I wrote yesterday about the recent media obsession with Hezbollah. The group has been consistently in the press over the last few days, proclaiming its strength and vital role in the resistance and being the subject of intense criticism. The group has been particularly visible recently because of the recent celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the withdrawal of Israel from Southern Lebanon – a withdrawal generally credited to Hezbollah’s resistance. the Shi’a group has certainly taken the opportunity to reiterate its calls for resistance while beating the drums of war. Similarly, those opposed to the Party of God are using the 10 year anniversary to argue that the group is only creating more problems.
[tweetmeme] Within Lebanon, the reactions to Hezbollah over the last few days have been particularly mixed – unsurprising considering the strict sect divisions within the country. Hezbollah supporters – mostly Shi’ites, the largest and fastest growing sect in Lebanon – have predictably been highlighting the Israeli threat that justifies Hezbollah and the nationalist goals of the group. Its opponents have been pointing to how the group has been keeping ties with Israel unnecessarily tense.
Hezbollah chief, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has used the opportunity to threaten retaliation to any Israeli attack on Lebanon. This, of course, is not new; however, in his celebration speech, Nasrallah did offer to retaliate against Israeli ships in response to any attack against the Lebanese shore. In another perhaps antagonizing gesture, the group has been conducting war games in the Bekaa valley – though this is probably just a response to the Israeli war games that are currently being conducted in the north of Israel. Hezbollah also used the celebration to inaugurate a museum dedicated to the resistance with heavy Hezbollah weapons contrasted with the machinery left by Israel 10 years ago.
It is unknown how the museum will fare against the criticism of Hezbollah that has been flying around Lebanon lately, though. Ahmad Fatfat – a MP from the Lebanon First bloc – blasted Nasrallah for his remarks concerning Israel, saying: “This is a mobilizing speech. Israel could step up its attacks and threats because of this political speech.” Samir Gaagea – the leader of the Lebanese Armed Forces – said that the Shi’ite group had shifted the country away from its neutral stance without the backing of the Lebanese people. During a press conference Geagea said that “The region is unstable and boiling and Hezbollah is putting Lebanon in a hot oil cooking pot… As long as Hezbollah pursues this [conduct], it drags Lebanon towards confrontation.” Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri criticized the Lebanese President Michel Suleiman for the latter’s remarks justifying the continued resistance by Hezbollah, saying that the President should only “express positions back by the Lebanese people.” Finally, Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel refused to accept Hezbollah as a ‘state within a state’, saying it is “unorthodox that there be two states and two sets of weapons.”
Of course, all of this Hezbollah debate is incredibly poor timing for PM Saad Hariri who has been forced by a renaissance of support for Syria to back off his criticisms of the group. Hariri is in Washington now trying to push for more aid to strengthen the LAF. In addition to the fiery speech by Nasrallah, the LAF also fired at Israeli jets violating Lebanese airspace. That the event occurred is unsurprising, but the timing couldn’t be worse as Hariri is attempting to prove to Obama that the LAF is integral for Middle East Peace. Unfortunately for Hariri, the Hezbollah conundrum is simply not going away soon.
Photo from Foreign Policy