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All Quiet on the Hizbullah Front

June 4, 2012

by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director

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The world has watched in horror as thousands have lost their lives, and there is no end in sight. Syria is accused of crimes against humanity after months of violent attempts to quell rising rebellion, and the fires of revolution continue to burn in other nations. Through it all, some Middle East players have been conspicuous by their absence. At the top of the list is Israel’s long-time enemy, Hizbullah.

Who Are They?

Hizbullah (from hizb and Allah, or Party of Allah) is an Islamic movement founded in Iran and established in Lebanon in 1982, building its foundations on hatred for Israel. At its inception, 1,500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards trained and assisted the movement as it became entrenched in Lebanon. Capitalizing on anti-Israeli sentiment and providing social services to the poor, the group grew rapidly in popularity.

A radical Shia movement, the group’s ideological inspiration is taken from the Iranian revolution and the teachings of the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Principles of that revolution are foundational to Hizbullah, such as viewing the West as the Great Satan, the denial of legitimacy for the existence of the state of Israel, and a commitment to militant Islamic eschatology.

Hizbullah’s continuing close association with Iran has provided that nation with a frontline operative in its desire to fan the flames of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and rid the world of the Zionist entity. By providing the movement with financial support, diplomatic and organizational aid, and training and weapons to the tune of tens of millions of dollars annually, Iran has created a strong ally in advancing its political objectives in the region.

Dollars funneled to Hizbullah from Iran and Syria, as well as the group’s ability to raise funds from other militant Islamic organizations, has allowed them to build a grassroots network of support not only among Shia Muslims, but also Sunni Muslims and even Christian Lebanese. By providing employment, medical care, continuing education, and a variety of other social services to these groups, Hizbullah has gained their loyalty. Covering its military and terrorist goals and activities with a veneer of legitimacy, many non-Christian Lebanese embrace the movement as Allah’s outstretched arm of care for his children in need.

How Great a Threat?

Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah’s Secretary General (www.wikipedia.org/Bertramz)

Although the US government estimates that Hizbullah’s Lebanese network consists only of several thousand militants and activists, estimates of their weapons arsenal are much more alarming: over 80,000 short and long-range rockets and SCUD missiles plus antiaircraft, antitank, and antiship weapons. Hizbullah has received a steady flow of weapons from Iran through Syria for several years, but no one is yet sure how much weaponry from nations like Libya and Iraq found their way into those caches.

Although the group has not claimed responsibility for any major international attacks in several years, their history gives every indication that they will not hesitate to use their weapons when the time is right. Their past terrorist activities include a series of kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon, a suicide truck bombing that killed more than 200 US Marines, the hijacking of TWA flight 847, two major attacks on Jewish targets in South America resulting in nearly 200 deaths, and a border raid resulting in the abduction and death of two Israeli soldiers.

Despite two UN Security Council resolutions demanding that all Lebanese militias be disarmed, Hizbullah continues to maintain control of this ever-growing arsenal.

What about Syria?

There is concern that Lebanon would fall victim to civil war in Syria, being dragged into the fray by forces beyond their control. The Lebanese government has attempted to insulate their nation from Syria’s instability by keeping a very low, disconnected profile.

At first, Hizbullah followed suit. However, in March, the movement affirmed its support for the Assad government, and in recent speeches, Hizbullah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has voiced support for the Assad regime, downplaying the scale of the unrest and blaming the media for false reporting. He cautioned that a new regime in Syria would increase the influence of both the United States and Israel.

Perhaps the greatest danger for Israel and the region lies in Nasrallah’s leadership. Nasrallah studied theology at one of the most prestigious spiritual centers of Shiite Islam in the region. Known to be soft-spoken and serious, he is a recognized hero in the Arab world—a leader capable of causing great injury to Israel. He is a pragmatist but is committed to the eventual destruction of the nation of Israel and the conquering of Jerusalem.

In a recent video called “The Coming Is Upon Us,” produced by the Iranian Ministry of Religion as a training piece for the Republican Guard, the focus was on Islam’s eschatology. Encouraging the soldiers to face whatever is on the horizon with joy and courage, the narrators promised that Islam’s dream of world domination is about to be fulfilled. Part of that end-times theology recognizes three leaders who will be critically instrumental in ushering in the Islamic messiah, the Mahdi or twelfth Imam. The first two were identified as Ayatollah Khamanei and Ahmadinejad. The third is none other than Nasrallah. With such a pedigree, he is not only a danger as a committed militant leader, but as a messianic zealot as well.

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