Accessibility links

Hezbollah's Resistance Boosts Its Standing in Middle East


Hezbollah has proven to be more resilient in the face of Israeli attacks than expected during the fighting in southern Lebanon. Its continued resistance has boosted the militant group's standing in the Middle East. Growing popular support for Hezbollah is at odds with how some moderate Arab governments view the group and this could have wider implications for the region once the current fighting is over.

As the violence continues, images of Lebanese casualties play out across the Middle East.

Anger mounts, as does support for Israel's enemy, Hezbollah.

Pro-Hezbollah demonstrations have become common in the region.

The longer the militant group is able to resist Israel's attacks, the more prestige it gains -- according to Haim Malka of the private Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Hezbollah has definitely been able to play on its military successes, not only in this conflict but in the past, and has won widespread support in the Arab Street, on the popular level where many people are very angry and frustrated at their own leaders and regimes for not taking any action."

Hezbollah was founded in 1982 in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It acts as a state-within-a-state in Lebanon. It opposes the West and seeks to create a Muslim fundamentalist state. Its terrorist attacks, including the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed more than 240 American marines, have earned it a place on the U.S. list of terrorist groups.

Yet Hezbollah has elected representatives in Lebanon's parliament and performs charitable works that have won it praise from many Lebanese Shi'ites.

Hezbollah's military wing is backed by Iran with arms and training. It has proven surprisingly tenacious in the face of Israel's attacks.

Mr. Malka says they are prepared. "They're well-equipped, they're mature fighters. They've had a lot of battlefield experience against the Israelis. Their infrastructure militarily is very deeply rooted within Lebanon and southern Lebanon, and they also feel they are fighting for a cause."

Moderate Arab leaders such as those of Egypt and Jordan initially blamed Hezbollah for starting the conflict with Israel. But this has proved to be an unpopular position, says former U.S. diplomat David Newton. "Anything that involves Arabs fighting Israelis and inflames public opinion, puts these leaders in a weaker position and in a dilemma. So they now have to bend and sympathize much more with Hezbollah."

Yet despite support for Hezbollah in the region, Newton says it is unlikely Washington will ever deal directly with Hezbollah.

Mr. Newton says, "I think it would be very difficult to deal directly with Hezbollah but, of course, they could deal more easily with Syria. But to deal with Hezbollah would be very difficult because of the well-documented, terrible acts of terrorism directly against us."

Hezbollah continues to fire rockets at Israel and the conflict shows no sign of ending soon. Yet analyst Haim Malka says once the fighting is over, questions will be raised. "Hezbollah has been able to manipulate popular sentiment throughout the Arab world because it is the only Arab army to stand up to Israel. But at the end of the day they have to show something a little more tangible," says Malka. "They have to achieve more tangible gains for the Lebanese. It is the Lebanese people that are suffering the consequences of this war and it is the Lebanese people that have to be convinced by Hezbollah that their sacrifices have been worth the price."

It has been a high price for the Lebanese. And for the Israelis.

But as long as Hezbollah continues to kill Israeli soldiers and terrorize Israeli civilians, the militant group may believe it is achieving its ends.

XS
SM
MD
LG