Jerusalem – Reliable Israeli intelligence sources now report that Hezbollah suffered significant setbacks as a result of the Lebanon War, both in terms of its fighting force – one-tenth of which was reportedly killed – and in terms of its hold on southern Lebanon. Those sources say that Hezbollah’s hold on southern Lebanon has been significantly altered with the loss of the Shiite movement’s entire front-line of outposts along the Israeli border, and by the presence of Lebanese army troops and a substantially larger UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) that is deployed in the area that was once solely under Hezbollah control.
Hezbollah envisions another military round against Israel at any time. This is the working assumption on which Hezbollah has been operating since the end of the war, and it has been trying to restore its military capabilities and political standing.
Meanwhile, rehabilitation is taking place on three levels. On the military level, Hezbollah is currently engaged in deployment along a new line in southern Lebanon. While Hezbollah is still operating south of the Litani River, it is now deploying on a more northern line there. The large center of “nature reserves” in the center of southern Lebanon is still under Hezbollah’s full control, and is defined as a “closed military zone” with the consent of the Lebanese army and the U.N. forces. In the villages located along Hezbollah’s new line, it has purchased or rented civilian buildings, and is turning them into warehouses of military equipment and weaponry.
Rebuilding the strategic layer – the medium-range and long-range rocket array – that was destroyed in the first days of the warfare is advancing more slowly.
Despite the fact that Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah declared a “divine victory,” his popularity is in a sharp decline. In public opinion polls held over the past few days in Beirut and towns in northern and southern Lebanon, 51 percent said that they support disarming Hezbollah. Forty-nine percent believe that Hezbollah suffered defeat in a war that was “completely illegitimate.”
The American perspective on the power of Hezbollah is quite different.
Frank Urbancic Jr., principal deputy coordinator of the U.S. State Department’s Counterterrorism Office, told the House Subcommittee on Middle East and Central Asia on Sept. 28 that Hezbollah could be compared to an “octopus with the head in southern Lebanon and tentacles moving around the world.” He said Iran and Syria were responsible for Hezbollah’s supply and support.
“Hezbollah has assets around the world, and it can mobilize them on a a moment’s notice,” Urbancic said.
Urbancic said Hezbollah has been financing other groups in the Middle East deemed terrorist organizations. Since 2000, he said, Hezbollah, which raises most of its funds in the Middle East, has provided “financial, training and logistical support to Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terrorist groups.” Hezbollah was also said to have financed Fatah cells in the West Bank.
Hezbollah has maintained a major presence in South America. Officials said Hezbollah, with interests in criminal activities, has raised millions of dollars from such countries as Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
Urbancic said the United States has been “very, very concerned” regarding a Hezbollah alliance with FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], the insurgency group in Colombia and a major player in the illegal drug market. He said such an alliance could ensure funding for Hezbollah operations in the United States and the Middle East.
“It’s something that we are very much worried about in the tri-border area [Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil],” Urbancic said.
Officials said Hezbollah has also been financed through the Shi’ite diaspora of West Africa and Central Africa. He said Hezbollah has interests in diamonds and other businesses in the region.
“Contributions there often are in the form of religious donations and paid in cash,” Urbancic said. “They’re difficult to track, and collected by Hezbollah couriers transiting the region.”
©The Bulletin 2006