Hezbollah’s Victory

For Millions in the Middle East, These Events Mark the Beginning of a New Political Era.

A Haifa building dammaged by a Katyuschka rocket during the Israel-Lebanon Conflict | Photo: Creative Commons

At the time of this writing, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon is in its 26th day, but for millions of people in the Middle East it is the twenty sixth day of the new political era.

This is a new era because it is the first ever war fought against Israel under the banner of Islam, rather than the nationalism that was behind all previous wars.

It is also the first time Israeli occupiers have not ended up with land or political gains beyond what they had prior to the conflict. In both 1948 and 1967, Israel gained territory; after the 1973 war, it made political gains when Anwar Saadat became the first head of an Arab state to officially recognize the state of Israel.

This war showed many people in the Islamic world that Islamic movements could force the Israelis to leave occupied territories without any humiliating “treaties.”  Hezbollah succeeded in robbing Israel of the perception of invulnerability. The collapse of this perception can be said to be the beginning of a decline in Israeli power.

This conflict has also revived Islamic unification, although this has been overshadowed by the Wahhabi attacks in Iraq. Supporting Hezbollah has become ”a religious duty of Muslims around the world,” said Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, an influential Sunni scholar. In this he is backed not only by Sunni group like the  Muslim Brotherhood but also as far away as Indonesia.

To understand the sources of this conflict, however, you have to step out side the conventional narrative.

The general story reported by the media is that Hezbollah attacked Israeli troops in order to take captives for a prisoner exchange. However, that’s not the only the version. Alternative voices such as Agence France Press (AFP), the Hindustan Times, and the Bahrain News Agency reported that the Israeli soldiers were captured on Lebanese territory near the town of Aitaa-al-Chab.

“According to the Lebanese police force, the two Israeli soldiers were captured in Lebanese territory, in the area of Aitaa al-Chaab, near  the border with Israel, where an Israeli unit had penetrated in middle of morning,” wrote AFP.

Many people in the region see the source of the current war in Lebanon not in the capture of Israeli soldiers, but in an Israeli attack on the Palestinian people after one of its soldiers was captured in Gaza. Many people see the action of Hezbollah against Israel as an act of solidarity with the people of Palestine.

There are also long term causes of this conflict that can be traced to the 2005 elections for Parliament in Iraq and Egypt, the presidential elections in Iran in 2005, and Palestinian parliamentary elections of 2006.  To the great disappointment of the Bush administration and Israel, the majority of people in those countries voted for Islamic political movements.

In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood gained 87 seats and became the largest political opposition group in the lower house of Parliament. In 2005 in Lebanon, the Resistance and Development Bloc lead by Hezbollah won 35 seats out of total 128 seats in the Parliament and joined the coalition government.

Then the absolute victory by Hamas in Palestinian Parliamentary elections in 2006 delivered a final blow to the plans for a “new Middle East” of pro-US secular regimes.

It was not possible for the US and Israel to just sit and do nothing about the free independent Islamic wave hitting the region.

Whatever happens now, it appears that Israel has lost. It has certainly lost politically, and it has not achieved any significant military victory.

At Bent Jibail less than four kilometers away from the northern border of occupied Palestine, the ground offensive totally collapsed. The military strategy of Hezbollah, “is not to hold on to geography or any particular area,” said General Secretary Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, “but to inflict as many casualties as possible on Israeli army.”

We never know how many there are. The Israeli army has strong censorship laws concerning its military losses, followed by most western media sources.

The reality is that Hezbollah has earned wide political support. A recent survey by Amal Saad, a political science professor from the American University in Beirut, showed that 87% of the population in Lebanon supported Hezbollah. And its military wing is acknowledged by most experts to be far stronger then the armed force of many regional countries. Disarming Hezbollah, therefore, is most likely an illusion.

When the Israelis attacked Lebanon, they had expected that the non-Shiite population of Lebanon would turn against Hezbollah.

That did not happen, because Hezbollah is not only a Shiite organization; it is a Lebanese social-political organization and even a regional multi-cultural movement.

Another major miscalculation the Israelis made was that by attacking Lebanon and picking a fight with Hezbollah, they forced several artificial, authoritarian regimes in the region to take a stance, and since those maintain power only with large Israeli and US support, they could not betray their masters.

The United States has subsidized Egypt’s armed forces — that serves as the protection of the Mubarak regime — with over $1 billion worth of aid per year since 2000. Therefore, Egypt along with US ally Saudi Arabia, was the first to condemn Hezbollah.  This put these regimes in a very bad position domestically, as thousands of people in Damascus, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon turned out at Hezbollah demonstrations, some with very blunt messages, like one poster saying “Arab excellencies, majesties and highnesses we spit at you.”

All Israel can do now is to try to save face. International organizations will probably pass stern resolutions supporting Israeli, but little will be implemented. Hezbollah has gained great psychological advantage and growing support throughout the Middle East. What conditions they will accept remains to be seen.

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