and state institutions that will be operating in the sector, adopting strong measures to prevent any corruption ed by the potential revenues coming rom

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