Frontline World

LEBANON - Party of God, May 2003


Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Party of God"

BULLETS TO BALLOT BOX
A History of Hezbollah

INTERVIEW WITH DAVID LEWIS
Negotiating With Hezbollah

FACTS & STATS
Lebanon Country Profile

LINKS & RESOURCES
Hezbollah, the Region and U.S. Policy

MAP

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2001-Present: Hezbollah’s Future
Civil WarHezbollah EmergesTarget AmericaGlobal TerrorThe Fate of Hezbollah
Geographical Key
Turning From Bullets to Ballots

Participants at a recent Hezbollah rally

Participants at a recent Hezbollah rally carry the party's official flag as well as images of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Such gatherings have become increasingly popular in recent years as Hezbollah further entrenches itself in Lebanese society.
Boasting 20,000 active members, Hezbollah continues to recast itself as a legitimate organization with no ties to terrorism. One Lebanese scholar put it this way: "The party has concentrated more on the ballot box than on bullets." In 1996, Hezbollah held eight seats in the Lebanese parliament; today it holds12, making it the largest single-party group in the National Assembly.

Lebanon's current president, Emile Lahoud, a Maronite Christian, sees Hezbollah as a legitimate political organization within Lebanon, not as a terrorist entity. "For us Lebanese, and I can tell you a majority of Lebanese, Hezbollah is a national resistance movement," Lahoud recently told 60 Minutes. "If it wasn't for them, we couldn't have liberated our land. And because of that, we have big esteem for the Hezbollah movement."

Lebanon's current president, Emile Lahoud

Lebanon's current president, Emile Lahoud, pictured at a recent celebration of Lebanon's Independence Day. Lahoud, although a Maronite Christian, welcomes the contributions that Hezbollah has made to Lebanese society.
With Hezbollah imbedded so deeply in the current political and social fabric of Lebanon, attacking the organization now could plunge the country back into chaos. Meanwhile, Hezbollah leaders have made several overtures to the United States. After September 11, for example, the group quickly criticized bin Laden's attack. In recent interviews, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has said that his organization is not a threat to the United States.

The U.S. government seems to be returning to backdoor diplomacy. On his recent tour of the Middle East to discuss the new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell spoke with Syrian president Bashir al-Assad about ending Syria's support for terrorism. Powell reported that Syria has already begun to close the Damascus offices of several terrorist groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Children at a Hezbollah school

Children at a Hezbollah school. The future of Hezbollah is in flux. Will it continue to maintain an armed militia - which could become the target of U.S. military strike - or concentrate on becoming a larger political party?
Hezbollah was not on this list of organizations that the Syrian government reportedly agreed to restrain, a sign that Syria continues to consider it an important lever in its hold on power in the region. However, Powell called upon both Syria and Lebanon to end support for Hezbollah. "It is time, we believe, for the Lebanese army to deploy to the border and end the armed Hezbollah militia presence," he said.

Hezbollah's status is in flux, its future unclear. A few key questions remain to be answered: What will be the likely effect of this U.S. pressure? Can Hezbollah withstand the diplomatic onslaught, rally its allies, and sustain its position? Will the U.S. government launch an all-out assault? Or might Hezbollah be willing to pay a price -- that of disbanding its military activities -- for its survival, in order to grow even larger as a powerful political party in Lebanon?

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