Party of God, Proxy of Terror

One of the primary players in the current round of fighting in Lebanon, indeed the instigator of this phase of conflict, is the organization called Hezbollah or 'Party of God.'  Although few would be able to attribute anything Godlike to this organization's actions — unless of course one likens the launching of Katyusha rockets into Israeli cities and settlements to Zeus' indiscriminate hurling about of thunderbolts.

Hezbollah's origins, as much of its ideology, are steeped in uncertainty and friction, with some scholars noting its origins in 1982 while others contend that this was little more than a loose amalgam of similarly motivated terrorist groups until 1985.  Representing the Shi'a religious community, or so it would have us believe, Hezbollah now enfolds a number of violent, anti—Israeli and anti—Western groups to include Islamic Jihad.

While a great many commentators would like us to believe that Hezbollah is for the most part a respectable, mainstream political organization in Lebanon the truth is somewhat less palatable.  Yes, Hezbollah has sponsored hospitals and orphanages, a radio station, and has political representatives in the Lebanese parliament, but that is but the tip of the iceberg. Imagine these organs of Hezbollah's largesse in the same light as we might imagine a laundry or restaurant front operation for the Mob. These 'legitimate' businesses do nothing to mitigate the more violent and less savory activities of that same organization.

It is only natural to want to know what sort of a military organization comprises the Hezbollah.  While its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, would like the world to believe that his organization numbers between 5,000 and 10,000 fighters the reality, as with so many things in this region, is somewhat murkier.  What Nasrallah can count on is more likely between some 300 and 500 hardcore fighters whose numbers can be expanded somewhat during a time of crisis so that currently operating in southern Lebanon there, maybe some 1,200 militia.

As to their armaments, there are of course the ubiquitous Katyusha rockets courtesy of Iran and Syria, some mortars, high explosives, and then the usual array of small arms — AK—47's for example.  There is a fairly large supply of weaponry available, but notice that there are no seriously heavy weapons — no tanks, no aircraft, no heavy artillery beyond the problematic and inaccurate Katyusha rocket.  Nor could there be.  The Hezbollah militia simply does not have the sophistication nor level of training required to maintain and employ these weapons. 

The one troubling exception was the use last week of a C—802 missile, in essence a cruise missile of Chinese Silkworm design, which was launched against an Israeli ship.  Not a common feature of Hezbollah's arsenal, the C—802 was later found to have been manufactured in Iran and may well have been fired by an Iranian team. Forensic examination of a number of other  large caliber rockets indicate that those were of Syrian manufacture.  Hezbollah does not produce such weapons but, rather like Blanche DuBois, have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.

Hezbollah and its various factions are not a professional military force, they are more like talented amateurs — highly motivated, extremely dangerous, but largely unpredictable.  They are like nothing so much as a very heavily armed urban street gang. While they may portray themselves in the mode of Robin Hoods they are more accurately simply hoods.

As many observers seem to suffer from short—term memory loss it may be worthwhile reviewing a bit of Hezbollah's track record.  It is not as pure as the driven snow, to say the least.  Hezbollah and its members have been responsible for such acts as the kidnaping, torture and murder of U.S. Marine Colonel William Higgins, and the kidnaping of Terry Waite, Terry Anderson, John McCarthy, and Brian Keenan.

If none of those names ring a bell, perhaps it will be easier to remember the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, the 1983 bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut, the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, or perhaps the two bombings in Argentina in the 1990s against the AMIA building and then the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.

Hezbollah garnered much of its following and reputation during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and opposed that action with mixed results.  However, once a peace agreement was negotiated in the Taif Accords while the rival National Resistance Front Forces honored the terms of that agreement by disarming Hezbollah took a different tack. Accustomed to their newfound notoriety and legitimacy among the Shi'a population of Lebanon Hezbollah refused to honor the accords. When in May of 2000 the Israeli Army withdrew all of its forces from Lebanon Hezbollah took the lion's share of credit for this result.  Despite the Israeli government's attempts to broker less violent relations with both Lebanese and Palestinian organizations Hezbollah has allied itself with Hamas (the largely Sunni resistance group in Palestine) and Tanzim, Fatah's terrorist wing. Further, following the assassination of Rafik Hariri the popular and effective former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Hezbollah staunchly aligned itself with Syria despite ample evidence of Syrian complicity in the murder.

Following Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon Hezbollah came under increasing pressure from both the Lebanese electorate and from the United Nations Security Council  to disarm. Hezbollah thumbed its nose at both. With its popularity falling rapidly Hezbollah's leadership apparently felt that something had to be done to rescue its flagging fortunes.  That something, with the encouragement and support of its erstwhile allies in Syria and Iran was to kidnap Israeli soldiers and then, following the expected Israeli response, to launch missile attacks against Israeli settlements and the city of Haifa.

The Syrians and the Iranians for their parts have little to lose and a great deal to gain from this arrangement.  The Israeli strikes into Lebanon distract from Lebanese focus on Syria's deadly legacy in that country.  Iran, however, finds that the quiet provision of armaments not only stirs up a hornets' nest in the region but conveniently distracts international attention from that country's quest for nuclear technology.  The only real losers in this equation, it appears, will be the Lebanese people.  As for Hezbollah, we should never forget that despite their sponsorship of schools and hospitals, despite their political representatives in the Lebanese government, they are at base little more than a Middle Eastern crime family and, as its members will likely discover to their dismay, a convenient patsy for larger criminal organizations.

This article appears courtesy of the Washington Times' Insight on the News.

Frederick J. Chiaventone, award—winning novelist and screenwriter is a retired Army officer who taught counter—terrorism at the U.S. Army's Command & General Staff College.

One of the primary players in the current round of fighting in Lebanon, indeed the instigator of this phase of conflict, is the organization called Hezbollah or 'Party of God.'  Although few would be able to attribute anything Godlike to this organization's actions — unless of course one likens the launching of Katyusha rockets into Israeli cities and settlements to Zeus' indiscriminate hurling about of thunderbolts.

Hezbollah's origins, as much of its ideology, are steeped in uncertainty and friction, with some scholars noting its origins in 1982 while others contend that this was little more than a loose amalgam of similarly motivated terrorist groups until 1985.  Representing the Shi'a religious community, or so it would have us believe, Hezbollah now enfolds a number of violent, anti—Israeli and anti—Western groups to include Islamic Jihad.

While a great many commentators would like us to believe that Hezbollah is for the most part a respectable, mainstream political organization in Lebanon the truth is somewhat less palatable.  Yes, Hezbollah has sponsored hospitals and orphanages, a radio station, and has political representatives in the Lebanese parliament, but that is but the tip of the iceberg. Imagine these organs of Hezbollah's largesse in the same light as we might imagine a laundry or restaurant front operation for the Mob. These 'legitimate' businesses do nothing to mitigate the more violent and less savory activities of that same organization.

It is only natural to want to know what sort of a military organization comprises the Hezbollah.  While its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, would like the world to believe that his organization numbers between 5,000 and 10,000 fighters the reality, as with so many things in this region, is somewhat murkier.  What Nasrallah can count on is more likely between some 300 and 500 hardcore fighters whose numbers can be expanded somewhat during a time of crisis so that currently operating in southern Lebanon there, maybe some 1,200 militia.

As to their armaments, there are of course the ubiquitous Katyusha rockets courtesy of Iran and Syria, some mortars, high explosives, and then the usual array of small arms — AK—47's for example.  There is a fairly large supply of weaponry available, but notice that there are no seriously heavy weapons — no tanks, no aircraft, no heavy artillery beyond the problematic and inaccurate Katyusha rocket.  Nor could there be.  The Hezbollah militia simply does not have the sophistication nor level of training required to maintain and employ these weapons. 

The one troubling exception was the use last week of a C—802 missile, in essence a cruise missile of Chinese Silkworm design, which was launched against an Israeli ship.  Not a common feature of Hezbollah's arsenal, the C—802 was later found to have been manufactured in Iran and may well have been fired by an Iranian team. Forensic examination of a number of other  large caliber rockets indicate that those were of Syrian manufacture.  Hezbollah does not produce such weapons but, rather like Blanche DuBois, have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.

Hezbollah and its various factions are not a professional military force, they are more like talented amateurs — highly motivated, extremely dangerous, but largely unpredictable.  They are like nothing so much as a very heavily armed urban street gang. While they may portray themselves in the mode of Robin Hoods they are more accurately simply hoods.

As many observers seem to suffer from short—term memory loss it may be worthwhile reviewing a bit of Hezbollah's track record.  It is not as pure as the driven snow, to say the least.  Hezbollah and its members have been responsible for such acts as the kidnaping, torture and murder of U.S. Marine Colonel William Higgins, and the kidnaping of Terry Waite, Terry Anderson, John McCarthy, and Brian Keenan.

If none of those names ring a bell, perhaps it will be easier to remember the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, the 1983 bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut, the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, or perhaps the two bombings in Argentina in the 1990s against the AMIA building and then the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.

Hezbollah garnered much of its following and reputation during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and opposed that action with mixed results.  However, once a peace agreement was negotiated in the Taif Accords while the rival National Resistance Front Forces honored the terms of that agreement by disarming Hezbollah took a different tack. Accustomed to their newfound notoriety and legitimacy among the Shi'a population of Lebanon Hezbollah refused to honor the accords. When in May of 2000 the Israeli Army withdrew all of its forces from Lebanon Hezbollah took the lion's share of credit for this result.  Despite the Israeli government's attempts to broker less violent relations with both Lebanese and Palestinian organizations Hezbollah has allied itself with Hamas (the largely Sunni resistance group in Palestine) and Tanzim, Fatah's terrorist wing. Further, following the assassination of Rafik Hariri the popular and effective former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Hezbollah staunchly aligned itself with Syria despite ample evidence of Syrian complicity in the murder.

Following Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon Hezbollah came under increasing pressure from both the Lebanese electorate and from the United Nations Security Council  to disarm. Hezbollah thumbed its nose at both. With its popularity falling rapidly Hezbollah's leadership apparently felt that something had to be done to rescue its flagging fortunes.  That something, with the encouragement and support of its erstwhile allies in Syria and Iran was to kidnap Israeli soldiers and then, following the expected Israeli response, to launch missile attacks against Israeli settlements and the city of Haifa.

The Syrians and the Iranians for their parts have little to lose and a great deal to gain from this arrangement.  The Israeli strikes into Lebanon distract from Lebanese focus on Syria's deadly legacy in that country.  Iran, however, finds that the quiet provision of armaments not only stirs up a hornets' nest in the region but conveniently distracts international attention from that country's quest for nuclear technology.  The only real losers in this equation, it appears, will be the Lebanese people.  As for Hezbollah, we should never forget that despite their sponsorship of schools and hospitals, despite their political representatives in the Lebanese government, they are at base little more than a Middle Eastern crime family and, as its members will likely discover to their dismay, a convenient patsy for larger criminal organizations.

This article appears courtesy of the Washington Times' Insight on the News.

Frederick J. Chiaventone, award—winning novelist and screenwriter is a retired Army officer who taught counter—terrorism at the U.S. Army's Command & General Staff College.