Countdown to Conflict: Hizballah’s Military Buildup and the Need for Effective Disarmament


Vol. 6, No. 8    August 20, 2006

 

  • In May 2000, Israel completed a full withdrawal from Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425 from 1978. Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, however, the “liberator of the South,” did not recognize the new border. His patrons in Iran ordered continued jihad against Israel.

  • The Israeli withdrawal in 2000 did not lead Hizballah to become just another political party, and the belief that this would occur was an illusion. The movement’s charter, published in 1985, was not changed. Its leadership remained religiously and politically loyal to the leader of the Islamic revolution in Iran, Ali Khameini.

  • All the nonsense about Hizballah’s Lebanese nationalism was exposed by the strategy that Iran crafted in Lebanon, which rested on three main components: turning Lebanon into an Iranian front against Israel, building an Islamic society in Lebanon in the image of Iran, and active involvement in the jihad that the Palestinians are waging against Israel.

  • Nasrallah was surprised by the Israeli response to the kidnapping of its soldiers and so were his Iranian patrons. From Iran’s standpoint, the region had been ignited too early, before its nuclear program was ready. Hence, it lost an important factor of deterrence it had built in Lebanon against Israel. The large-scale use of rockets and missiles against the Israeli home front has impaired the power of the threat.

  • Any end to the war that does not involve Hizballah’s disarmament will enable the jihadist movement to rise again like a phoenix, rehabilitate itself, and continue its jihad against Israel. Hizballah has stated that it refuses to disarm, a situation that elevates the importance of an embargo on supplying Hizballah with weapons, as called for in the UN resolution.

  • Right now, Resolution 1701 just calls on Lebanon to secure its borders; UNIFIL may assist the Lebanese government if requested. The resolution also only calls on states to refrain from selling weaponry to Hizballah, but does not authorize any state to enforce an arms embargo. There has been no decision to deploy a special force that would supervise the embargo on the Syrian-Lebanese border and in the Lebanese seaports and airports.


Hizballah After Israel’s May 2000 Withdrawal from Lebanon

In May 2000, Israel completed a full withdrawal from Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425 from 1978. The Lebanese government was full of praise for the move and Israelis were relieved. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1310 to confirm that Israel indeed fulfilled its obligation to leave Lebanese territory. Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, however, the “liberator of the South,” did not recognize the new border. His patrons in Iran ordered continued jihad against Israel. As a pretext for his military buildup and provocations against Israel, Nasrallah argued that Israel had not pulled out from the Shebaa Farms which were on the Golan Heights and disputed between Israel and Syria. Syria agreed to play along with the Lebanese claims to the Shebaa Farms, without formally acknowledging their being under Lebanese sovereignty, in order to enable the ongoing armed struggle against Israel to continue.

In October 2000, Hizballah kidnapped three IDF soldiers after attacking an Israeli patrol along the main border road near the Shebaa Farms. Nasrallah awaited the Israeli response, which was not long in coming, and he was astonished by its feebleness. To him, the Israeli response bore no relation to the boastful threats and warnings that Israel’s leaders had voiced before and after the May 2000 withdrawal. This reinforced Nasrallah’s belief that Israeli society was made of “spider webs” and that its leaders were so traumatized by Lebanon that they were loath to use their armed forces for fear of sinking into the Lebanese mud. Nasrallah listened in amazement to voices in Israel stating that “Restraint is strength”; he rubbed his eyes in wonder at the sight of Israeli soldiers taking cover in special protective cages when stones were thrown at them from across the fence.

A short time later, Hizballah began building military outposts along the border to enable its troops to freely observe what was happening on the Israeli side. From the line of outposts northward to the suburbs of Beirut, Hizballah built the state of Hizballahstan with Iranian assistance. It also established an extensive network of welfare, cultural, educational, and religious institutions, along with the militia Al-Muqawama Al-Islamia – the Islamic Resistance. This force was equipped by Iran and Syria with everything from shoelaces to long-range missiles, and was entrenched in dense defensive networks brimming with advanced weapons systems that were intended to strike at Israel.

Hizballah has never deviated from its jihadist path. The Israeli withdrawal in 2000 did not lead Hizballah to become just another political party, and the belief that this would occur was an illusion, cultivated by shortsighted people in academia and by politicians guided by the whims of their hearts. Jihad continued to be Hizballah’s life-force and raison d’?tre. The armed struggle against Israel was fuel for the Islamic revolution that remained Hizballah’s objective.

Hizballah’s First Loyalty is to Iran

Hizballah’s “Lebanonization” process continued to expand without contradicting its jihadist aspirations. Hizballah exploited the rules of the Lebanese political game to increase its power in parliament and also, after Syria withdrew from Lebanon, sent two ministers to the Lebanese government to ensure that its military force would remain intact. Meanwhile, Hizballah stayed faithful to its Khomeinist revolutionary ideology. The movement’s charter, published in 1985, was not changed, and its leadership remained religiously and politically loyal to the leader of the Islamic revolution in Iran, Ali Khameini.

Nasrallah’s declarations that “Hizballah is a Lebanese party that makes its decisions independently and the Iranian ambassador in Beirut reads about them in the paper,” did not stand the test of reality. Lebanese President Emile Lahoud told FOX News: “Hizballah is Lebanese and its demands are [made] in the service of Lebanese sovereignty….Its fights are Lebanese, not Syrian or Iranian,”1 but the reality is very different. Nasrallah was appointed the representative in Lebanon of the Marja Taklid (supreme Shiite religious authority), and the source of authority, Ali Khameini, ensured that he worked under Iran’s orders. Indeed, Hizballah’s representative in Iran was quoted in the Iranian press on August 7, 2006, as saying: “Everything we have, we [obtained] thanks to the Islamic Revolution [in Iran].”2 All the nonsense about Hizballah’s Lebanese nationalism was exposed by the strategy that Iran crafted in Lebanon, which rested on three main components:

  1. Turning Lebanon into an Iranian front against Israel, which involved deployment of an array of short- and long-range missiles, so as to create a balance of deterrence with Israel that would prevent it from attacking the Iranian nuclear program. Iran explicitly threatened that any strike on its nuclear facilities by the United States and/or Israel would result in immediate missile fire on Israel. Accordingly, Iran also stationed long-range, Zelzal-2 missiles in Lebanon, capable of reaching deep into Israel’s interior with their 250-kilometer (155 mile) range. These were supplied in late 2003 when Syrian transport aircraft flew to Iran with humanitarian aid for earthquake victims and returned with military cargo including the Zelzal missiles. Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, who heads Iran’s Headquarters for Intifada Support, revealed in an Iranian newspaper that Iran had delivered Zelzal rockets to Hizballah.3 Parts from Fajr missiles fired by Hizballah at Israel bear the symbol of Iranian military manufacture.4

    Iran’s involvement in Lebanon included training Hizballah operatives in the use of advanced weaponry and military tactics: During the recent fighting, Israel captured a 22-year-old Shiite from Hizballah named Hussein Ali Suleiman, who admitted that he had undergone extensive training in Iran along with 40-50 other Hizballah operatives.5 Hizballah operatives in Israeli custody have also disclosed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards visited their forward positions along Israel’s northern border.

  2. Building an Islamic society in Lebanon in the image of Iran, one loyal to the Imam Khameini. Iran, like Hizballah, recognized the limits of its ability to set up an Islamic republic in Lebanon under the existing political conditions. Hence it looks to the future, prepares the ground socially, and puts its trust in the demographic strength of the Shiites as the basis for establishing an Islamic republic in Lebanon when political conditions change.

 

  1. Active involvement in the jihad that the Palestinians are waging against Israel. Iran has become the main source of military assistance to the Palestinian armed struggle. Through Hizballah, Iran provides funds and weapons and keeps the flames of jihadburning.

Nasrallah, dizzy from his adulation in the Arab world as the modern Saladin and as the first leader who defeated Israel and caused an Israeli withdrawal from Arab land, sent fighters again and again to try and kidnap Israeli soldiers. While the ostensible goal was to free Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners, the real one was to demonstrate openly that even after Syria’s pullback from Lebanon, Hizballah was continuing the jihad against Israel.

The Beginning of the War

On July 12, 2006, Hizballah succeeded in kidnapping two wounded Israeli soldiers after a cross-border ambush. Although Nasrallah expected an Israeli response similar to the one in October 2000, this time Israel reacted with great force. It destroyed Hizballah’s headquarters in Dahiya, its social institutions, and also the home and offices of senior Lebanese Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who, despite his past rivalry with Nasrallah, nonetheless supported him. Nasrallah shifted in a moment from being a public orator, to becoming a supplier of pre-recorded tapes. He was surprised by the Israeli response and so were his Iranian patrons.

Iran, which had replaced Syria as the primary actor in the Lebanese arena, was not pleased with the timing of Nasrallah’s move, but nonetheless supported it. From Iran’s standpoint, the region had been ignited too early, before its nuclear program was ready. Hence, it lost an important factor of deterrence it had built in Lebanon against Israel. The large-scale use of rockets and missiles against the Israeli home front has impaired the power of the threat.

Israel’s aim in the war was to break Hizballah’s military power. At the same time, however, the Palestinians, Syria, and Iran are watching Israel and gauging its resolve to use force. Each side will draw its lessons in the future. From Hizballah’s standpoint, any settlement that ends the war without involving its disarmament will enable the jihadist movement to rise again like a phoenix, rehabilitate itself, and continue its jihad against Israel.

A Weapons Embargo?

It is, therefore, vitally important to implement the relevant articles of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 regarding the disarmament of Hizballah. Unfortunately, this obligation, also contained in Resolution 1559 from 2004, is the subject of a plan which, according to Resolution 1701, is to be developed in the next month by the UN secretary-general and implemented at a later date. In the meantime, Hizballah has stated that it refuses to disarm. This situation elevates the importance of an embargo on supplying Hizballah with weapons, as called for in the UN resolution. However, there has been no decision to deploy a special force that would supervise the embargo on the Syrian-Lebanese border and in the Lebanese seaports and airports.

Right now, Resolution 1701 just calls on Lebanon to secure its borders; UNIFIL may assist the Lebanese government if requested. The resolution also only calls on states to refrain from selling weaponry to Hizballah, but does not authorize any state to enforce an arms embargo. What is necessary is the establishment of special forces that will carry out this mission of monitoring the entry-points into Lebanon.

Given the huge amounts of Iranian weaponry that were delivered to Hizballah in the past six years, this is a glaring inadequacy in the resolution. This point was also made by Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who stated: “As long as Syria can send weapons to Hizballah, there will be no change in the situation. Not with this regime in Damascus. We need a force that can cover all of Lebanon, like in Kosovo. Monitor the Syrian border, then talk.”6 Failure to enforce a real arms embargo against Hizballah will empty the entire UN resolution of its content and increase the risk of a violent clash erupting between Hizballah and the international force, and of continued military conflict between Hizballah and Israel.

*     *     *

Notes

1. “Arab Media Accuses Iran and Syrian of Direct Involvement in Lebanon War,” MEMRI Special Dispatch Series – No. 1249, August 15, 2006; http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP124906
2. “Iranian and Syrian Media Stepping Up Statements on the War,” MEMRI Special Dispatch Series – No. 1239, August 9, 2006; http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP123906
3. “An Iranian Figure Who Had a Key Role in Founding Hezbollah Publicly Announced that Long-Range Iranian Zelzal-2 Rockets were Delivered to the Organization,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies, August 8, 2006; http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/ali_akbar_e.htm
4. “Display of Hezbollah Weaponry,” Israel Defense Forces Website; http://www1.idf.il/DOVER/site/mainpage.asp?sl=EN&id=7&docid=56786.EN
5. Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies; http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/ali_suleiman.htm
6. Michael Young, “Mountain Main: The Leader of Lebanon’s Druze Talks about the Syrian Threat,” Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2006; http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110008721

*     *     *

Brig. Gen. (res.) Dr. Shimon Shapira is the author of Hizballah: Between Iran and Lebanon, 4th ed. (Tel Aviv: Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University, 2006). He is a senior research associate at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

About Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira

Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira is a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Military Secretary to the Prime Minister and as Israel Foreign Ministry chief of staff. He edited the Jerusalem Center eBook Iran: From Regional Challenge to Global Threat.