WASHINGTON, DC: It was a morning in late October 1983 when two suicide trucks driven by members of a then little-known terrorist group named Hezbollah crashed into a United States Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, killing 241 American soldiers and 58 French soldiers and six civilians.
Armed, funded and indoctrinated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah was created to forge ahead with the regional ambitions of the Islamic Republic, expand its influence and export its ideology.
In the years following the attack, Hezbollah extended its tentacles into all aspects of social, economic and political life in Lebanon. Its influence and power also spread abroad through a special unit known as the Islamic Jihad Organization.
More recently, Hezbollah sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to help support Bashar Assad’s regime, where he is accused of ethnic cleansing and other war crimes against Syrian civilians.
In October 2019, when mass protests erupted against the Lebanese ruling elite, Hezbollah militants attacked peaceful protesters. Similar scenes of violence unfolded in the streets of Beirut in October this year, when Hezbollah militants clashed with unidentified gunmen.
Hezbollah supporters were demonstrating in front of the courthouse to demand the dismissal of the judge who was leading the independent criminal investigation into the explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020 when they were the target of gunfire, triggering street battles .
Given its alleged hand in previous terrorist attacks, Hezbollah may well have some connection to the massive cache of ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion. Investigators want to interview former government officials known to have close ties to the group – a prospect he sees as a direct threat to his interests.
In most cases of Hezbollah violence, the Lebanese Armed Forces have either stood idly by or have simply fallen short of the heavily armed and well-trained militants of the group.
With its formidable arsenal of warfare, comprising hundreds of precision-guided munitions and thousands of short- and medium-range surface-to-surface rockets, Hezbollah is by far the best armed faction in Lebanon – and the most dangerous.
A recent report by the UN Secretary-General on Hezbollah reiterated the long-standing call for the group’s disarmament, as enshrined in UN Security Council resolution 1559.
“The maintenance by Hezbollah of a military arsenal outside the legal framework and its involvement in the Syrian Arab Republic continued to be denounced by many voices in Lebanon, who consider these questions as factors of destabilization of the country and of calling into question of democracy. The report says.
“Many Lebanese see the continued presence of such weapons as an implicit threat that the weapons could be used in Lebanon for political reasons. “
These fears are well justified. In a recent speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed to have amassed 100,000 fighters. In the same speech, he denounced the investigation into the explosion in the port of Beirut.
Hezbollah’s creation of a “state within a state” has a detrimental effect on Lebanon’s political economy and diplomatic position, leaving the country impoverished and isolated. But experts are torn over whether the group can be disarmed, especially given Iran’s patronage and the West’s failure to establish a coherent policy.
“Even though the UN passed resolutions demanding the disarmament of Hezbollah, none of the instruments, in which the United States, primarily, gobbled up billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars, was ever going to disarm the group. By that I mean the ALF and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, ”Tony Badran, a Lebanese expert from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Arab News.
“The LAF would never act against Hezbollah, no matter how much the United States builds its ‘capacity’ and its ‘professionalism’. These are not relevant questions, because the problem is political.
“For example, Hezbollah is the government. The LAF responds to the government. No government, even one in which Hezbollah does not sit, will approve action against the group. It is a structural characteristic of the Lebanese system. That won’t change no matter how many billions the United States spends on it. “
Indeed, analysts point to the parasitic relationship that Hezbollah has established within major military and financial institutions. The US Treasury Department recently sanctioned a former finance minister for granting the group access to the Lebanese ministry and financial sector.
Defense experts believe that a significant amount of Western aid handed over to the LAF actually ends up filling Hezbollah’s coffers. UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force stationed on the Lebanese-Israeli border, is also seen by these experts as simply strengthening Hezbollah’s grip on the country.
The second best alternative to disarmament might be to simply disengage from Lebanon, cutting off all external financial aid, thus depriving Hezbollah of this source of income.
“The United States is now invested in the stability of the Hezbollah-led order and status quo, in which the LAF functions as Hezbollah’s auxiliary force,” Badran said. “Likewise, states providing troops to UNIFIL have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and avoiding any confrontation with Hezbollah.
“Therefore, far from being viable instruments to disarm Hezbollah, the ALF and UNIFIL provide cover and support to Hezbollah and its operations.
“Therefore, the only meaningful policy for the United States is to stop funding these two forces. Saudi Arabia realized this a few years ago and decided to end funding for LAF, realizing that Lebanon, that is, the so-called state, is completely dominated by Hezbollah.
To understand Hezbollah is to understand Iran’s regional strategy. The group used its position to secure Iranian interests and territories, not only in the Levant but as far away as Yemen.
As such, the Lebanese “state” has functioned as a bridgehead for regional destabilization, “not to mention drug trafficking and money laundering,” Badran said.
Hezbollah maintains that its arsenal of weapons and its special role in Lebanon are necessary to resist Israel. In reality, Hezbollah is leveraging its military supremacy and control over the internal security apparatus in Lebanon to secure a financial windfall.
In May, the US government sanctioned Hezbollah finance company Al-Qard Al-Hasan, which Saudi Arabia also designated as a terrorist entity.
“From the highest levels of Hezbollah’s financial apparatus to operational-level individuals, Hezbollah continues to abuse the Lebanese financial sector and drain Lebanon’s financial resources at an already dire time,” the US Treasury Department said in a recent report.
“AQAH masquerades as a non-governmental organization under the guise of an NGO license from the Interior Ministry, providing typical bank services in support of Hezbollah while evading licenses and oversight. appropriate regulatory oversight.
“By accumulating hard currency that the Lebanese economy desperately needs, AQAH allows Hezbollah to build its own base of support and undermine the stability of the Lebanese state.
Kyle Orton, a British security analyst, doesn’t think Hezbollah will voluntarily disarm as it is an extension of Iran’s long-term plans for the region and is therefore more beholden to Tehran than to interests of the Lebanese people.
“Hezbollah will obviously never lay down arms voluntarily and there is no one who can force them to do so, certainly not the UN,” Orton told Arab News.
“But really, presenting the problem with Hezbollah as that of ‘disarming them’ is somewhat lacking. The problem is not so much Hezbollah’s weapons as its nature – a branch of the Islamic revolution that seized Iran in 1979.
“Viewing Hezbollah as an integral part of the transnational Islamic revolution explains why it behaves the way it does, as a policeman and force multiplier for the IRGC regional empire, and also suggests that the only real solution to doing so face is to suppress the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Hezbollah is not a Lebanese creature, so trying to deal with it within a Lebanese framework – through disarmament mechanisms or otherwise – is doomed to failure. “
Joseph Daher, a Lebanese analyst and author of “Hezbollah: The Political Economy of the Party of God of Lebanon,” says the group still maintains a base of support within Lebanese society.
“The party still has a significant mobilization capacity within the Lebanese Shiite populations, even if it is under increasing criticism within the community, in particular demonstrations against the party and its deputies”, declared Daher. at Arab News.
As economic chaos, currency collapse and growing global isolation lead more and more Lebanese to voice their opposition to Hezbollah, the group has not shied away from using brute force to quell dissent.
Disarming Hezbollah can seem like a difficult task. However, Lebanese of all faiths still face a difficult question: Can Lebanon survive as a sovereign state while Hezbollah continues to undermine it with impunity?
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