‘Hizbollah won the war…’
Lebanese Shi’ites challenge this belief

Published: 8 September 2006
Briefing Number 182

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Summary: It is widely stated in the western media that Hizbollah ‘won' the 2006 war with Israel . This Briefing reveals how leading Lebanese Shi'ites are questioning this belief. The Briefing is based on an article by Middle East expert Amir Taheri which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 25 August 2006 , in which he quotes the views of leading Lebanese Shi'ite figures (We provide sources for some of these quotes, from the Lebanese media).

“Nasrallah wins the war”

The cover of the Economist magazine, dated 19 August 2006, proclaimed ‘Nasrallah wins the war'. It featured a Lebanese man, standing in the ruins of a building, holding a large colour poster of Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The view that Hizbollah ‘won' the war, and that Nasrallah has emerged with his prestige enhanced and as a ‘hero', has become a rarely disputed truth in much of Western media coverage.

But not everyone agrees with this analysis. And, most importantly, it sidelines the views of the people who matter most – the Shi'ites of Lebanon.

On 25 August 2006 , Middle East expert Amir Taheri published an article in the Wall Street Journal, challenging the belief ( www.opinionjournal.com ) that Hizbollah won the war.

Below is the text of the article. We have also provided source references for quotes from Lebanese Shi'ites which Taheri includes.

Hizbollah didn't win

by Amir Taheri

Wall Street Journal, 25 August 2006

Hizbollah's ‘divine victory'….?

The way much of the Western media tells the story, Hizbollah won a great victory against Israel and the US , healed the Sunni-Shi'ite rift, and boosted the Iranian mullahs' claim to leadership of the Muslim world. Portraits of Hassan Nasrallah, the junior mullah who leads the Lebanese branch of this pan-Shi'ite movement, have adorned magazine covers in the West, hammering in the message that this child of the Khomeinist revolution is the new hero of the mythical ‘Arab street'.

Probably because he watches a lot of CNN, Iran 's ‘Supreme Guide', Ali Khamenei, also believes in “a divine victory”. Last week he asked 205 members of his Islamic Majlis to send Mr Nasrallah a message, congratulating him for his “wise and far-sighted leadership of the Ummah that produced the great victory in Lebanon ”.

By controlling the flow of information from Lebanon throughout the conflict, and help from all those who disagree with US policies for different reasons, Hizbollah may have won the information war in the West.

In Lebanon , the Middle East and the broader Muslim space, however, the picture is rather different.

Hizbollah – going through the motions of ‘victory'

Let us start with Lebanon .

Immediately after the UN-ordained ceasefire started, Hizbollah organised a series of firework shows, accompanied by the distribution of fruits and sweets, to celebrate the victory.

Most Lebanese, however, finding the exercise indecent, stayed away. The largest ‘victory march' in south Beirut , Hizbollah's stronghold, attracted just a few hundred people.

Initially, Hizbollah had hesitated between declaring victory and going into mourning for its “martyrs”. The latter course would have been more in harmony with Shi'ite traditions centred on the cult of Imam Hussein's martyrdom in 680AD. Some members of Hizbollah wished to play the martyrdom card so that they could accuse Israel , and through it the US , of war crimes. They knew that it was easier for Shi'ites, brought up in a culture of eternal victimhood, to cry over an imagined calamity than laugh in the joy of a claimed victory.

Pretending that death and desolation are worth it

Politically, however, Hizbollah had to declare victory for a simple reason: it had to pretend that the death and desolation it had provoked had been worth it. A claim of victory was Hizbollah's shield against criticism of a strategy that had led Lebanon into war without the knowledge of its government or people.

Mr Nasrallah alluded to this in his TV appearances, calling on those who criticised him for having triggered the war to shut up because “a great strategic victory” had been won.

The tactic worked for a day or two. However it did not silence the critics, who have become louder in recent days. The leaders of the March 14 movement, which has a majority in the Lebanese Parliament and government, have demanded an investigation into the circumstances that led to the war, a roundabout way of accusing Hizbollah of having provoked the tragedy. Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has made it clear that he would not allow Hizbollah to continue as a state within a state. Even Michel Aoun, a maverick Christian leader and tactical ally of Hizbollah, has called for the Shi'ite militia to be disbanded.

The ‘Green Flood' – Iranian-funded payments for damaged property

Mr Nasrallah followed his claim of victory with what is known as the ‘Green Flood' ( al-sayl al-akhdhar ). This refers to the massive amounts of crisp US dollar notes that Hizbollah is distributing among Shi'ites in Beirut and the south. The dollars from Iran are ferried to Beirut via Syria and distributed through networks of militants. Anyone who can prove that his home was damaged by the war received $12,000, a tidy sum in wartorn Lebanon .

The Green Flood has been unleashed to silence criticism of Mr Nasrallah and his masters in Tehran . But the trick does not seem to be working.

Walid Ali-Mershed - leading Lebanese journalist

“If Hizbollah won a victory, it was a Pyrrhic one” says Walid Abi-Mershed, a leading Lebanese columnist. “They made Lebanon pay too high a price – for which they must be held accountable….”

Sayyed Ali al-Amin - the Shi'ite Mufti of Tyre

Hizbollah is also criticised from within the Lebanese Shi'ite community which accounts for some 40% of the population. Sayyed Ali al-Amin, the grand old man of Lebanese Shi'ism (and Mufti of Tyre, in the south) has broken years of silence to criticise Hizbollah for provoking the war, and he has called for disarmament. In an interview granted to the Beirut an-Nahar newspaper, he rejected the claim that Hizbollah represented the whole of the Shi'ite community.

“I don't believe Hizbollah asked the Shi'ite community what they thought about starting the war” Mr al-Amin said. “The fact that the masses of Shi'ites fled from the south is proof that they rejected the war.

The Shi'ite community never gave anyone the right to wage war in its name….”

[For the full interview, see MEMRI, Special Despatch 1266, dated 25 August 2006 , available on www.memri.org – Beyond Images]

Mona Fayed – Shi'ite academic in Beirut

There were even sharper attacks. Mona Fayed, a prominent Shi'ite academic in Beirut , wrote an article also published by an-Nahar last week. She asks: who is a Shi'ite in Lebanon today? She provides a sarcastic answer: a Shi'ite is he who takes instructions from Iran , terrorises fellow believers into silence, and leads the nation into catastrophe without consulting anyone.

[For the full article see MEMRI, Special Despatch 1258, dated 22 August 2006 , available on www.memri.org – Beyond Images]

Zubair Abboud

Another academic, Zubair Abboud, writing in Elaph, a popular Arabic-language online newspaper, attacks Hizbollah as “one of the worst things to happen to Arabs in a long time”.

He accuses Mr Nasrallah of risking Lebanon 's existence in the service of Iran 's regional ambitions.

Criticism of Mr Nasrallah from within Hizbollah, as ‘Stalinist'

Before he provoked the war, Mr Nasrallah faced growing criticism not only from the Shi'ite community, but also from within Hizbollah. Some in the political wing expressed dissatisfaction with his over-reliance on the movement's military and security apparatus. Speaking on condition of anonymity, they described Mr Nasrallah's style as ‘Stalinist' and pointed to the fact that the party's leadership council (shura) has not held a full session in five years.

Mr Nasrallah took all the major decisions after clearing them with his Iranian and Syrian contacts and made sure that, on official visits to Teheran, he alone would meet Iran's ‘Supreme Guide' Ali Khamenei.

Mr Nasrallah justified his style by claiming that involving too many people in decision-making could allow “the Zionist enemy” to infiltrate the movement. Once he had received the Iranian green light to provoke the war, Mr Nasrallah acted without informing even the two Hizbollah ministers in the Siniora Cabinet or the 12 Hizbollah members of the Lebanese Parliament.

Mr Nasrallah – causing theological controversy

Mr Nasrallah was also criticised for his acknowledgement of Ali Khamenei as Marjaa al-Taqlid (source of emulation), the highest theological authority in Shi'ism. Highlighting his bay'aah (allegiance) Mr Nasrallah kisses the man's hand each time they meet. Many Lebanese Shi'ites resent this because Mr Khamenei, a powerful politician but a lightweight in theological terms, is not recognised as Marjaa al-Taqlid in Iran itself. The overwhelming majority of Lebanese Shi'ites regard Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, in Iraq , or Ayatollah Muhammad-Hussein Fadhlallah, in Beirut , as their ‘source of emulation'.

Nasrallah – backing a Project of Defiance, not the Project for Peace

Some Lebanese Shi'ites also question Mr Nasrallah's strategy of opposing Prime Minister Siniora's ‘Project for Peace' and instead advancing an Iranian-backed ‘Project of Defiance'. The coalition led by Mr Siniora wants to build Lebanon into a haven of peace in the heart of a turbulent region. His critics dismiss this as a plan “to create a larger Monaco ”.

Mr Nasrallah's ‘Project of Defiance' however, is aimed at turning Lebanon into the frontline of Iranian defences in a war of civilisations between Islam (led by Teheran) and the “infidel” under American leadership. “The choice is between the beach and the bunker” says Lebanese scholar Nadim Shehadeh. There is evidence that the majority of Lebanese Shi'ites would prefer the beach.

Lebanese Shi'ites break ranks with Hizbollah

There was a time when Shi'ites represented an underclass of dirt-poor peasants in the south and lumpen elements in Beirut . Over the past 30 years, however, that picture has changed. Money sent from Shi'ite immigrants in West Africa (where they dominate the diamond trade) and in the US (especially Michigan ) has helped to create a prosperous middle class of Shi'ites more interested in the good life than in martyrdom a la Imam Hussein.

This new Shi'ite bourgeoisie dreams of a place in the mainstream of Lebanese politics and hopes to use the community's demographic advantage as a springboard for national leadership. Hizbollah, unless it ceases to be an instrument of Iranian policies, cannot realise this dream.

The list of names of those who never endorsed Hizbollah, or who broke with it after its Iranian connections became too apparent, reads like a Who's Who of Lebanese Shi'ism. It includes, apart from the al-Amins, families such as the al-Asad, the Osseiran, the al-Khalil, the Hamadah, the Murtadha, the Sharafeddin, the Fadhlallah, the Mussawis, the Hussainis, the Shamsuddin and the Atallahs.

Hizbollah – ‘ Iran in Lebanon '

Far from representing the Lebanese national consensus, Hizbollah is a sectarian group backed by a militia trained, armed and controlled by Iran . In the words of Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the Iranian daily Kayhan, “Hizbollah is ‘ Iran in Lebanon ' ”.

In the 2004 municipal elections, Hizbollah won some 40% of the votes in the Shi'ite areas, the rest going to the rival Amal (hope) movement and independent candidates. In last year's general election, Hizbollah won only 12 of the 27 seats allocated to Shi'ites in the 128-seat national assembly – despite making alliances with Christian and Druze parties and spending vast sums of Iranian money to buy votes.

Lifting the veil on what really happened in Lebanon

Hizbollah's position is no more secure in the broader Arab world, where it is seen as an Iranian tool, rather than as a vanguard of a new Nahdha (Awakening), as the Western media claim. To be sure, it is still powerful because it has guns, money and support from Iran , Syria , and Hate America International Inc. But the list of prominent Arab writers, both Shi'ite and Sunni, who have exposed Hizbollah for what it is – a Khomeinist Trojan horse – would be too long for a single article. They are beginning to lift the veil on what really happened in Lebanon .

Having lost more than 500 of its fighters, and with almost all of its medium-range missiles destroyed, Hizbollah may find it hard to sustain its claim of victory. “Hizbollah won the propaganda war because many in the West wanted it to win as a means of settling score with the United States ” says Egyptian columnist Ali al-Ibrahim. “But the Arabs have become wise enough to know TV victory from real victory”.

Postscript: “If I had known….” by Hassan Nasrallah

Two days after Amir Taheri's piece was published, Hassan Nasrallah went on Lebanese TV to express regret for having started the war. His statement is in line with Taheri's analysis that Hizbollah faces a wave of criticism from within the Shi'ite community, which Nasrallah was trying address.

“If I had known that the operation to capture the Israeli soldiers would lead to this result, we would not have carried it out…”

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, speaking on a Lebanese TV station, Sunday 27 August 2006 , as reported that day by the BBC ( www.bbc.co.uk ).