Arabs divided on Hizbullah's culpability

Many in the Middle East are vilifying it for provoking the IDF attack.

hizbullah 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
hizbullah 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Six years ago, as Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, the Arab world showered Hizbullah with praise for its determined and successful battle with Israel. Today, Arabs are deeply divided about the Shiite guerrilla group, with many in the Middle East vilifying it for provoking the IDF attack on Lebanon. Backers, however, voice pride in the organization's ability to fight back, landing missiles from its expanded, Iranian-supplied arsenal deep in Israel. Arab detractors, analysts say, reflect Hizbullah's having squandered goodwill accumulated in the heady days of 2000, when it was held up by fellow Shiites as well as Sunnis and some Christians as a pan-Arab model for resisting Israel. Today's divided opinion arises as well out of a reality that did not exist six years ago, the rise to power of Shiites in Iraq and increasing tension between Shiites and Sunnis that has spread to neighboring countries. But the strongly held opinions about Hizbullah largely cross the Shiite-Sunni divide regardless of support for or opposition to the militant group in the current crisis. Arabs on the whole have felt a historic frustration, some would say inferiority, over their inability to defeat Israel. Hezbollah's devastating missile strikes deep into Israel generate pride for having inflicted pain on an enemy with clear military superiority. There is, as well, a general reluctance among Arabs to criticize Hizbullah for fear of appearing to side with Israel. Hizbullah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, represent "what is left of honor and dignity in times of submission," Sajed al-Abdali, a Kuwaiti and Sunni Islamist, wrote in his column in Al-Rai Al-Amm newspaper Tuesday. Al-Abdali said "the cowards" who disapprove of Hezbollah should "just stay silent." In Iraq, despite the bloody and raging sectarian conflict between the sects, Sunni university professor Mohammed Kanan al-Obeidi called Nasrallah "a remarkable leader in our time although he has links with Iran." "By striking Israel, he has restored the glories of the old Muslims," said the 40-year-old al-Obeidi. The Sunni minority in Iraq, which historically ran the country, holds thoroughgoing suspicions of the majority Shiites who have taken power, fearing they will be puppets of neighboring Iran, a non-Arab, Persian nation that is overwhelmingly Shiite and run by a theocracy. In Bahrain, Sunnis and Shiites put their differences aside to march in protest of IDF attacks, waving placards emblazoned with Nasrallah's face. "Beloved Nasrallah, hit Tel Aviv!" chanted the crowd, estimated at around 10,000 people. But in Jordan, housewife Layla Nasser said Nasrallah's men acted with folly when the crossed into Israel and captured to soldiers, igniting the conflict. "He reminds me of Saddam Hussein, who dragged Iraq into several similar adventures which have led to the complete destruction of Iraq," she said. "Nasrallah has done the same and is the cause of Lebanon's destruction," she added. "He is arrogant and irresponsible." Munching on a salad at a Beirut restaurant, Lina, a Lebanese Shiite banker who declined to give her last name for fear of Hizbullah retaliation, said the group had no right to drag the whole nation into this war. "In 2000, I supported it because it was a real resistance," she said. "But now I don't, and I don't see any heroism in what it's done so far." Henry Kairouz, a 48-year-old businessman, said Hizbullah's actions were "cowardly." "If Hizbullah considers itself a player in Lebanese politics and the government, why didn't it hand over the hostages to the Lebanese government to negotiate their fate?" he said. Hizbullah's political strength in Lebanon threatens the government's hold on power; its military power has made it impossible for the government and its army to take control of the south of the country. Some Arabs who oppose Hizbullah say they feel torn when they see the massive damage and loss of life resulting from Israel's offensive. In Dubai, Gilbert Gholam, 31, a Lebanese telecommunications worker, said he had no admiration for Hizbullah or its attacks. But Gholam said he was appalled by Israel's response and the lack of a global outcry. "The Israelis aren't hurting Hizbullah. They're killing civilians and they are destroying Lebanon," Gholam said. Mahmoud Ahmed, a 30-year-old Egyptian customer-care representative for a cable TV provider in Dubai, declared a pox on both Israel and Hizbullah. "I disagree with both sides," Ahmed said, puffing on a cigarette, sweat rolling down his cheeks. "They're killing innocent people. Who can agree with this?" Qenan al-Ghamdi, a columnist for the Saudi Al-Watan daily, said Hizbullah had miscalculated and was unable to stop the fight because it did not have the final say. Many believe that Syria and Iran, Hizbullah's sponsors, have a hand in Hizbullah's operation. "Had Hizbullah been taking decisions on its own, it wouldn't have committed this stupidity," said al-Ghamdi. "It has lost the support it had," he added. "Today, it's facing a big catastrophe and it has dragged Lebanon into a bigger one."