by Eyal Zisser
2nd part of 2
Nasrallah's War on
On November 9, 2006, the Amal and Hezbollah ministers serving in the government of Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora submitted their resignations in protest over the refusal of the Cedar Revolution coalition to submit to the demands of the Shi'i organizations to establish a national unity government in which the Shi'i representation would be increased and in which Michel Aoun, Hezbollah's loyal ally, would also be given representation. On the face of it, these looked like innocent, and even legitimate, demands aimed at advancing dialogue and understanding between the various Lebanese communities and wielders of power. However, if these demands were met and Nasrallah's representatives and allies received a third of the portfolios in the Lebanese government, then they would acquire veto power over any resolution the Lebanese government tried to adopt.
During the two years that followed,
Lebanese president Emile Lahoud's term of office ended on November 24, 2007, and for many weeks afterwards, Lebanese politicians could not agree on Lahoud's successor. Matters were complicated by the speaker of the parliament, Nabih Berri, who exploited his authority to prevent parliament from convening to elect a president.
During the first months of 2008, all efforts to resolve the crisis and bring about the election of a new president failed. In the meantime, tensions between the rivals increased to the breaking point. Hezbollah-aligned unions declared a strike while the government adopted a resolution to dismiss Wafiq Shuqayr,
Hezbollah considered the Siniora government's decision an unacceptable challenge, or as Nasrallah put it, as a declaration of war against the movement. Hezbollah thus decided to break the stalemate in
On May 8, 2008, Hezbollah supporters took over the Sunni suburbs of
This was an impressive demonstration of the military might of Hezbollah, but most Lebanese already acknowledged the military superiority of Hezbollah over all its rivals, including the Lebanese army. Hezbollah's move was calculated and cautious: In order to signal that they did not wish the destruction of the Lebanese political system, Hezbollah supporters did not appear in uniform as organized forces and avoided attacking government buildings or clashing with the Lebanese army. Indeed, in a matter of two days Hezbollah evacuated their positions and left the streets of
But Hezbollah's impressive victory over its rivals was pyrrhic. The challenge facing Hezbollah is not and never has been the occupation of
The May 2008 violence, which cost the lives of more than one hundred Lebanese, shows that no one in
As time passes, the severity of the blow suffered by
Precisely because the Shi'a will become the majority in
Thus, in several respects, Hezbollah and its leader find themselves in deep trouble, fighting a rearguard action in order to maintain themselves and regain the status they enjoyed on the eve of the 2006 war. However, no one should think that the organization or its supporters are going to disappear. They will continue to be a permanent factor in the Lebanese equation. The challenges presently facing the organization are not simple, nor are the challenges facing Nasrallah. For him, Hezbollah is his life's work, yet he has gotten the organization into deep trouble by his badly calculated gambles. Once a gambler, always a gambler; it is likely that Nasrallah will take risks again and, again, make big mistakes.
Still, the real challenge seems to be the one confronting the Lebanese state: How will the government, along with the various Lebanese communities, deal with the Shi'i community? Will they work to enable that community to live in dignity and integrate more fully and justly into the Lebanese system?
Hezbollah will remain the most powerful force in
Where does this all take
Western officials do have a winning card to play, however. By revealing the organization's weakness and its failures, they can begin to neutralize Hezbollah's propaganda machine and begin to puncture inflated Arab and Lebanese perceptions of Hezbollah, the first steps necessary to neutralizing the threat it poses to
Eyal Zisser is director of the
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.
 Al-Manar television (Beirut), Feb. 13, 2008; Al-Jazeera television (Doha), Feb. 13, 14, 2008.
 Al-Nahar (
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 Asharq al-Awsat (
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 Al-'Arabiya, May 16, July 21, 2008; Al-Mustaqbal (
 Ha'aretz, May 26, 2000; Yedi'ot Aharonot (Tel Aviv), Oct. 8, 2000.
 Daniel Sobelman, New Rules of the Game,
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 Reuters, Sept. 12, 2006; Al-Hayat (
 MSNBC, Sept. 22, 2006.
 Yedi'ot Aharonot, July 15, Aug. 6, 2006.
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 See Hasan Nasrallah's remarks on Nasser, Al-Mustaqbal television (
 Hamzeh, In the Path of Hezbollah, pp. 44-79.
 Yedi'ot Aharonot, July 14, 2007; "Country Report—Lebanon," The Economist Intelligence Unit, no. 4 (2006), pp. 3-8; Yoram Schweitzer, "Divine Victory and Earthly Failures: Was the War Really a Victory for Hizbollah," in Shlomo Brom and Meir Eliran, eds., The Second Lebanon War: Strategic Perspectives (Tel Aviv: Institute for National Security Studies, 2007), pp. 123-34.
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 See, for example, "Evaluation of 24 Days of Zionists' Invasion of Lebanon," Fars News Agency (
 Al-Mustaqbal, June 30, 2006.
 Al-Manar, July 1, 2008.
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 Al-Mustaqbal, Nov. 24, 27, 2007; As-Safir (
 Lebanese National News Agency, Aug. 6, 7, 2008.
 Al-Manar, May 7, 2008.
 Al-Jazeera, May 8, 9, 2008.
 Al-Jazeera, May 8, 2008; Al-Nahar, May 9, 2008.
 Al-Manar, May 9, 10, 2008; Al-Nahar, May 10, 11, 2008.
 Asharq al-Awsat, May 10, 2008; Al-Ahram (
 Al-Jazeera, May 8, 2008; Asharq al-Awsat, May 9, 2008.
 Al-Nahar, May 23, 25, 27, 2008.
 Al-Akhbar (
 Augustus Richard Norton, Amal and the Shi'a: Struggle for the Soul of