Hezbollah and Lebanon: Myths and Facts

Myth: The Lebanese government never agreed to Hezbollah’s armed role in south Lebanon, or to its attacks against Israel.

Fact: There is no doubt that a significant number of Lebanese, including some Shia, oppose Hezbollah and view the group as a puppet of Syria and Iran.

However, the government of Lebanon has for quite a few years officially accepted and applauded Hezbollah’s attacks against Israel. For example, on the website of the Lebanese Army is a Nov. 22, 2004 document entitled “Independance” (sic) which lauds the “resistance” (ie, Hezbollah) and calls preserving it a “strategic interest” of Lebanon:

The national resistance which is confronting the Israeli occupation is not a guerilla and it has no security role inside the country and its activities are restricted to facing the Israeli enemy. This resistance led to the withdrawal of the enemy from the bigger part of our occupied land and is still persistent to free the farms of Shebaa. Preserving this resistance constitutes a Lebanese strategic interest with the aim of relating the struggle with the enemy and regain all the Lebanese legitimate rights achieving and at the forefront the withdrawal of Israel from the farms of Shebaa and the return of the refugees to their land (emphasis added).

In addition, the Policy Guidelines of the Siniora government, read out to Lebanon’s parliament on July 28, 2005, defended the “resistance” and its “right to liberate our lands” and pledged to protect it. Here’s a translation from a Lebanese blogger:

The Resistance and Foreign Policy: Protection of the Resistance and recognition that it is a genuine Lebanese manifestation of our right to liberate our lands from any occupation and the commitment to a peaceful dialog that revolves around the available options we have within a framework that takes into account the Arab stand towards Israel and that ensures Lebanon’s sovereignty and national immunity.

(Note that the part about “peaceful dialog” refers to relations between the government and Hezbollah and has nothing to do with any peaceful interaction with Israel.)

These documents are exactly in accord with a July 24th interview in which the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, stated it was agreed when Hezbollah joined the government that his movement would continue with its attacks against Israel:  

NASRALLAH: First of all, the government statement, on the basis of which we joined the government, says that the Lebanese government adopts the resistance, and its natural right to liberate the land and the prisoners. Okay, how is the resistance supposed to liberate the prisoners? It should go to George Bush? I cannot and will not go to George Bush. When you say ‘the right of the resistance,’ you are not talking about the foreign ministry. You are talking about the armed resistance, and the government statement says that it has the right to liberate the land and the prisoners. I am a resistance movement. I am armed. That’s one thing. This is the government statement, on the basis of which the government won the parliament’s vote of confidence. (Translation by MEMRI)

In this case Nasrallah is telling the truth. The government of Lebanon agreed to Hezbollah’s policies and shares responsibility for the group’s attack against Israel and for the consequences.

Myth: Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 made Hezbollah the first Arab force to compel the Israelis to retreat.

Fact: First, Israel chose to leave the security zone in May 2000, and in no sense was it forced out by Hezbollah. The Prime Minister at the time, Ehud Barak, had made a campaign pledge to withdraw from Lebanon within one year of his election, with or without an agreement. Once elected the pledge was included in his government’s initial guidelines and was reiterated in public statements before the withdrawal.

Israeli losses in the security zone before 2000 were about 20 soldiers killed per year. Had Barak believed that the presence served an important security interest, such a casualty rate would not have been nearly enough to force Israel to leave.

While Hezbollah did not force any Israeli retreat, other Arab forces have. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, launched by Egypt and Syria, Israeli forces were forced back around five miles from the pre-war Suez line by the Egyptian army, and a similar distance in the Golan Heights by Syrian forces. Eventually Israel did force the Syrians back and took additional territory as well, advancing to within 20 miles of Damascus. Similarly, in the south, Israel crossed the Suez Canal and cut off and surrounded the Egyptian forces, who were only rescued by superpower intervention.

But that Israel won the 1973 War does not change the fact that at the outset both Egypt and Syria forced the Israelis to retreat, and that when the war concluded Egypt controlled territory it had lost to Israel in 1967.

Hezbollah’s claim that they were the first Arab force to compel Israel to withdraw from territory is therefore doubly wrong.

Myth: Since the present conflict has been going on for almost a month this is the longest Arab-Israeli war. No other Arab force has been able to fight Israel this long.

Fact: First, this has hardly been a full scale war. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to deal with the PLO’s state-within-a-state, for example, they did so with 60,000 troops. For the first three weeks of this conflict Israel mostly used air strikes to attack Hezbollah, and when the ground campaign began in earnest Israel committed only 10,000 soldiers. Only one month into the conflict has Israel committed about 40,000 ground soldiers to battle.

Second, the War of Attrition, launched by Egypt after the Six Day War, lasted from around July 1967 till August 8, 1970 – that is, more than three years. This also wasn’t a full scale war, but in the course of the fighting Israel lost 1,424 soldiers and 100 civilians (and inflicted far larger casualties on the Egyptians). 

Myth: Hezbollah’s goal is just to recover Sheba farms (territory it claims is Lebanese) and get back its prisoners. It does not want to destroy Israel.

Fact: The United Nations researched the Sheba Farms issue with the cooperation of Israel and Lebanon, and found that Israel had completely withdrawn from Lebanese territory and that Sheba Farms was Syrian territory occupied by Israel in 1967. In other words, the Sheba Farms issue is just a pretext concocted by Hezbollah to justify its continuing attacks against Israel.

Regarding Hezbollah’s intentions towards Israel,  Nasrallah himself stated, after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, that:

We have liberated the south. Next we’ll liberate Jerusalem. (Washington Post, July 16, 2006)

In addition, chief Hezbollah spokesman Hassan Ezzeddin stated in a 2002 interview that:

If they go from Shebaa, we will not stop fighting them. Our goal is to liberate the 1948 borders of Palestine. (The New Yorker, Oct. 14, 2002)

Hezbollah’s aim is to destroy Israel, and it convinced itself that it had found the key to doing so. They would not be the first Arab force to come to this conclusion.