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A Hezbollah “Victory”? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Judging from Sayyid Nasrallah’s speeches it is clear that Hezbollah is not fighting Israel as much as the generalized Arab and Muslim feeling of defeat, humiliation and genuine incompetence. Pay attention, for example, to the way in which Sayyid Nasrallah has defined victory in his typically low-key style, which contrasts sharply with the old-style and bombastic claims of Arab leaders such as Jamal Abdul-Nasser and Saddam Hussein. Sayyid Nasrallah is very clear and precise that Israel cannot be defeated militarily. Hezbollah, he says, “cannot shoot down Israel’s F-16 fighter jets,” but what it can do is bleed Israel’s military forces, harm its economy and extract political concessions, any of which constitutes a victory. Victory, in other words, is a new psychological state for Arabs and Muslims, as well as for the “defeated” Israelis, and bears no relationship to the actual physical or material costs of war. This victory cannot be quantified or calculated and no amount of destruction and killing in Lebanon, or elsewhere in the Middle East, can outweigh its positive value and outcome. It is this psychological aspect to the present war that has so many Arabs and Muslims rallying to Hezbollah’s side—they finally see Arabs who are putting up a real fight against a formidable adversary who had acquired supernatural power in their collective imagination. But does Hezbollah’s resistance really count as a victory or is it merely illusory especially in the long term? Does it constitute anything more than al-Qaeda’s “victory” on 11 September 2001? How will the political map of the Middle East change if Hezbollah is seen to have won this round with Israel? And finally which forces in the United States are benefiting most from this engagement?

Before answering these questions let us acknowledge some of Hezbollah’s apparent political successes. The first is undoubtedly the complete confusion of al-Qaeda’s ideology and political project, as reflected in Ayman al-Zawahiri’s latest speech in which he called for participation in the fight against Israel but remained unclear about the status and actions of Hezbollah. Second, the Salafi movement appears to have been divided and therefore weakened by Hezbollah’s war, with one group supporting the Shiite organization and another refusing to do so. Third, Hezbollah has forged robust links with, and received strong support from, the Muslim Brotherhood. Its murshid, Mahdi `Akif, in Egypt and Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Qatar as well as Hamas’s leadership in Palestine and Syria have vowed unconditional support for Hezbollah.

It is evident that through its military actions against Israel as well as its non-sectarian rhetoric Hezbollah has successfully downplayed its Shiite identity. Few in the Muslim and Arab worlds seem concerned that Hezbollah is committed to Ayatollah Khomeini’s teaching on wilayat al-faqih, according to which the supreme leader is the one who decides matters of war and peace and that he is considered the marji` who is to be obeyed completely by all the believers. The present Wali al-Faqih is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran who incidentally is the first to have translated the works of Sayyid Qutb into the Farsi language and has strong Muslim Brotherhood affinities. Iran’s role behind Hezbollah and its increasing influence in the Middle East are carefully hidden.

Iran therefore might finally see some of the long-awaited fruits of the 1979 Islamic revolution and project its power throughout the Middle East. Until now, Hezbollah in Lebanon was its only success. But because of American incompetence and failure in Iraq, Iran might dominate this one time arch-rival, and now because of Hezbollah in Lebanon also determine the terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The political losers in this projected scenario are clearly very numerous and include the leaderships of the Arab Gulf states, Egypt, and Jordan among others. In addition, the Middle East is likely to see the marginalization of Saudi Arabia as the religious leader of the Muslim world and sectarian conflicts, between Shiites and Sunnis, are bound to increase, as witnessed sadly everyday in Iraq.

In the United States the neo-conservatives have been given a new lease on life because of Hezbollah’s actions and now feel that they have a new enemy with whom to terrify and galvanize the American public for further sacrifice in blood and treasure. One can sense their influence palpably in the White House’s refusal to accept a cease-fire in Lebanon. The neo-conservatives want a war between Hezbollah and Israel so as to expand their policy of “creative distabilization” beyond the confines of Iraq to include Syria and Iran. For the neo-conservatives a “victory” through regime change in Syria and Iran justifies any amount of destruction and death in the Middle East. They simply do not care if thousands or tens of thousands of Arabs are killed and all their countries’ infrastructure is destroyed. If anything, this provides business opportunities for western companies to win reconstruction contracts.

So what of Hezbollah’s psychological victory and is it merely illusory? The experience of much more powerful nations than the Arab ones, like Germany and Japan, indicate that this “victory” will amount to nothing stronger than a spider’s web. The only real victory for any people in the modern world is to educate themselves and to compete with other nations not on the field of battle but in the spheres of industry, ideas and innovation. We must ask ourselves how many of the most brilliant and accomplished Arab minds will leave Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East to work in the West as a result of this conflict? With each emigrant, the Arab and Muslim worlds are losing a battle to the West. And the legacy for the Arabs and Muslims will be destruction and heart-rending loss of innocent life.

Bernard Haykel

Bernard Haykel

Bernard Haykel is Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and Director of the Institute for Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

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