Potent Anti-U.S. Force
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
New Yourk Times
NABATIYE, Lebanon The
Hezbollah band marched through first, its thumping tune accompanied incongruously by seven
bagpipers, drawing the first cheers from thousands of drenched spectators who arrived
hours early for the Jerusalem Day parade, an annual military spectacle with a virulent
"I hate Israel" theme.
The public-address system then rumbled into life, drowning out the howling wind as the announcer bellowed the main slogan: "Jerusalem, Hezbollah is coming, coming!" For the next two hours, thousands of men in black fatigues with green or purple berets the cadres of Hezbollah, whose name is Arabic for Party of God performed a kind of jogging goose step down the main street. "We face a plan by the United States and the Zionists to control the region, to redraw the political map of the region!" Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the party's secretary general, thundered after the marching stopped. "We should realize the extent of the dangerous and satanic goals these people have."The reference to a possible American invasion of Iraq was clear, and the vitriol underscored the depth of Hezbollah's loathing for Israel and by extension its main backer, the United States. Its stance prompts some senior American officials to deem Hezbollah a more immediate threat than Saddam Hussein's Iraq.Hezbollah has indeed become a potent anti-American force, but dozens of interviews here suggest that it has scant inclination to save President Hussein.
Senior American officials have singled out Hezbollah as the "A team" of terrorism, more menacing than Al Qaeda. Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has suggested that Hezbollah be dealt with before Baghdad because it is the most dangerous terrorist group on earth. But a bitter history divides Lebanon's Shiite Muslims and the government of Iraq Mr. Nasrallah says he himself fled Iraq one step ahead of the secret police when he was a seminary student there.Neither Syria nor Iran, Hezbollah's two main backers, display any desire to save Mr. Hussein now. Syria voted for the tough United Nations resolution that sent weapons inspectors back to Baghdad, and Iran has been quietly cooperative in curbing Iraqi oil smuggling and helping the Iraqi opposition.
Still, Israeli military officers say it is possible that Hezbollah may use missiles and other weapons from its Syrian and Iranian sponsors to wreak havoc with any anti-Hussein coalition by trying to draw Israel into the fray. Israel remains Hezbollah's central target. Iran and Syria helped to build Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite group, into a proxy force to fight Israel. Sheik Nasrallah is adamant that his group which military experts say undoubtedly plays a role in providing arms and training for Palestinian militants concentrates solely on the Arab-Israeli dispute. "Outside this fight we have done nothing," he said in an interview. "Everybody knows where Hezbollah's arena is, where Hezbollah's battle is."
He accuses Israel of exaggerating Hezbollah's threat to lay the groundwork for hitting the organization while the world is distracted by Iraq. Indeed, Hezbollah's incessant oratory about destroying Israel reflects more psychological warfare than the reality along Lebanon's southern border. Only periodic, carefully scripted attacks have occurred since Israel withdrew its military from southern Lebanon in May 2000 after 22 years there.
Hezbollah, whose reputation soared with the Israeli withdrawal, launches small Katyusha rockets every few months against the disputed Shabaa Farms area in what analysts call a means of maintaining its resistance credentials. "The attacks on Shabaa have been symbolic," said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a political science professor at the Lebanese American University. "They are random, scattered and low-key." The office where Mr. Nasrallah receives visitors is housed in a bland apartment block about eight stories high amid Beirut's ramshackle southern suburbs. Lampposts are hung with giant posters of the men who died fighting the Israeli occupation, along with the pantheon of Iranian revolutionary figures including Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.Lebanon remains the only place where the Shiite Muslims of Iran succeeded in inspiring the creation of an organization in their image after their own revolution in 1979. Elsewhere their aspirations for a fundamentalist Islamic state have foundered on the general disdain of Sunni Muslims, by far the majority in world Islam, for Shiites.
Shiites have been a kind of party in opposition ever since the seventh century, when they split with the Sunnis over their demand that Muhammad's direct descendants lead the faithful. The rivalry could prove explosive in Iraq, where Shiites form a 55 percent majority of the population but have long been subjected to control by Sunnis like Mr. Hussein. "There is a consensus among all Shiites that they would like to see a Shiite predominance in Iraq after Saddam," said Nizar Hamzeh, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut.
If Mr. Hussein's government is ousted, Iran might be expected to support the emergence of something like Hezbollah there, at least in trying to spread its political system based on a supreme religious guide. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has two faces: public and intensely private. On one hand it maintains important public institutions 12 members of Parliament, television and radio stations, a construction agency, agriculture outreach program, medical services and numerous charities.
But that is not all.
"At its core Hezbollah maintains a secret military security service that even its members don't know about," said Waddah Sharara, a professor of sociology at Lebanese University and a descendant of Shiite clerics from southern Lebanon. Experts say Syria and Iran coordinate this activity, but the identity of the official liaison is unclear. One likely candidate is Imad Mugniyeh, a man with a $25 million reward on his head from Washington. American authorities accuse him of planning most of the terror acts attributed to Hezbollah, starting with pioneering the technique of suicide bombings that killed hundreds of Americans in Beirut in 1983 and 1984. He is believed to be responsible for the kidnapping and deaths of numerous Western hostages and is among three suspected Hezbollah members on the list of terrorists wanted for the hijacking a TWA flight in 1985 that led to the killing of a United States Navy diver, Robert Dean Stethem.
Washington has said repeatedly that he is in Lebanon, although he travels frequently. But Lebanon denies he is here, and Hezbollah professes no knowledge of the man. Meanwhile, Hezbollah, growing richer through donations from Shiite charities worldwide and business interests like gas stations, has transformed southern Lebanon into a kind of showpiece for fighting Israel. Beaufort Castle has commanded the stunning hills of southern Lebanon since it was built by the Crusaders in 1139.The distinctive Hezbollah flag, a fist formed from the group's name in Arabic thrusting a Kalashnikov rifle skyward, now snaps above its ramparts.
One weekend a group of middle-class Christians, Beirutis on a tour of important archaeological sites, emerged from their small bus to clamber up the battlements. The view stretches over the Israeli border to the distinctive red-roofed houses of the Israeli town of Metulla. A portly man dressed in a
Huge billboards along the roads celebrate Hezbollah attacks in gruesomely vivid detail. "Haitham's eyes are monitoring the convoy meticulously as his car is getting closer and closer," starts the description in English and Arabic of a suicide bombing. "A moment later the scene changed dramatically when Haitham stormed into the convoy that had 30 occupation troops in it ranks blowing up his car amid the vehicles that turned into fireballs and scattered bodies on the ground.
In recent speeches, Mr. Nasrallah has gloated that the most accomplished military minds have failed to develop a means to counter suicide attacks. "What will protect Jerusalem, its holy places, and get it and Palestine back, is the path of the Palestinian people, through martyrdom seekers who astonish the world each day and night," he said at the Jerusalem Day parade on Nov. 29.The Hezbollah satellite station, Manar TV manar means lighthouse in Arabic maintains a similar drumbeat, directing its message in video clips and songs primarily at the Palestinians. In a typical clip, a boy heaves a rock at a tank, and Arabic and Hebrew words fill the screen. "Stronger than your oppression," the Arabic reads. "My people in the West Bank: resist, resist, resist, resist," intones one song against a backdrop of old clips of Palestinian refugees and current clashes. "Hit with your dagger. Use your stone. Smash your enemy."
Hezbollah filches live film of suicide bombings from Israel television. A small team of interpreters who apparently learned Hebrew in Israeli jails translates the running commentary. Although numbers are hard to come by, Manar is clearly gaining an audience throughout the Arab world. Walk into fundamentalist strongholds like the Medical Doctors Syndicate in Alexandria, Egypt, and the television will inevitably be tuned to Manar rather than the Qatar-based front-runner, Al Jazeera.Manar never refers to Israel itself, always the "Zionist entity." News of an announcement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry will start, "The enemy foreign ministry announced . . ."
Hassan Fadlallah, the station's young, clean-cut news director, explained simply, "All Arab states consider Israel our enemy, so we go ahead and call it that." This Ramadan, Manar was one of many stations in the Arab world to broadcast a nightly Egyptian series called "Knight Without a Horse," which the United States and Israel protested vigorously after the producer announced that it was based partly on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Protocols, a late 19th-century Czarist forgery that detailed a supposed plan by Jews to control the world, has been used to persecute Jews ever since.In the vein of what some specialists believe to be a hardening anti-Jewish mind-set in the Arab world, the news director suggested that reality seemed to exceed the book, which he said he knew only by reputation.
"The strength of the Jewish lobby and its ability to control U.S. policy," Mr. Fadlallah said. "That goes beyond what is in the book".