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Why Hizbollah is More Than a Proxy

Author: Mohamad Bazzi, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
October 19, 2010
The National


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's state visit to Lebanon last week created a media circus and stirred new debate over the relationship of the Iranian regime to Hizbollah, Lebanon's dominant Shiite militia and political party. Mr Ahmadinejad's visit "suggests that Hizbollah values its allegiance to Iran over its allegiance to Lebanon", the White House spokesman Robert Gibbs declared last week.

Mr Gibbs's analysis is part of an effort by the US administration, along with some Arab and Lebanese critics of Hizbollah, to portray the Party of God as primarily an Iranian proxy. While Hizbollah has indeed become more reliant on Iran in recent years, it is a mistake for western and Arab policymakers to think that they can undermine the movement's base of support by casting doubt on its Arab or Lebanese identity. This approach also reflects a misunderstanding of Shiite history in Lebanon and why that community has grown so dependent on Hizbollah.

There is a long tradition of the Lebanese state leaving Shiites to fend for themselves and waiting for religious or charitable groups to fill the vacuum. This happened over decades, long before Hizbollah emerged in the early 1980s. Hizbollah's "state within a state" was possible because successive governments left a void in the Shiite-dominated areas of southern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley and the southern suburbs of Beirut. Hizbollah did what any effective political movement would do: it created a dependency and social service network that guaranteed its dominance.

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