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Last Updated: Monday, 20 August 2007, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Hezbollah defiant a year after war
By Andrew North
BBC News, Beirut

Hezbollah' supporters hold a picture of leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah on first anniversary of Lebanon war
Hezbollah supporters are still in triumphant mood
What is Hezbollah up to one year on from its war with Israel?

It is a question many are asking both inside and outside Lebanon.

Even more so after its leader Hassan Nasrallah promised Israel was in for a "big surprise" if it attacked again - one which would change the course of any war and the whole Middle East.

Newspapers have been asking if Hezbollah now has new anti-aircraft weaponry to shoot down Israel's warplanes - or even if it has acquired some kind of chemical weapons capability from its two main sponsors - Syria and Iran.

Or is Mr Nasrallah's "big surprise" just bluster?

Given his past record for doing what he says, and following Hezbollah's success in resisting the might of Israel's US-backed forces in last year's fighting - forging its reputation as perhaps the most effective guerrilla army in the world - few would argue that.

The Israelis are certainly taking notice. "Nasrallah has never lied," said Israeli cabinet minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. "He is cocky, he is arrogant, but at least from our experience with him, to my regret, what he has said, he has done."

In its heartlands in southern Lebanon, there is mounting evidence Hezbollah is preparing for another conflict - despite the presence of a beefed up UN peacekeeping force and the Lebanese army.

A senior Hezbollah official told the BBC the group expects another war with Israel in the next year or so.

Home front

A man rebuilds his house in the village of Frun, 75km (47 miles) southeast of Beirut - 13/08/2007
Rebuilding Lebanon's infrastructure is a long-term task
But if Hezbollah is re-equipping and updating its arsenal, on the other side of the border, there is no doubt Israel is doing the same and re-training its forces - to be paid for with the billions of dollars of new military aid the US has recently promised. Both justify their actions by the other.

But since Israel ended its occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah has had a harder job arguing that it needs to maintain an independent guerrilla army.

It now points to the continued Israeli control of a small slice of disputed Lebanese territory known as the Shebaa farms - although the UN view is that it is part of Syria

But even if Israel did pull out of this area, few believe Hezbollah would disarm.

The movement is also under pressure on the home front.

Although it won praise among many Lebanese outside its core Shia constituency during last year's war, that view was not universal.

Hezbollah took some of the blame for provoking Israel's destructive bombing with its 12 July raid in which two Israeli soldiers were snatched - both of whom are still in captivity.

Those divisions in Lebanon have festered and grown since Hezbollah's decision last December to move against the government.

The old criticism that it is operating as a "state within a state" is being heard more loudly now.

Nine months on, Beirut's city centre is still paralysed by the continuing sit-in by its supporters in the main square. But it has not worked as planned.

"Hezbollah's bold challenge to the Lebanese government in which it once served has elicited a firm counter-reaction of political resistance commensurate with Hezbollah's military resistance to Israeli aggression," says commentator Rami Khouri.

Barricaded

The result, though, has been stalemate, accentuating Lebanon's political crisis - a crisis on display in Beirut's city centre every day.

Map
On one side, filling the main square, are the tents put up by the Hezbollah-led demonstrators - with only a handful of people actually there most of the time.

On the other, government officials look down from the prime minister's palatial Ottoman-era building, powerless to intervene and besieged behind a mini-Green Zone of barbed wire and concrete, guarded by Lebanese troops, because of the added threat of attacks on anti-Syrian politicians.

While government officials applaud Hezbollah's past actions against Israel - both last year, and in pushing it out of southern Lebanon in 2000 - they say continuing its armed struggle is putting the country's future at risk.

"We don't want to have Israeli tanks running in again every few years", says one official.

Better to negotiate the issue of the Shebaa farms diplomatically through the United Nations, he says.

But the bigger question officials say is who is deciding Lebanon's security policy - the government, or Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian backers.



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