By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Aside from its guerrilla agenda, Hezbollah has over the years built itself into a legitimate political party. Members of "The Party of God," as it’s known in English, hold seats in Lebanon’s parliament, elected by a largely poor Shiite population that enjoys Hezbollah’s extensive network of hospitals, schools, orphanages and other social services. Though its critics accuse it of espousing an Iranian-inspired Islamist agenda that uses violence to silence its opponents, even they begrudgingly recognize Hezbollah’s good works.
"Hezbollah may be the least corrupt party in Lebanon," said Khazen.
Its autonomy, however, is another question. Visitors to the neighborhood of south Beirut where Hezbollah is headquartered are greeted by posters of the late Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran and President Hafez al-Assad of Syria. Hezbollah is funded by Iran and backed by Lebanon’s taskmaster Syria.
Hezbollah is largely regarded as a tool of the Syrian regime, which uses it to pressure and harass the Israelis. In return for the Golan Heights, which Syria lost to Israel in the 1967 war, Syria is believed to be in a position to call off Hezbollah attacks and guarantee Israel a peaceful northern border for the first time in almost 30 years.
"It’s no secret that the greatest bargaining chip that the Syrian government has against the Israelis is the resistance in the south," said Chebli Mellat, a law professor at Beirut’s St. Joseph University.
The SLA withdrawal, he believes, alarmed Syria because it underscored the possibility of a unilateral Israeli pullout, which would deny Syria much-needed leverage in negotiations with Israel.
The result, according to Mellat, is that "Jezzine triggered the increased readiness of the Syrians to seek a rapprochement with the Israeli government over the whole issue of peace on the northern front."
Ever since Israel bombed Beirut on June 24, in response to Hezbollah rocket attacks on its northern border, Hezbollah military operations in the south have decreased. Israel claims its air raids, which killed nine Lebanese and destroyed two of Beirut’s power stations, cowed the group. (Hezbollah responded with rocket attacks that killed two Israeli civilians.) But others say that Syria requested calm as a gesture of good will to Barak — a sign of how keen Syria is to resume peace talks suspended with Israel in 1996.
How much Syria will be able to control Hezbollah’s actions to suit its political designs remains to be seen. Though it states that its sole military aim is the liberation of Lebanon, Hezbollah, whose Iranian sponsors are firmly opposed to peace with Israel, remains coy about whether or not it plans to disarm once the seemingly inevitable IDF withdrawal takes place.
In the meantime, Jezzine’s residents seem little interested in the stepped-up regional power plays triggered by the SLA retreat. Instead, their thoughts lean toward survival. As one resident asked plaintively, "If the government doesn’t give us back our sons and husbands, how will we manage?"