Is Hezbollah a terrorist organisation?

March 11, 2016

The six oil- and gas-producing countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) recently declared the Leba­nese Shia movement Hezbollah a terrorist organisation, echoing what Israel and the United States have long maintained.

Just one day earlier a NATO-sponsored, closed-door confer­ence addressed this very issue.

A GCC official asked the audi­ence: “Is Hezbollah a terrorist or­ganisation?” The vote by a show of hands was far from unanimous but I believe the “yeses” were in the minority.

Whether Hezbollah is a terror organisation, however, cannot be answered with a straight yes or no. The answer, much like the politics of the region, is more complicated.

One of the greatest writers on military tactics, Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, said the first step in defeating your enemy is to know him.

Indeed, declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organisation is doing a disfavour to those trying to coun­ter the group’s philosophy and fight its expansion in the Middle East.

Among the multitude of crimes Hezbollah is accused of having committed, the US government says it has irrefutable proof that group, with the help of Syria, was responsible for the killing of 241 US servicemen, mostly US Ma­rines, and 58 French paratroopers in Beirut on October 23rd, 1983.

Hezbollah has committed ter­rorist acts, of that there is little doubt, or at least some members of the organisation carried out acts that can be classified as acts of terror.

However, to better understand the group’s actions, motivations and source of strength, one needs to take a closer look at the compo­nents that make up the move­ment and not lump them into one basket marked terrorism.

Observers of the region’s politics agree that Hezbollah is composed of three distinct units.

First and foremost, Hezbol­lah is a bona fide political party representing a large portion of Lebanon’s Shia community. As such it is represented in the government, with a number of important ministerial positions held by its representatives. It is also represented in the country’s parliament, with deputies elected on the Hezbollah slate. Because of the way in which Lebanon’s electoral laws are established, Hezbollah’s parliamentary slate includes Christian members.

Second, perhaps the most important element of Hezbollah is its social services. This unit provides services for the impov­erished Shia community in the absence of the Lebanese state. Services of primary importance such as day care and healthcare centres are provided for the com­munity by the movement. This is an area in which the Lebanese state has completely failed.

Quite naturally when providing such services to a segment of the population, in return Hezbollah receives much loyalty.

The third component of Hezbol­lah is its military wing, which is at the heart of why some call it a terrorist organisation. The military unit is armed, trained and financed mostly by Iran. Hezbollah calls its military wing a resistance movement as it was its military forces that eventually forced Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

The group’s involvement in the daily lives of the Shia commu­nity in Lebanon, and sometimes beyond, is so ingrained in the society that extracting one from the other would be a very difficult task unless, of course, the Leba­nese government steps in to pick up its responsibilities where it has been absent and it has largely failed.

If you want to defeat Hezbollah start by building up the Lebanese state. There is no other way.

There are, however, two problems with that notion: One is that Hezbollah has infiltrated Lebanese state institutions and substituted its own agenda over that of the country’s, making rebuilding the Lebanese state a more wishful thing today than a realistic objective.

The second problem is that Hezbollah has substituted its Iran-inspired regional agenda to Lebanon’s national security requirements. That can only be disastrous for Lebanon.

Nobody can reboot the Leba­nese state as long as Hezbollah, terrorist or not, holds the plug to the system.