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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Analysis: Lebanon one year on
Celebrations a year ago after the Israelis left southern Lebanon
Hezbollah supporters celebrate Israel's withdrawal
By Jim Quilty in Beirut

The Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon marked the end of a policy but not a conflict.


This predicament, and thus the resistance, is unlikely to fade in the near future

A year ago both sides claimed a victory from the withdrawal.

Today the withdrawal has different meanings for people on either side of the UN-demarcated Blue Line - the border that now separates Lebanon and Israel.

But the differences are not restricted to the frontier. Lebanese themselves differ as to the meaning of "liberation".

Coming three months ahead of schedule, and taking on the appearance of a rout, the Israeli Defence Forces' (IDF) withdrawal was depicted within certain Israeli circles as a national humiliation.

But the move was still an unqualified political and military success for then-premier Ehud Barak.

'Unfinished business'

Despite the generals' concerns that withdrawal would leave the northern border towns at the mercy of the Lebanese resistance, Israeli civilians have largely been left in peace for the past year.

In Lebanon liberation is officially said to have been a national effort, but it is generally acknowledged as a military victory for Hezbollah.


There are two trajectories in Hezbollah's belligerence: the territorial claim to the Shebaa Farms and the demand that Israel release its detainees

Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri - whose investments in the country lie dormant until regional peace is achieved - would like very much to forget about the resistance.

Unfortunately for Hariri, Hezbollah does not regard the liberation to be finished yet.

Habitually termed "pro-Syrian" and "Iranian-backed" by the western media, this Islamist organisation was the only Lebanese party that consistently worked to dislodge the IDF and South Lebanon Army (SLA) from Lebanese soil.

This, and a progressive - albeit non-western - social programme, have earned the party staunch support among the Shia, the country's largest, and most disenfranchised, community.

Territorial claim

There are two trajectories in Hezbollah's belligerence: the territorial claim to the Shebaa Farms and the demand that Israel release its detainees.

Lebanese boys play atop an Israeli tank on the first anniversary of Israeli troop pullout
The withdrawal was depicted as an Israeli humiliation
Hezbollah's Shebaa Farms campaign seems a transparent continuation of Syria's south Lebanon policy.

Though the residents of Lebanese Shebaa do hold title deeds to the land in the region, no maps exist to verify Lebanon's claim to the Shebaa Farms.

Consequently the UN has concluded that the area is Syrian and that, by extension, any attacks upon Israeli troops in Shebaa could be viewed as an effort to pressure Israel into giving up the Golan in return for a peace settlement.

The party's commitment to the detainees was underlined in October when, in two operations, Hezbollah captured four Israeli citizens, three soldiers and a fourth said to be an Israeli intelligence agent.

The party's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, said the men would be released as soon as Israel released its Lebanese and other Arab detainees, and provided information about Lebanese missing since 1982.

Grey area

Nasrallah's demand for the release of Palestinian and Lebanese detainees reflected the increased stature Hezbollah has enjoyed in the region since the Israeli evacuation.

Though derived from its professionalism in the field, the precondition of Hezbollah's success, and thus its regional prestige, is its sanction to operate in the grey area between states.


Hezbollah's official status in Lebanon is still marginal. Its representation in parliament is limited and it has no voice in government

Hezbollah's continuing belligerence towards Israel since the liberation of the south is incomprehensible to western analysts except as an extension of Syrian policy interests.

Though the party's relationship with Damascus is obviously important in securing its room for manoeuvre, it does not suffice to explain the party's stance in the last year.

Contemporary press reports present Hezbollah's continued attacks in Shebaa as evidence of its indifference to Lebanon's development needs, as embodied in Hariri's economic programme.

Marginal status

But there is a national facet to Hezbollah's stubborn defiance of UN pleas and the neo-liberal programme of premier Hariri, one rooted in the party's constituency and its place in Lebanon's socio-economic and political framework.


Hezbollah's Shebaa Farms campaign seems a transparent continuation of Syria's south Lebanon policy

Though it has strong grassroots support among the most deprived and populous, of Lebanon's confessions, Hezbollah's official status in Lebanon is still marginal.

Its representation in parliament is limited and it has no voice in government.

Hezbollah's small gains in the parliamentary elections in August-September 2000, a mere three months after its great victory in the south, reflected concessions made to Syria.

Hezbollah guerrilla
Hezbollah's official status in Lebanon is still marginal
Damascus' most loyal lieutenant in Lebanon is House Speaker Nabih Berri, head of the Amal Movement, Hezbollah's rival in the Shia community, and inveterate source of civil service jobs to his clients.

Forced to work with Berri in the last elections, Hezbollah was effectively prevented from modulating government policy for the good of its constituency.

Its regional and military role was thus rendered all the more important to maintaining its status in the Shia community.

This predicament, and thus the resistance, is unlikely to fade in the near future.

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