Book offers unprecedented detail on Hezbollah’s structure

Daher rejects the common argument that Hezbollah is evolving into a “normal” political party.

Sunday 08/12/2019
Under the spotlight. Fighters from the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah movement take part in a military parade marking the party’s Martyrs’ Day in the eastern Bekaa Valley city of Baalbek, November 12   (AFP)
Under the spotlight. Fighters from the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah movement take part in a military parade marking the party’s Martyrs’ Day in the eastern Bekaa Valley city of Baalbek, November 12 (AFP)

Aurelie Daher said she is convinced that events in Lebanon confirm the analysis of her book “Hezbollah: Mobilisation and Power,” published this year in English after originally coming out in French.

“Everything I said in the last chapter and in the conclusion about the strong ties between Hezbollah members or supporters and [Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan] Nasrallah has come true,” she told The Arab Weekly.

While Hezbollah has rarely out of the news since it emerged in 1983-84, books about the party have struggled with access.

Some rely on Western intelligence sources, others on Hezbollah leaders’ speeches. All struggle to explain the party and its motivation.

Daher began researching Hezbollah in 2006 but drew on experience going back to 1985 when, aged 8, she moved with her family to Baalbek in Lebanon’s Bekaa region. “I went to school with guys who are now big toasts in the party,” she said. “We grew up in the same town, so they knew I wasn’t a CIA or Mossad agent.”

That was a time when Iran’s Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was in Baalbek. “The Pasdaran (Guards) were rather discreet,” Daher said. “They weren’t organising military marches in the street. You could see they were keen on not having the population feel they were there.”

“Hezbollah: Mobilisation and Power” trawls Daher’s hundreds of interviews with members, fighters and officials. These include Subhi al-Tufayli, Hezbollah’s first leader, as well as an unidentified figure who trained suicide bombers in the 1980s.

Daher offers unprecedented detail on Hezbollah’s structure, centred on the ruling military council. Members, who must be male, receive no party card but undergo obligatory weapons training. Some become fighters. Fewer become civilian employees. Nasrallah is a genuinely charismatic leader for those who support him.

Daher rejects the common argument that Hezbollah is evolving into a “normal” political party. The book emphasises the importance of “mobilisation,” which began in 1982, largely in response to Israel’s invasion and two years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran’s revolution, established the Basij (literally “mobilisation”), a militia-cum-party linked to the IRGC.

Quoting Tufayli, Daher says that 1,000 young people were trained by the IRGC near Baalbek in 1982 before heading south to fight the Israelis. Contrary to what has often been supposed, most were political novices rather than former communists or former members of Amal, then the major Shia party.

So was born al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya fi Lubnan (Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, IRL). The IRGC training, however, was not purely military.

“Clerics from the Pasdaran detachment’s Cultural Unit made it their task to disseminate what would become known… as ‘a culture of resistance’,” Daher writes. “During the first half of the 1980s the Pasdaran were thus seen working on the land alongside the peasants and field workers of the north Bekaa, sowing, reaping and helping farmers raise cattle and sheep… the Pasdaran gained popularity among a population used to being overlooked by the Lebanese government.”

Daher argues this “culture of resistance” exists independently of any long-term aspiration for an Islamic state and that there have been few consequences of Hezbollah’s 1994 acceptance of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, as political (waliy) and religious (marja) leader.

Daher says talk of a “Hezbollah project” is misplaced. “When you observe their decision-making, they don’t work as a ruling, or government, party but as a lobby,” she said. “It’s not a party with a real programme, objective or aims. It doesn’t have a vision for the future, contrary to what everyone says. In that regard, they’re like any other party in Lebanon.”

Hence Hezbollah allows Amal, with which it aligns electorally, to secure resources for the Shias within Lebanon’s confessional politics. Contrary to what some analysts claim, Hezbollah doesn’t want to supplant the state. Its social services and schools, alongside the IRL, give the Shias, historically Lebanon’s poorest sect, a sense of dignity but their main purpose is to raise awareness and support for “resistance.”

On Hezbollah’s relationship with the Palestinians, Daher cites an official from around 2009: “He said: ‘Our job is to protect Lebanon’s borders. If the Palestinians need help, training, money, whatever, if we can do that, we will but Jerusalem is not our capital. It’s not our country’.”

So why is Hezbollah in Syria? Daher describes a defensive operation, while fighters have expressed to her strong criticisms of their Syrian allies.

“Starting from summer 2012, the Bekaa was regularly bombarded by proto-jihadi groups, not yet called Jabhat al-Nusra let alone ISIS [the Islamic State]. Rockets fell next to my parents’ house, coming from Syria… When Hezbollah left for Syria, in May 2013, the people of Baalbek, the Christians, too, saw it as a necessary ill.”

Intervention in Syria has boosted Hezbollah, the fighters told Daher. “[They feel] Bashar [Assad, Syria’s president] knows he can’t impose anything on Hezbollah anymore… Iran and Hezbollah can now carry out their relationship the way they always dreamed of.”

This leaves the question — so relevant in today’s Lebanon in crisis — of precisely what Hezbollah’s “mobilisation” aims at achieving. “The work of Hezbollah as a political group is to lobby the government or block the parliament, whatever, in order to protect the interests of the IRL,” she said. “The main objective is to do whatever can be done to prevent the IRL being disarmed. If needed, they will use their weapons to protect the weapons.”