Saturday, August 26, 2006

Hezbollah's Reconstruction of Lebanon

Yes, that's right. "Hezbollah's reconstruction of Lebanon".

Hizbollah has trumped both the UN army and the Lebanese government by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars - most of it almost certainly from Iran - into the wreckage of southern Lebanon and Beirut's destroyed southern suburbs.Its massive new reconstruction effort - free of charge to all those Lebanese whose homes were destroyed or damaged in Israel's ferocious five-week assault on the country - has won the loyalty of even the most disaffected members of the Shia community in Lebanon.

Hizbollah has made it clear that it has
no intention of disarming under the UN Security Council's 1701 ceasefire resolution and yesterday afternoon, Major-General Alain Pellegrini, the commander of the UN Interim Force in southern Lebanon - which the Americans and British are relying upon to seize the guerrilla army's weapons - personally confirmed to me at his headquarters in Naqoura that "the Israelis can't ask us to disarm Hizbollah". Describing the ceasefire as "very fragile" and "very dangerous", he stated that disarming Hizbollah "is not written in the mandate".

But for now - and in the total absence of the 8,000-strong foreign military force that is intended to join Unifil with a supposedly "robust" mandate - Hizbollah has already won the war for "hearts and minds". Most householders in the south have received - or are receiving - a minimum initial compensation payment of
$12,000 (£6,300), either for new furniture or to cover their family's rent while Hizbollah construction gangs rebuild their homes. The money is being paid in cash - almost all in crisp new $100 bills - to up to 15,000 families across Lebanon whose property was blitzed by the Israelis, a bill of $180m which is going to rise far higher when reconstruction and other compensation is paid.

More from Foreign Policy magazine (great title on this one, BTW):

Habitat for Hezbollah
By Melani Cammett

Israel’s intense bombing of Lebanon this summer was supposed to bring the organization to its knees. Instead, it gave Hezbollah a chance to display its prowess in caring for Lebanese civilians. Now that a cease-fire has been inked, Hezbollah is well positioned to deliver the social services that the Lebanese so desperately need.

After a month of war, Israel and Lebanon have finally agreed to hold their fire. With the dust settling, the reconstruction of Lebanon has begun and Hezbollah is positioning itself to become indispensable in the effort. Part military force, part political party, and part organized social movement, Hezbollah will now shift gears and capitalize on its nonmilitary skills. Whatever strength the movement lost during the fighting, it may recover quickly as Lebanon rebuilds.

Hezbollah, it should be recalled, emerged during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and gained legitimacy not only through military feats but also through reconstruction and development work. It emerged as the premier advocate and provider for poor and middle class Shia in a society that had long marginalized them. Over time, the organization took on schooling, healthcare, loans, and other forms of social assistance. Since 1988,
Hezbollah has implemented more than 10,000 projects to promote agricultural development, build homes and businesses, and provide water, sewage, and electricity. Supporters and critics alike have long acknowledged that Hezbollah is the most effective welfare provider in Lebanon—far more effective than the state.


Israel’s attacks—ostensibly aimed at disbanding Hezbollah and inducing an anti-Hezbollah backlash in Lebanese society—have instead bolstered the organization’s domestic influence. The deaths of more than a thousand Lebanese civilians and Israel’s destruction of Lebanon’s new infrastructure, rebuilt at great expense in the 1990s after the civil war, have produced deep and lasting resentment against Israel in all of Lebanon’s communities. What’s more, Lebanon’s pro-Western elite feels abandoned by the United States and will struggle to maintain a pro-Western line.

So now we're seeing with our eyes exactly why, as predicted at the start, this ill-advised Israeli assault on Lebanon will succeed at nothing but strenghtening Hezbollah. This war policy, this American policy, has indeed served at a "Habitat for Hezbollah", giving it the air it breathes -- Israeli aggression. I promise, I'm not making this stuff up. To reiterate:

Hezbollah is much more than a just paramilitary or terrorist unit. They are a full-blown social and political movement. Yes, they have the militant wing we hear so much about, true enough. But they have a strong social services wing as well. They run schools. They run shelters. They run food banks. They run hospitals and clinics. On top of all of that, they are also an active, grass-roots political party with strong local support...


It just so happens that these multi-pronged activities Hezbollah provides in that community positions them uniquely to take advantage of any groundswell in anti-Israeli sentiments this bombardment may inspire. It gives them instant access to streams of disaffected, displaced and angry victims to whom they can provide shelter, nourishment, clothing and, most significantly, an immediate outlet for revenge.

I have some bad news for those among us who had their hearts set on that Lebanese backlash against Hezbollah we were promised would result from Israel's offensive. It was always absurd to assume that a people under aerial bombardment would rally in anger to the side of the bombers. Once again, strangely enough, it seems people don't like being bombed.

Personal update: I never intended for this to be such a foreign policy blog (there are already so many of them) but how could I even bother to blog without talking about the stupidity of the way the world is being set aflame around me? It begs for commentary, does it not?


Brian said...

Well, substitute the word "Iran" in for "Hezbollah" and then no one is surprised by the article. Sure, if Lebanon wants to become an Iranian state, then all is fine and dandy and all of the Iranian oil money should be accepted.

The Lebanese, uh the world, needs to realize that nothing special is going on here. Israel thought it was fighting a war with Hezbollah, but made the mistake of not realizing it was Iran. They will not make the mistake again.

Doesn't anybody get it? Maybe I am the naive one and am simplying things to much with a word swap.