Hezbollah still needs Israel  (Haaratz 27/2/2000)
By Zvi Bar'el

The quiet rhetoric of the secretary-general of Hezbollah is an integral element of his charisma. Hassan Nasrallah does not raise his voice, does not engage in pathos, uses precise language and even when he is explaining why Katyushas were fired or is threatening to fire them he evokes the figure of an engineer who is presenting a project to a local committee. In this he reflects his organization's policy: no surprises, grounded in permanent principles, and formulations that barely change.Therefore, when twice within ten days Nasrallah makes public appearances and informs the world, through the press, of his organization's new policy, this is no slip of the tongue; it is a policy that has been examined, approved and is ready for implementation. "Hezbollah is fighting so that the state can restore its sovereignty. In every area that is liberated, Hezbollah will not take the place of the state," Nasrallah told the Orient television station in Beirut.

In the face of the major puzzle that has arisen concerning the question of the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, Nasrallah is presenting two principles for the continuation of the organization's activity: more political action in Lebanon and an all-out battle against normalization with Israel. In a particularly lengthy interview to the London-based Al-Hayat, Nasrallah elaborated on the character of the war against normalization and explained what the organization's political activity would consist of, but the principles were the same principles. Hezbollah refused to talk about its future until a few months ago, as a matter of principle. Now that wall has been breached with the decision stating that until the Israeli withdrawal the organization will continue to attack the IDF - "as long as the enemy holds even one inch of the state's land" - and afterward responsibility will revert to the Lebanese government. Hezbollah will then resume its original mission as a religious-social movement with political power.

This change of party line is not accidental and it was engendered even before Israel threatened to burn the soil of Lebanon. Its origin lies in the Syrian decision to try again to restore the Golan Heights to its sovereignty in negotiations with Israel. Syria of course did not consult with Hezbollah on that issue, just as it does not consult with any Lebanese body on matters of strategy. A few weeks after the first round of talks at Shepherdstown, Syria delivered a direct and clear message to Hezbollah via Bashar Assad, the president's son. The wrapping of complements regarding the importance of the resistance movement enclosed a precise formulation: its military activity would continue only as long as the Israeli occupation lasted. The Syrian line is identical to the Iranian line, as Foreign Minister Kamal Harazi put it: "The organization's military role will be nullified after the [Israeli] withdrawal."

Hezbollah understands that it is facing the same fate as many underground or guerrilla organizations before it when the enemy disappears and the field of battle passes to the politicians. A new regime has arisen in Iran which may perhaps continue to support Hezbollah, but which thinks it is more important to renew relations with the United States. Syria is facing the last political change of Hafez Assad, with a government and new policy guidelines on which the president's son is exercising considerable influence. Hezbollah itself thinks that the negotiations with Israel will soon be renewed even if it does not believe that an Israeli withdrawal is anywhere close.

Hezbollah's problem is how to translate the power and popularity that gained it Arab recognition thanks to President Mubarak, into political clout within Lebanon in the aftermath of an Israeli withdrawal or an agreement. How, for example, to deal with Amal regarding the representation of the large Shi'ite community? Without the aura of a national resistance movement, Hezbollah is liable to find itself in a crisis and even disintegrating if it does not immediately begin to channel its activity intensively into a political direction. It needs to bolster the educational, welfare and health institutions that constitute its social and political hinterland. In the meantime, Syria is benefiting from the political service Hezbollah is doing it, but Hezbollah itself needs another period of Israeli occupation, a bit more war in the security zone so it can organize well ahead of the next stage and before Syria and the politicos of the Arab League yank Lebanon from under its feet.