Hizballah's Backers (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 8, August 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Hussein and his wife Zahra (who did not want their last names to be mentioned) are Shiites from Lebanon who work for a cleaning company here in Bielefeld, Germany. They fled the war in 2006 and although their asylum applications have been rejected, they are tolerated by the German authorities and work illegally. I ask them what they think of Hizballah. "Oh," Hussein's face flashes a big smile, "Allah save Hizballah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah. All of us, my wife, my children and all our friends love him. He's a great leader," Hussein enthuses. Zahra adds, "Nasrallah gave us our stolen dignity back. He has done and is still doing so much for us Shiites back in Lebanon. Before Hizballah we had nothing. We were ignored and oppressed by the other Lebanese." Hussein interjects, "Nasrallah built clinics and schools for us. Without him we would still be oppressed." That is how most Shiites think of Nasrallah, according to a study by my colleague at Munich University, Prof. Helmut Unrau, who has just returned from a research mission in southern Lebanon. "I talked to hundreds of people in Lebanon and all of them praised Nasrallah and Hizballah," he says. Nasrallah is a charismatic and incendiary speaker who has mixed a popular social welfare policy with a steady drumbeat of anti-Israeli rhetoric. Diplomats and others who have met him say he is highly intelligent, widely-read and politically astute. Although the Iranian-backed Hizballah uses terror and military force to further its aims, it has also established itself as an integral part of Lebanese and Middle East politics. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman asserted in his inaugural speech that the "resistance," meaning Hizballah, is here to stay. And even if Lebanon gets back the Shabaa farms, a disputed area on the border with Israel, Hizballah will continue beating the drums of war against Israel. If - and that is a big "if" - Syria reaches a peace agreement with Israel, the position of Hizballah and its patron Iran will severely weaken. Together, the recent truce between Hamas and Israel and a peace agreement between Syria and Israel would begin a long taming process of Hizballah, and eventually Iran. But this is many years in the future. The time is not yet ripe for Syria to jump on the peace wagon. If it did, Bashar Assad would face the same fate that befell Egypt's president Anwar Sadat, and both Hizballah and Hamas would be emboldened. Israel must be patient with both Syria and Hizballah. Extremism has always been a temporary phenomenon. Who ever thought that the PLO and its affiliates would recognize Israel? Israel and the United States must also recognize facts on the ground. Both Hamas and Hizballah have their mass of followers and not all of them are terrorists. They feel taken care of by the movements far more than by the corrupt political establishment. Extract of an article in Issue 8, August 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.