Friday, July 13, 2007

Hezbollah: Stronger than ever?

Aljazeera, 11-7-2007

By Rula Amin - Southern Lebanon

In southern Lebanon, Hizbullah`s traditional stronghold, Lebanese soldiers now stand on the front line with "Israel".

They are supported by 13,000 United Nations troops after the UNIFIL deployment and mandate was extended at the end of the war.

No Hizbullah fighters - or their weapons - are anywhere to be seen but everyone knows they are there and still have the upper hand.

In Maroun al-Ras, a small village less than one kilometre from the "Israeli" border, the first ground battles of the conflict took place. Hizbullah fighters confronted the "Israeli" forces face to face and inflicted heavy losses.

But, despite the heavy military presence on the ground, many people are still asking "what are Hizbullah`s capabilities now?"

Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah`s leader, said last September that the movement had actually grown stronger.

"I am telling all those who want to seal off the seas, the sky and the desert, and the enemy the resistance today has more than 20,000 missiles. Pay attention, more than 20,000," he said.

Hizbullah weapons

Even Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader and politician in the pro- government `March (Feb.) 14` bloc, says he believes Nasrallah`s claims.

"I`ve got to believe him, it`s not a question of numbers, how many rockets, plus or minus, it`s a question of that he is there," he told Al Jazeera.

Jumblatt says that the movement should give up its weapons now that "Israel" has pulled out of the south of the country but Hizbullah`s southern commander does not agree.

"Israel is an enemy with ambitions and is trying to compensate for its military loss in Lebanon," Sheikh Nabil Qawouk said.

"It is our duty to stay alert and strengthen ourselves to protect Lebanon. Even with all the changes that does not affect our capabilities."

Some observers say that although Hizbullah has grown militarily since the war it has suffered politically.

In the months after the war Hizbullah`s supporters poured onto the streets of the capital Beirut in an attempt to bring down the government.

Street protests

But, although the demonstrations confirmed Hizbullah`s popularity among its constituency, they have so far failed to hand the movement and its supporters a greater share of power.

"He wanted to topple the government, he failed and he failed when he besieged Beirut," Jumblatt said.

Hizbullah`s supporters have not given up. They are still camped out in the capital, near the prime minister`s office, more than seven months since the protests began.

Amal Saad Ghoraib of the Carnegie Endowment Institute for International Peace told Al Jazeera that Hizbullah had succeeded in one important goal, to thwart Washington`s plans for the region, by paralysing the Lebanese government.

"This is part of Hizbullah`s grander strategy of confronting United States` strategic objectives in the region, which are to mould a new Middle East, and that has failed," she said.

"The United States has not been able to push it`s agenda inside of Lebanon. What the US had hoped to achieve was to have a pro-US government inside of Lebanon which would push a US agenda."

She said Hizbullah is now focused on preparing for what they see as an impending attack on Lebanon, Syria, or even Iran. An they are confident of victory.