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Weapons and funding boost Hezbollah’s power

Sarah Chal­lands, CTV.ca News

Israel’s efforts to wipe out the capa­bil­i­ties of Hezbol­lah are now focus­ing on the caves and tun­nels of south­ern Lebanon’s sav­age ter­rain and just this week, Israel con­fi­dent­ly claimed it had destroyed half of the Islam­ic mil­i­tant group’s arse­nal.

How­ev­er, while Hezbol­lah con­tin­ues to launch rock­ets capa­ble of hit­ting cities deep inside Israel, some experts believe the Israeli claim is just wish­ful think­ing.

With a charis­mat­ic and pop­u­lar leader, superb mil­i­tary train­ing, mil­lions in fund­ing and sup­port from Iran and Syr­ia, Hezbol­lah is a force that won’t go qui­et­ly, if at all.

Indeed, the reli­gious con­vic­tion of its guer­ril­las, their sea­soned fight­ing expe­ri­ence and the sup­port they have among Lebanon’s 1.2 mil­lion Shi­ites are addi­tion­al assets that could help ensure its long-term sur­vival.

Rachad Anto­nius, a Mid­dle East spe­cial­ist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Que­bec, believes Israel’s goal of wip­ing out Hezbol­lah is impos­si­ble to achieve.

“Hezbol­lah rep­re­sents a very broad range of peo­ple and it’s an impor­tant sec­tor of the soci­ety,” Anto­nius told CTV News.

“The only way to silence them would be to kill all the Lebanese in the south. Israel can­not do that.”

Hezbol­lah has repeat­ed­ly met Israeli ground troops with heavy fire and recent­ly suc­ceed­ed in wip­ing out an Israeli tank and an armoured bull­doz­er with anti-tank mis­siles.

The mil­i­tant group is believed to have rock­ets, pos­si­bly man­u­fac­tured in Iran, with ranges of up to 45 miles and its dead­ly arse­nal includes land mines, anti-air­craft guns, assault rifles and night vision equip­ment.

Ground troops
If Israel wants to suc­ceed in push­ing the group’s rock­et launch­ers back so they can no longer reach Israel, send­ing in ground troops is seen as a neces­si­ty.

But the ground offen­sive could be cost­ly in terms of casu­al­ties and Hezbol­lah chief Sheik Has­san Nas­ral­lah has made no secret of his wish to see his guer­ril­las take on Israeli troops eye­ball-to-eye­ball.

Nas­ral­lah has also ridiculed Israel’s claim to have wiped out ’50 per cent’ of Hezbol­lah’s arse­nal.

“The arse­nal that you fear is still there ... and our abil­i­ty to fire many, many more remains intact,” he said.

And although Israel may have suc­ceed­ed in dis­rupt­ing Hezbol­lah’s sup­ply lines by bomb­ing the main high­way to Syr­ia and impos­ing a naval block­ade on Lebanon, Hezbol­lah has long proved adept at find­ing ways to receive and hide its weapons and funds.

Hezbol­lah’s fight­ers are said to be most­ly drawn from the local regions of south­ern Lebanon and can eas­i­ly blend into the local pop­u­la­tion, rely­ing on res­i­dents for food and shel­ter.

“Israel’s biggest weak­ness is that it’s igno­rant of the mag­ni­tude of Hezbol­lah’s resources,” said Hel­mi Mous­sa in the Beirut news­pa­per As-Safir.

‘Par­ty of God’
Described by the Unit­ed States as a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion, Hezbol­lah, or ‘Par­ty of God,’ is a pow­er­ful polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary move­ment which rep­re­sents Lebanon’s Shi­ite Mus­lims.

It was estab­lished with finan­cial back­ing from Iran in the ear­ly 1980s and was the only Lebanese polit­i­cal par­ty to open­ly keep its arms at the end of the 1975–1990 civ­il war.

Accord­ing to U.S. intel­li­gence reports, Iran’s Islamist gov­ern­ment gives Hezbol­lah around $100 mil­lion a year and pro­vides the move­ment with sophis­ti­cat­ed weapons sys­tems to be used by its sev­er­al thou­sand well-trained sol­diers.

Iran also sends advis­ers, and accord­ing to U.S. intel­li­gence, issues its march­ing orders.

Mean­while, Syr­ia allows Hezbol­lah to train fight­ers in remote camps in Syr­ia and ter­ri­to­ry under its con­trol in Lebanon.

Accord­ing to the FBI, Hezbol­lah has not played a role in any ter­ror­ist attacks with­in the Unit­ed States.

The FBI says that its mem­bers in the U.S. are rais­ing funds for activ­i­ties over­seas and noth­ing more than that.

End­ing the Israeli occu­pa­tion
Hezbol­lah’s mil­i­tary arm, the Islam­ic Resis­tance, was a main force in dri­ving Israeli troops from south­ern Lebanon after a 22-year occu­pa­tion.

Dur­ing the occu­pa­tion, Hezbol­lah adopt­ed the tac­tic of tak­ing West­ern hostages, but their most effec­tive weapons were the remote-con­trolled road­side bombs that were det­o­nat­ed when Israeli patrols passed by.

In 1983, mil­i­tants who went on to join Hezbol­lah ranks car­ried out a sui­cide bomb­ing attack that killed 241 U.S. marines in Beirut.

Israel, faced with mount­ing casu­al­ties after hav­ing already lost 900 sol­diers in the con­flict, with­drew in 2000, a deci­sion that Hezbol­lah and many in Lebanon saw as a major Arab vic­to­ry.

The group’s suc­cess won it the sup­port of many Lebanese, wide­spread admi­ra­tion for Hezbol­lah chief Nas­ral­lah, and a sub­se­quent pres­ence in the Lebanese par­lia­ment.

Ter­ror­ism expert Eric Mar­go­lis described Nas­ral­lah as a “remark­able char­ac­ter.”

Appear­ing on CTV News, Mar­go­lis said while Nas­ral­lah was seen as “the great Satan” to the West and Israel, he was “the great hero” of the Arab world.

“He was the only Arab to defeat the Israelis mil­i­tar­i­ly and he fought them out of south­ern Lebanon after years of bloody com­bat,” he said.

“He is the most pop­u­lar Lebanese politi­cian and with this lat­est chal­lenge to Israel, he is now quick­ly becom­ing the most looked at and prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar Arab politi­cian.”

Hezbol­lah even has its own tele­vi­sion sta­tion, Al Man­ar, which reach­es a world­wide audi­ence by satel­lite. The move­ment also runs a net­work of schools and hos­pi­tals through­out Lebanon.

Refusal to dis­arm
Despite a 2004 UN res­o­lu­tion order­ing Hezbol­lah to dis­arm, the group is still believed to have any­where between 5,000 to 20,000 mili­ti­a­men under arms in Lebanon.

Last year, Hezbol­lah chief Nas­ral­lah boast­ed his move­ment had more than 12,000 rock­ets, includ­ing Katyushas, which could reach north­ern Israel.

The move­ment has vowed to keep fight­ing as long as Israel remains in the She­baa Farms area, a tiny dis­put­ed bor­der enclave on the bor­der between Lebanon, Israel and Syr­i­a’s Israeli-occu­pied Golan Heights.

Lebanon says She­baa Farms is Lebanese land occu­pied by Israel, but Israel, backed by the Unit­ed Nations, insists the farms are on the Syr­i­an side of the bor­der and there­fore form part of the Golan Heights, which Israel has occu­pied since 1967.

Syr­ia agreed to with­draw its 14,000 troops from the coun­try after the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil 2004 res­o­lu­tion, which demand­ed all for­eign forces leave Lebanon.

The with­draw­al of Syr­i­an troops and the wide­spread anti-Syr­i­an protests in the wake of the 2005 assas­si­na­tion of Lebanese ex-Prime Min­is­ter Rafik Hariri changed the bal­ance of pow­er.

The assas­si­na­tion, which was blamed on Syr­ia, saw Hezbol­lah become the most pow­er­ful mil­i­tary force in Lebanon.

And while Hezbol­lah cap­i­tal­ized on its polit­i­cal gains, it con­tin­ued to describe itself as a force of resis­tance against Israel, not only for Lebanon, but for the entire region.

The move­ment has called for the destruc­tion of Israel, describ­ing its occu­pa­tion of Pales­tine as ‘occu­pied Mus­lim land’ and argu­ing the state has no right to exist.

Hezbol­lah has also fre­quent­ly protest­ed the con­tin­ued deten­tion of pris­on­ers from Lebanon in Israeli jails.

It shows sup­port not only for the Pales­tini­ans, but also for the Islamist mil­i­tant group Hamas, while pre­sent­ing itself as
a cham­pi­on of the anti-Israeli strug­gle.

Hezbol­lah’s crit­ics accuse it of reck­less­ness and of pur­su­ing a Syr­i­an and Iran­ian, rather than a Lebanese, agen­da.

Mean­while, Dam­as­cus and Tehran, nei­ther of whom want to be drawn direct­ly into this fierce con­flict, are anx­ious­ly attempt­ing to deflect pres­sure from the Bush admin­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton.


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