Turning From Bullets to Ballots
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'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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