Who Is Hezbollah?
Talk of the Nation: July 19, 2006
Who Is Hezbollah?
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Iím Neal Conan in Washington.
Hezbollah presents a variety of faces. Itís a political party that won 23 seats in Lebanonís parliament last year, and itís part of the government with two Cabinet ministers. It commands a large military group that is outside of Lebanese government control, The Islamic Resistance. And again outside the government, it provides social services to its followers: schools, healthcare, agricultural services, and it runs a TV station.
Supporters say it defends the Lebanese people against Israeli aggression. Critics charge that itís closely allied to Syria and Iran and that its raid across the border last week provoked a response from Israel thatís been a disaster for Lebanon.
According to the United States and Israel, itís a terrorist organization. In Arabic, its name means the Party of God. Right now itís at the center of the current conflict in the Middle East.
Later on in the program, two views on the trial of Saddam Hussein, which resumes next week in Baghdad. But first, who is Hezbollah?
If you have questions about its origins, its leadership, its alliances and its goals, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Thatís 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is email@example.com.
And we begin with Augustus Richard Norton, a professor of international relations at Boston University, whoís written widely about Lebanon and Arab politics. He joins us today from the studios of member station WBUR in Boston. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.
Professor AUGUSTUS RICHARD NORTON (Professor of International Relations, Boston University): Nice to be with you, Neal.
CONAN: How and when did Hezbollah come to be as an organization?
Prof. NORTON: Well, the interesting thing is that Hezbollah didnít exist in the early 1980s and was in effect created by the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and by Iran. And in fact this was a point made just a few days ago by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the Israeli former prime minister...
Prof. NORTON: ...who noted that the Israeli presence in Lebanon basically created Hezbollah. And what was going on was that in the early 1980s there was a really resurgence of politics amongst Shia Muslims. There was a movement emerging at that point called the Amal Movement, which was basically a reform movement.
But then with the Israeli invasion of 1982 - and of course that had been preceded by the Islamic revolution in Iran - Iran was attempting to extend its revolutionary goals to places like Lebanon where there was a Shia community in Lebanon. It makes up about 40 percent of the population. And over time Hezbollah gained momentum, first as a kind of catís paw of Iran and then as a terrorist organization but more importantly, in the late 1980s and Ď90s, as a very effective resistance force against the Israelis.
CONAN: It is generally given credit, at least in the Arab world, for forcing the Israelis out of southern Lebanon.
Prof. NORTON: I donít think thereís any doubt about that. You have a situation where they basically were playing a chess game with Israel and they were very successful at countering changes in Israeli tactics to the extent that by the late 1990s, the casualties between Hezbollah on the one hand, and Israel and its allies on the other hand, was basically almost at parody, which is to say for every Israeli that died or ally, Hezbollah was just losing a little bit more than one person.
So this was deeply worrying and there was also a domestic movement within Ė political movement within Israel to sort of bring the boys home. So Ehud Barak, under significant pressure from the Hezbollah-led resistance, unilaterally withdrew Israeli forces from south Lebanon in May of 2000.
CONAN: How big is the organization? And how big is its army, its militia?
Prof. NORTON: The organization itself has extensive support within the Shia community. As I say, it began really as a conspiratorial group but itís expanded into a real political party with all kinds of institutions which deal with military matters, but many of them deal with social, health matters and so on.
So it really is an institutionalized party and itís not unusual to hear Lebanese refer to Hezbollah as the only real political party in the country. So it has a lot of support and it earns a lot of credit, particularly from the Shia Muslims, who largely populate south Lebanon, for its role in the resistance. So I would say today of the Shia community that makes up 40 percent of the total population, approximately, of Lebanon, probably half or more of that population very, very ardently supports Hezbollah.
Prof. NORTON: And in terms of numbers, of course weíre dealing with relatively small numbers compared to the U.S. The total population of Lebanon is only about three and a half million, and in terms of Shia population, weíre probably talking about 1.2 million or so. So a significant segment of that 1.2 million very ardently supporting Hezbollah.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And as you said, it remade itself into a political party as well, I guess, in the 1990s and has had considerable success.
Prof. NORTON: Yes, and in fact there was a very interesting debate, Neal. At the end of the 1980s, the Lebanese civil war ended. It had gone on for 15 years. And in 1992, Lebanon had its first elections. And in the Ď80s, in a political program that was published by Hezbollah, they said we will never participate in the Lebanese government. Itís corrupt. Itís, quote, rotten to the core.
But in 1992, they made a very faithful decision to participate in Lebanese politics. Since then, theyíve had roughly a dozen seats in all of the parliamentary sessions and theyíve actually been - I think many of their opponents would agree in Lebanon - very effective parliamentarians. Of course, itís a parliament of 128 seats, so they donít need mathematicians to understand that theyíve got to make deals and coalitions and so on, and theyíve been good at that.
CONAN: At the same time theyíve gone into politics, indeed, in the most recent elections last year; they have two cabinet ministers. Theyíre part of the government yet they decline to disarm their militia, The Islamic Resistance, and make it part of the Lebanese armed forces. They provide social services, as youíve said, but again they do it separately. They donít want the government to get credit for it.
Prof. NORTON: Yes, youíre quite right, Neal. And it seems to me that one needs to think a little bit about the context of south Lebanon to understand this. And the fact of the matter is when I first went to south Lebanon it was 1980. At that point, I would not say, amongst the Lebanese, that there were very deeply rooted hatred - feelings of hatred and enmity towards Israel. But over the course of the Israeli occupation, which effectively ran from '78 actually, until Israel withdrew in 2000, that hatred grew particularly after some catalytic events like a massacre in the town of Qana where Israeli shelling killed over a hundred civilians.
So you have a lot of people who suffered very much under the thumb of Israeli occupation and frankly they didn't trust international peacekeeping forces like UNIFIL - or the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon - which has been deployed since 1978 to provide for their security. Frankly, it's incapable of doing that.
And they didn't trust the army. They put their trust in Hezbollah and Hezbollah believed that it could establish a structure of deterrence which would deter the Israelis from reinvading Lebanon. As we've seen over the past week, they've miscalculated in terms of the effectiveness of that deterrence structure.
CONAN: Let's bring another voice into the conversation. By the way, 46-year-old Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is the leader of Hezbollah. He took over as the head of the organization after Israel killed the movement's former leader, Abbas al- Mousawi(ph) in 1992. We posted a profile of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah at our Web site, npr.org.
Joining us to tell us more about Nasrallah is As'ad Abukhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus; also writes a blog called The Angry Arab News Service. He's just returned from a three-week trip to Lebanon where he interviewed Hassan Nasrallah among others. As'ad Abukhalil joins us on the line from his home in Modesto, California. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.
Professor AS'AD ABUKHALIL (Professor of Political Science, California State University, Stanislaus): Thank you very much.
CONAN: You've met Nasrallah several times before this most recent visit. Tell us, what is he like?
Prof. ABUKHALIL: Well, I mean, I think what is striking about interviewing him among many other leaders I interviewed in the course of my research - and I very much would like to subscribe to the very fine and accurate account that Dick Norton has given to the listeners - is that, initially, he was hesitant about, you know, talking to people coming from the United States. I mean, he comes from not a very cosmopolitan background, that's for sure.
He's not very high ranking in seniority in the religious education of Shiism. I mean, his studies in Iraq in Najaf was interrupted when many Lebanese religious students were kicked out in the late 1970s by Saddam Hussein. And then he did study some in Iran, but later that was interrupted too by virtue of his rising role within Hezbollah.
I would say that in many ways he comes across as not a typical religious leader, at least for me. I mean, I grew up in Lebanon. I come from a Shiite family. And usually the Shiite or the Sunni or the Christian priests and clerics in Lebanon tend to have a very dour image. They are people who tend not to smile or to joke. They take themselves way too seriously.
I think part of his appeal in Lebanon within the Shiite community and (unintelligible) is that he's capable of projecting an image of personability(ph) as well as, I think, being able to speak without talking much jargon, which is very unusual.
Having said that, I mean, of course, one should remember, especially if you do not agree with the ideology of the party, as I do not, that he represents a Shiite fundamentalist ideology. Although the foreign policy aspect and the defiance against Israeli occupation aspect of that ideology is absolutely important, as Dick Norton has emphasized.
I would say I was very surprised in my interviews with him, that I would ask him about issues that are dear to me, about feminism, about secularism and things of that sort, and while of course disagreements were quite deep in that regard, that he is somebody who is willing to speak and to answer very pressing questions that I asked him about the role and the status of women.
And while he did not give me satisfactory answers, he is capable, I think, of engaging in a conversation, which is not usual among many Lebanese leaders. And I interviewed the president of Lebanon and the speaker of parliament. You only get to get a monologue. I mean, they give you a speech just like the one they give in public.
With Hassan Nasrallah, I think you can do more of a give and take in that regard.
CONAN: He's also 46 years old, very young by the standards of Lebanese politics, and indeed Arab politics.
Prof. ABUKHALIL: Correct. I mean, he rose very quickly within the party. And according to his own account - and I'm not sure if it's true from inside the party - that in 1992, when the Israelis killed his predecessor, Abbas Mousawi, along with his children of course, Israel always manages to do that - he was reluctant, according to the account, to take over the leadership.
But apparently the party, you know, did not find anybody as appealing to the larger audience as him. And as also Dick Norton said, he steered the party in a different direction. We're not saying that the party is not, you know, a religious fundamentalist ideology with an armed militia. I mean, that is the case.
But anybody who studies Hezbollah - and I think, you know, Dick Norton and I can have the dubious honor of being one of the few who studied the party back from the 1980s, not the recent cottage industry about the party - you have to acknowledge that the Party has changed. We're not saying that it changed to your liking or to mine, but there is a transformation of the party and the party changed...
CONAN: And we'll have to get more on that change after we take a short break.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The State Department lists Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. To many Lebanese, the group is a political party focused on social services. Our topic today: Who is Hezbollah? What do they hope to achieve?
Our guests are Augustus Richard Norton, a professor of international relations at Boston University, and As'ad Abukhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus, and visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
And, of course, you're invited to join us. If you have questions about the origins of the group, its goal and its tactics, its funding and its alliances, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And why don't we get a caller on the line. This is Anna(ph). Anna's calling from Kilvert(ph), Ohio.
ANNA (Caller): Hey, thanks for taking my call. You know, I read that Hezbollah's past demands of Israel were to stop invading Lebanese airspace on a daily basis and Lebanese territorial waters and also for Israel to turn over the maps of where they had planted landmines in southern Lebanon and the release of prisoners.
I'm wondering, those sound like pretty reasonable demands before Israel's most recent invasion, and so I'm wondering if there were other demands. And I also wanted to ask about U.N. resolutions in regard to, you know, how many U.N. resolutions Israel is in violation of in regard to Lebanon?
CONAN: Anyway, Augustus Richard Norton, broadly, are those Hezbollah's goals regarding Israel?
Prof. NORTON: Well, certainly those were part of the demands. Israel, when it withdrew in 2000, said that it would stop violating Lebanese airspace and sea areas adjacent to Lebanon, but it failed to meet its promises. So those were persistent points of criticism by Hezbollah.
And the very pressing issue of the maps of the landmines is very, very important. Many people have been maimed. I know people in south Lebanon who've lost children, for example, to various mines and such apparatuses that have been left in the ground by Israel and no one knows exactly where they are. In fact there are some indigenous NGO's that have the purpose of trying to locate these landmines and remove them.
It certainly is true that until Israel withdrew in 2000 - May of 2000 - it was in clear violation of United Nations Resolution 425, which was passed with the insistence of the U.S. in 1978 and called for Israel to leave Lebanon after its invasion
Prof. NORTON: And also there's another element here and that is Israel did withdraw from Lebanon in 2000. And that withdrawal was confirmed along a so- called blue line - not an official boundary, but a blue line - between Lebanon and Israel by the United Nations, and that was sort of certified by the Security Council.
The remaining issue remained a question of a small plot of land, the so-called Shebaa Farms, which is actually in the occupied Golan Heights, that Lebanese claim and Hezbollah used as a base for conducting attacks in the occupied Golan Heights against the Israelis.
If I can just briefly make one additional point, and that is that what had evolved between Hezbollah and Israel were rules of the game, sort of Marcus of Queensbury rules for fighting. And these evolved very clearly, particularly over the '90s. You know, either side committed itself not to attacking civilians and so on, basically to respecting the rights of so-called noncombatants. And for the most part, these rules were observed.
Now what's happened, of course, is that rulebook was torn up last week and now we need a new set of rules of the game. But there was a very interesting kind of understanding between both sides to the extent that you frequently heard belligerents on both sides talking about certain fighting being within the rules of the game.
CONAN: Let me ask you, As'ad Abukhalil, is Hezbollah - if these issues could be resolved, the prisoners could be exchanged, if air rights, the border issues, Shebaa Farms, those things - would it be prepared to get along with Israel?
Prof. ABUKHALIL: I mean, I don't know what get along with Israel means. In some American dictionary, I think it means submission to the will of Israel to occupy and to invade countries at will, as Israel has done not only to Lebanon, but to Palestine as we speak.
I mean, Hezbollah has, in fact, made a pledge to the late prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, that if Israel were to withdraw completely from Shebaa Farm and (unintelligible) Hills that they will not be attacking Israel from Lebanon any more. I'm not sure if they were serious or sincere about that; that's not for me to judge.
But having said that, I don't think that Israel allows Arabs to get along with it at all. I mean, if you looked at the state of kidnapping. I mean, in the media there is the whole fanfare and there is like daily eulogies and concern expressed over the plight of three soldiers that were captured by Hamas in Palestine and by Hezbollah in Lebanon. And yet we don't hear about the thousands of Palestinians, many of them civilians, (unintelligible) combatants, who've been kidnapped by Israelis. And not to mention now what Israel is doing.
So the scale of measurement about Arabs and Israelis and the terms of reference are so flagrantly skewed in favor of what Israel wants to do, including the massive violence it's inflicting on Palestine and on Lebanon even today.
CONAN: As'ad Abukhalil, thanks very much for being with us today...
Prof. ABUKHALIL: Thanks.
CONAN: ...appreciate your time.
As'ad Abukhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus, and author of a blog called The Angry Arab News Service, with us by phone from his home in Modesto, California.
Joining us now is Dan Schueftan, deputy director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa in Israel. He's written extensively about Middle East history and Arab-Israeli relations. He's with us by phone from Haifa. And it's nice to have you on the program as well.
Dr. DAN SCHUEFTAN (Deputy Director, National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, Israel): Good evening.
CONAN: Hezbollah began as a militant conspiratorial group, as Augustus Richard Norton was describing it. Does it now want to be a political player or is it still a terrorist organization?
Dr. SCHUEFTAN: It is a terrorist organization and a political party. The two are not mutually exclusive. Hezbollah is dedicated to the very destruction of the State of Israel and they say so very clearly. When they speak now about bombarding Israeli towns they say we have bombarded this and this settlement in occupied Palestine. I mean, Haifa is a town in occupied Palestine.
And the most important thing to understand about Hezbollah and this also explains the scope of the conflict that we have now - actually, what we have is a war by proxy with Iran. Iran has armed Hezbollah with arms that very few armies in the world have; perhaps 10 armies throughout the world would have the kind of missiles, the very sophisticated weapons, the very long-range rockets that Hezbollah has.
So actually, we're not speaking here about a Lebanese Party that has a militia. When you speak about the militia, what you have in mind is a few gunmen with submachine guns or with handguns. We're speaking about a very heavily armed organization armed by Syria and Iran. And if you take the very advanced weapons, the missiles (unintelligible) that very few countries in the world have, when you look at missiles with hundreds of kilometers in range, this is not a militia, this is not a party, this is a terrorist organization in service of another radical country.
And all these countries speak very specifically about the destruction of the State of Israel. I mean, the president of Iran and Hezbollah speak about the illegitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel, holocaust denial, what have you.
If you take the actions that Hezbollah finances, among Palestinians, they finance suicide bombers. Hezbollah and Iran are responsible for blowing up the cultural center of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, Argentina. So, let's look a little bit about the broader scope rather than seeing it as a very modest militia.
CONAN: And does Israel view Hezbollah as, in a way, more powerful than the State of Lebanon?
Mr. SCHUEFTAN: There - I'm sorry to say there is no state of Lebanon; I wish there were. Because the Israelis demand that the Lebanese army come to the Israeli border, and if the Lebanese government had anything to do with it Israel and Lebanon would be very peaceful.
What you have in Lebanon today is a president who's a Syrian puppet, Lahoud. You have a prime minister, Saniora, who would have loved to have good relations with Israel. The people who kicked the Syrians out in Lebanon would have loved to kick Hezbollah from Lebanon so that Lebanon can be free, Lebanon can prosper. Israel is interested in a Lebanon that is prosperous and free.
Israel doesn't have a single territorial claim in Lebanon. The U.N. delineated a line and Israel withdrew every inch to this line. And the U.N. determined that Israel withdrew completely from Lebanon. There is a Security Council resolution about Lebanon - 425 - that the secretary general of the U.N. said Israel completely complied with.
So at the moment what Israel and Lebanon have in common is an interest of prosperity in Lebanon, which means disarming the Hezbollah according to U.N. Resolution 1559. And if I may, one last point, there is a very strong agreement between Israel, the United States, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia concerning the fate of Lebanon, and the only Arab countries who are against it are Syria and Iran. Well, actually Syria, an Arab country, and Iran, a non Arab country.
The two most radical states, namely Syria and Iran, oppose it. Most of the Arab world and Israel are in the same boat here. And actually what you have is these countries fearing Iran, fearing Syria, knowing how deeply these countries are involved in terrorism, in the purchase and the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction and so on. So this is the regional context of the struggle in Lebanon.
CONAN: All right. Let's get a caller on the line. This is Sayed(ph). Sayed calling us from Boulder, Colorado.
SAYED (CALLER): Good afternoon, gentlemen. Very interesting show. The gentleman whose name I forgot, who started the show, who was opining that Israel by its action was somehow responsible for Hezbollah starting in southern Lebanon, only revealed his bias to me toward the Muslim and the Shiite cause.
I am from Iran. I was a member of Hezbollah because you didn't have a choice. In 1980, Ruhollah Khomeini created the party called Party of God, which translates to Farsi and Arabic, Hezbollah. And the chants we had to chant in school was (speaking foreign language), only one party and that's Party of God, only one leader and that's Ruhollah.
And then he announced that he wants to extend Shiism branch of Islam throughout the rest of (unintelligible) and in his words liberating the rest of the world. And they found Lebanon as the weakest point they can start their activities, so they sent revolutionary guards over there and Israelis only had to react to it.
Same thing that they're doing in southern Iraq with the Sadr family. And by the way, I'm not very impressed with United Nations condemning Israel. Apparently, they do it every Tuesday morning at 8:30.
CONAN: Augustus Richard Norton, the criticism, I guess, was to you.
Prof. NORTON: Yes, well let me read a quote from Ehud Barak. I could produce similar quotes from Yitzhak Rabin. In this case Barak, quote, when we entered Lebanon - he's talking about 1982 - there was no Hezbollah. We were accepted with perfumed rice and flowers by the Shia in the south. It was our presence there that created Hezbollah, unquote. That is in this week's Newsweek magazine, I believe.
Prof. NORTON: That is absolutely true and the fact that...
Prof. NORTON: If you don't mind, I listened to you and will you please listen to me. The fact of the matter is that the Amal Movement, a rival movement which had reemerged in Lebanon in the late 1970s, was immensely popular in the early 1980s. However, that movement came to be extremely corrupt and ineffective. And, in fact, the leader of that movement, Nabih Berri, is now the speaker of the Lebanese parliament.
Over time, what you had in Lebanon is a migration of many middle class supporters of the Amal Movement to Hezbollah. This wasn't function of coercion. These were people making political choices. Now, I'm not denying what the caller described from his experience in Iran.
But I'm telling you what can be verified empirically in Lebanon, and that is to say that were popular choices made in terms of which party to support and not support. And that particular base of support that Hezbollah enjoyed was much consolidated with its success in helping Israel to decide to leave Lebanon in 2000. Now, whether or not it retains that base after what I see is the gross miscalculation it made last week remains to be seen.
CONAN: We're talking about Hezbollah, the Party of God. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
SAYED: The gentleman's comments presupposes that Israel has some kind of an interest in taken over Lebanon. But the fact is that only the Islamic side has announced its intention in spreading Islam. And Israel only was defending itself. Israel, as soon as it realized that it had no interest in staying and fighting in southern Lebanon, pulled out.
And by the way, Iran does not even allow the word Israel to be used. They call it (speaking a foreign language), that means the occupant of the holy land of Kutz(ph), which is pretty much the famous mosque in there.
CONAN: In Jerusalem, yes.
SAYED: So these people do not even acknowledge the existence of Israel. Iran is the only country in the world where Israelis are not allowed to have an embassy. Iran - if you say Israel in school the teachers would punish you. This is the mentality where this comes from.
CONAN: I think Sayed there are other countries that don't have Israeli embassies as well. But I wanted to thank you for your call. We appreciate it. And I wanted to ask you, though, Dan Schueftan, about that alliance with Syria and Iran, who funds Hezbollah? Does its money come from Iran as well as its armament?
Mr. SCHUEFTAN: Yes. Yes. The money comes from Iran. The weapons come from Iran. Syria doesn't have any money. Iran also helps Syria with her army and so on. So the money comes primarily from Iran. And the Iranians in Hezbollah also finance Palestinian terrorists.
They also have a dormant system among Arab citizens of Israel so that they can use terrorism from Israel. This is at the moment at the very low level. But they also have an international terrorist network led by Imad Mugniyah and they are they people who blew up the cultural center in Buenos Aires as I mentioned before. So all this money, to a very large extent, comes from Iran.
Prof. NORTON: Neal, I would add that while significant funding does come from Iran, Hezbollah and its rival Shia movements also receive a lot of support from Shia constituents both in Lebanon and outside. For example, there are very important Lebanese trading communities all over Africa, and those communities are dominated by Shia Muslims, many of them from south Lebanon and Beirut. And many of them provide support financially for Hezbollah as a part of paying...
Mr. SCHUEFTAN: Yeah, as I mentioned (unintelligible) organizations that were established by Hezbollah in the first place as a cover for their terrorist networks throughout the world.
CONAN: Dan Schueftan, thank you very much for being with us today. Appreciate your time.
Mr. SCHUEFTAN: Thank you.
CONAN: Dan Schueftan, deputy director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa with us on the phone from his home in Haifa. We'll have more on this. A couple of more questions after the break. We'll also be talking about the trial of Saddam Hussein, which resumes next week.
I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News.
The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon is in its eighth day. Israeli warplanes continue to blast targets in Lebanon. Dozens are reported killed. Hezbollah fired more rockets into Israel, killing two children in the city of Nazareth. Israeli ground troops also entered southern Lebanon in a raid against Hezbollah posts. U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals are being evacuated from Lebanon, many of them taken to nearby Cyprus. The State Department says it will evacuate 7000 Americans by Friday.
Details on of course those stories and much more about the conflict in the Middle East later today on ALL THING CONSIDERED from NPR News.
Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, India Arie calls her music a real and honest output of emotion into song. People are listening. Her third studio album jumped to the top spot on the Billboard chart. India Arie drops by studio 4A for a live performance and to take your calls tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's continue our conversation about who is Hezbollah. Our guest is Augustus Richard Norton, a professor of international relations at Boston University. He's written widely about Lebanon and Arab politics, with us from the studios of our member station there, WBUR in Boston.
And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Scott. Scott calling from Jacksonville, North Carolina.
SCOTT (CALLER): Yes. My question is, you know, it's clear that Syria and Iran supply weapons and who knows what else, does this - is this leverage with the Hezbollah? I mean, do they have some kind of command over them or is Hezbollah completely independent and pretty much does what they want?
Prof. NORTON: That's a very good question. Up until the last twelve months, Syria had a pretty large voice in terms of controlling Hezbollah. It's not that they controlled every tactical decision and so on, but they were largely in control of Lebanon. And, as the caller will remember after the assassination of Rafik Hariri last year and a series of popular demonstrations and diplomatic pressure from the U.S. among other major powers, the Syrians withdrew their forces from Lebanon. So the Syrian influence on the movement has (unintelligible).
But between Hezbollah and Iran in many ways there's an organic relationship. They share a world view. Ideologically there's not much light between them. But on the other hand, Hezbollah, I believe, on the tactical basis in terms of their military operations and all of that, doesn't sort of dot every I and cross every T in consultation with Iran. But certainly there are frequent discussions. You have frequent movement back and forth between Lebanon and Iran and so on.
In the case of the incident which has precipitated the war that's now going on, my feeling is this was probably a Hezbollah decision made without prior extensive consultation with the Iranians, but it's not one that Iran would have necessarily demurred from had they thought Hezbollah could get away with it.
SCOTT (Caller): Why would the Hezbollah, out of the blue, decide that? They had to know that Israel would rain hell down on top of their heads. I don't understand that - and ruin Lebanon. Why would they do that?
CONAN: As I understand it, it wasn't out of the blue. There was an earlier attempt that failed and I think Mr. Nasrallah said that this incident was five months in the planning.
Prof. NORTON: No, that's right. This was extensively planned, Neal. The fact of the matter is that Nasrallah and his colleagues believe that they had effectively deterred Israel from taking the kind of steps that it's now taking.
Prof. NORTON: They believed that there would be a more measured Israeli response. They believed that Israel would not take actions which would provoke Hezbollah to fire it's Katyusha rockets and so on into Israel, and would certainly not be back on the ground in Lebanon, given the bad experience that Israel had occupying Lebanon. Obviously, they've miscalculated in a very serious way.
CONAN: Scott, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. And Professor Norton, we appreciate your time today.
Prof. NORTON: Happy to be with you, Neal.
CONAN: Augustus Richard Norton, professor of international relations at Boston University, with us today from the studios of member station WBUR in Boston. Coming up, the trial of Saddam Hussein.
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