Hezbollah Winning Hearts and Minds
Brown University political scientist Melani Cammett has just returned from Lebanon and reports that Hezbollah is further increasing its standing by taking a major role in helping rebuild the country.
After a month of war, Israel and Lebanon have finally agreed to hold their fire. With the dust settling, the reconstruction of Lebanon has begun and Hezbollah is positioning itself to become indispensable in the effort. Part military force, part political party, and part organized social movement, Hezbollah will now shift gears and capitalize on its nonmilitary skills. Whatever strength the movement lost during the fighting, it may recover quickly as Lebanon rebuilds.
Hezbollah, it should be recalled, emerged during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and gained legitimacy not only through military feats but also through reconstruction and development work. It emerged as the premier advocate and provider for poor and middle class Shia in a society that had long marginalized them. Over time, the organization took on schooling, healthcare, loans, and other forms of social assistance. Since 1988, Hezbollah has implemented more than 10,000 projects to promote agricultural development, build homes and businesses, and provide water, sewage, and electricity. Supporters and critics alike have long acknowledged that Hezbollah is the most effective welfare provider in Lebanon—far more effective than the state.
Now, I’d argue Hezbollah is “Part military force, part political party, and part organized social movement” and all terrorist group. Like all successful guerrilla movements, its strength is in exploiting the ineffectiveness of the state to ingratiate themselves with the people. The fact that Hezbollah is “part organized social movement” is precisely why they are able to hide amongst the civilian population so effectively, making it very costly for Israel to root them out.
Hat tip: Carolyn O’Hara