Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hezbollah in Lebanon, a child of Iran

Amir Taheri's piece in last Sunday's Times of London is reproduced by Iran Press Service. This is essential background reading for anyone trying to figure out what is going on in Lebanon.

Since 1984 Iran has created branches of Hezbollah in more than 20 countries. None has equalled the success of the Lebanese branch, which until recently enjoyed something akin to cult status among Arabs, including non-Muslims, because of the way it stood up to Israel.
In its power base in southern Lebanon, particularly south Beirut and the Bekaa valley, it is possible for a visitor to spend a whole week without stepping outside a Hezbollah business unit: the hotel he checks into, the restaurant he eats in, the taxi that takes him around, the guide who shows him the sights and the shop where he buys souvenirs all belong to the party.

Hezbollah is a state within the Lebanese state. It controls some 25% of the national territory. Almost 400,000 of Lebanon’s estimated 4m inhabitants live under its control. It collects its own taxes with a 20% levy, known as “khoms”, on all incomes. It runs its own schools, where a syllabus produced in Iran is taught at all levels. It also runs clinics, hospitals, social welfare networks and centres for orphans and widows.

The party controls the elected municipal councils and appoints local officials, who in theory should be selected by the central government in Beirut. To complete its status as a virtual state, the party maintains a number of unofficial “embassies”: the one in Tehran is bigger and has a larger number of staff than that of Lebanon itself.

Hezbollah also has its own media including a satellite television channel, Al-Manar (the lighthouse), which is watched all over the Arab world, four radio stations, newspapers and magazines plus a book publishing venture. The party has its own system of justice based on sharia and operates its own police force, courts and prisons. Hezbollah runs youth clubs, several football teams and a number of matrimonial agencies.

Its relationship with the rest of Lebanon is complex; it occupies 14 seats in the 128-seat national assembly and holds two portfolios in the council of ministers. But it still describes itself as “a people-based movement fighting on behalf of the Muslim world”.

And on and on...

If this information is even partly correct, and I suspect it to be spot on, I would say to those quick to condemn Lebanon for not ridding itself of this poison, "Get real. What world are you in?" It makes Israel's "inappropriate overreaction" look a bit less inappropriate, I would say. Who would know better than Israel what was going on just a few kilometers away?

He only mentioned Nasrallah a couple of times and did not mention Nabih Berri at all. This is background information regarding the origins of Hezbollah as in institution more than an examination of it's operatives. I would be curious to hear Taheri's take on these two characters. We know all we need to know about Nasrallah. But Nabih Berri, twenty years his senior and current speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, remains a dark horse in the curent race.

The name Amir Taheri rang a bell with me. Sure enough he is among the list of commentators I linked to a year ago following Ahmedinezhad's election.

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