Role of Hizbollah in keeping peace

Hizbollah provides whatever the Syrians require: shelter, food, bedding, medical care and schooling.

Lebanon's multi-faceted Shia Hizbollah movement is the most potent political, economic and military force in the country and an influential regional presence Sunni Arab and western powers are determined to counter. Hizbollah's media relations officer Ibrahim Moussawi says, “There is stability in the country thanks to the exercise by Hizbollah of a maximum level of self-restraint in spite of many provocations.”

Hizbollah is exercising restraint by refusing to respond to escalating Israeli pressure on Europe to brand the movement a ‘terrorist organisation’ and Israel’s overt preparations for war against Hizbollah. Hizbollah has shown restraint by dismissing the efforts of Shaikh Ahmad al-Assir, an ultra-orthodox Sunni cleric in the coastal city of Sidon, who has called for the prosecution of Hizbollah's secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah for war crimes.

Assir’s followers have also erected road blocks on main roads to force Hizbollah to abandon flats located near the mosque where Assir preaches.  Hizbollah simply made the point that it occupied the flats for 20 years, well before Assir arrived at the mosque.

Hizbollah has tried to limit its involvement in the conflict in neighbouring Syria to offering political support to the government of president Bashar al Assad and providing protection for 31 Lebanese Shia villages located on the Syrian side of the border in the Hermel area in the north.

Smuggling route

These villagers found themselves in Syria when France carved Lebanon out of Greater Syria after World War I.  Before unrest erupted, residents had Lebanese identity cards, voting rights, and Syrian health care and social security.  However, the villagers were caught up in the conflict because the region is in a major smuggling route for arms supplied to the rebels by Hizbollah's main political rival, the Sunni Future Movement.  

Analyst Timor Goksel said both sides have “kept their cool.” They have been  “careful and tension did not spread. But, the situation can blow up at any time if there is a confrontation with civilian casualties.” Goksel formerly served as adviser to Lebanon's UN peace-keeping force to which India contributes a contingent.

In the region of deployment along the Lebanese-Syrian border, Hizbollah - which has fighters in every town - has kept the peace. Hizbollah has, also, as the saying goes, "Hidden its light under a bushel," by not boasting about aid provided to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in the Beirut area, Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley, and the south. Hizbollah provides whatever the Syrians require: shelter, food, bedding, medical care, schooling and, for the most needy, money. The Syrians are 95 per cent Sunni, said Abu Hussein, the official in charge of aid in the Beirut area.

Ibtisam Shehadah, a young woman from a rebel held village near Aleppo, said, "Before we came we learned from relatives that Hizbollah gave help. The UN registers our names, gives us a paper and tells us to come back after two weeks, but we receive nothing." She lives with her husband, daughter, infant, and brother-in-law's family in a tiny one room flat in Choueifat Sahara overlooking Beirut's international airport. She proudly displayed the birth certificate of her new baby issued by Hisbollah's modern hospital near Beirut. "All my medical expenses were paid," she said. They chose not to go to Turkey, nearer to Aleppo, because, her husband Hussein stated, "The tent camps are prisons, they sell our girls [into prostitution] and make the men go back to Syria to fight."

Israel's 1996 and 2006 wars on Lebanon gave Hizbollah extensive experience in aiding victims of conflict.

Established as an armed force after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, Hizbollah's original mission was to drive Israel's occupation forces out of the country. This mission took 18 years. Israel pulled out its remaining troops in May 2000.  Hizbollah's fighters again routed the Israeli army during its 2006 campaign, earning popular Arab admiration and deep Israeli enmity.

Hizbollah branched out, opening clinics, schools, a social welfare organisation, and a construction firm.  To finance its programmes, the movement has acquired land, buildings, shops, restaurants, and other enterprises.  Hizbollah's Manar satellite television channel is widely watched.  Hizbollah is seen by detractors as "a state-within-a-state." In spite of its military and economic power, Hizbollah has shown great political restraint. The movement has only 14 seats in parliament and two ministers in the current government. But unlike Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia's Al-Nahda, Hizbollah has, so far, played a low key role in politics, giving its Shia and Christian coalition partners the lead.

The US, Sunni Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt regard Hizbollah and its allies Iran, Syria and Iraq as a Shia alliance seeking to dominate Sunni-majority West Asia.  Therefore, the West and the Sunnis are determined to weaken the Shia front by ousting the Syrian government — headed by members of the offshoot Shia Alawite sect — in spite of potentially dire consequences for West Asia.

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