A Reporter At Large: In The Party Of God (Part I)
Are terrorists in Lebanon preparing for a larger war?
By Jeffrey Goldberg
The New Yorker, October 14, 2002
[Read this article at The New Yorker’s website]
The village of Ras al-Ein, which is situated in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, falls under the overlapping control of the Syrian Army, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, or Party of God. The village is seedy and brown, and is decorated with posters of martyrs and potentates-Ayatollah Khomeini is especially popular-and with billboards that celebrate bloodshed and sacrifice.
I visited Ras al-Ein this summer to interview the leader of a Hezbollah faction, a man named Hussayn al-Mussawi, who, twenty years ago, was involved in kidnapping Americans. Many of those kidnapped were held in Ras al-Ein; they were kept blindfolded, and chained to beds and radiators. It is thought that Ras al-Ein is where William Buckley, the Beirut station chief of the Central Intelligence Agency, was held for a time before he was killed by Hezbollah, in 1985.
When I arrived, it was midday; the air was still and the heat smothering, and the streets were mostly empty. A man was selling ice cream in a park at the center of town. Slides and swing sets, their paint peeling, dot the park; in the middle is a pond covered by a skin of algae. Several women and children were there. The women wore gray chadors, and their heads were covered by scarves, pinned high and tight under the left ear, so that no strand of hair could escape.
Like the rest of the town, the park was crowded with ferocious Hezbollah art. One poster showed an American flag whose field of stars had been replaced by a single Star of David. Another portrayed the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim shrine in Jerusalem, cupped in the bony hand of a figure with a grotesquely hooked nose. A third poster, extolling the bravery of Shiite martyrs, showed a Muslim fighter standing on a pile of dead soldiers whose uniforms were marked with Stars of David. The yellow flag of Hezbollah could be seen everywhere; across the top is a quotation from the Koran, from which Hezbollah took its name-“Verily the party of God shall be victorious”-and at the center is an AK-47 in silhouette, in the hand of the Shiite martyr Husayn, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. In the background is a depiction of the globe, suggesting Hezbollah’s role in the worldwide umma, or community of Muslims. Along the bottom of the Hezbollah flag is written “The Islamic Revolution in Lebanon.” I did not see the red-green-and-white flag of Lebanon anywhere in Ras al-Ein.
I had taken a taxi from Ashrafieh, the prosperous Christian neighborhood in Beirut, to Ras al-Ein, a two-hour trip over potholed roads and through a modest number of roadblocks. The soft Mediterranean air soon gave way to the dry-bones heat of the Bekaa. The taxi-driver, an elderly Christian, had been hesitant about the trip (Lebanon’s Christian minority is fearful of Shiite gunmen), but he smoothly negotiated the passage through two Syrian Army checkpoints. At one, a sergeant of about thirty, who carried a side arm and wore a round helmet covered in black mesh, inspected my American passport, handed it back to me, and said, enigmatically, “Osama bin Laden.”
We had by then reached the outskirts of Baalbek, the main Bekaa town. Baalbek is famous for three well-preserved Roman temples, of Jupiter, Venus, and Bacchus. (A statue of Hafez al-Assad, the late dictator of Syria and the father of the current dictator, stands at the entrance to the town.) The temples, which are enormous-the two main temples are larger than the Parthenon- are the site of an annual international cultural festival that draws the elite of Beirut, and Lebanese officials like to point to it as proof of Lebanon’s normalcy. This year, the festival featured a performance of Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance.” Ras al-Ein is a couple of miles from the temples, and we soon arrived at the Nawras Restaurant, next to the park, where I was to meet Mussawi. I sat at a table outside, with a view of the street. Two men nearby were smoking hookahs. I ordered a Pepsi and waited.
Shiism arose as a protest movement, whose followers believed that Islam should be ruled by descendants of the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin Ali, and not by the caliphs who seized control after the Prophet’s death. The roots of Shiite anger lie in the martyrdom of Ali’s son Husayn, who died in battle against the Caliph Yezid in what is today southern Iraq. (I have heard both Shiites from southern Iraq and Iranian Shiites refer to their enemy Saddam Hussein as a modern-day Yezid.) At times, Shiism has been a quietist movement; Shiites built houses of mourn-ing and study, called Husaynias, where they recalled the glory of Husayn’s martyrdom.
In Lebanon in the nineteen-sixties, the Shiites began to be drawn to the outside world. Some joined revolutionary Palestinian movements; others fell into the orbit of a populist cleric, Musa Sadr, who founded a group called the Movement of the Deprived and, later, the Shiite Amal militia. Hezbollah was formed, in 1982, by a group of young, dispossessed Shiites who coalesced around a cleric and poet named Muhammad Hussayn Fadlallah. They were impelled by a number of disparate forces, including the oppression of their community in Lebanon by the country’s Sunni and Christian elites, and the rapture they felt in 1979 as Iran came under the power of “pure” Islam. A crucial event, though, was Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June of 1982.
Fatah, which is part of the Palestine Liberation Organization, had been firing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon, where it had its main base, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, on the advice of his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, ordered Israeli forces into Lebanon. The stated purpose was to conquer what had come to be known as Fatahland, the strip of South Lebanon under Yasir Arafat’s control, and to evict the P.L.O.’s forces. Sharon, though, had grander designs: to secure a friendly Christian government in Beirut and to destroy the P.L.O. It was not so much the invasion that inspired the Shiites, who were happy to see the South free of Arafat and Fatah. The Shiites took up arms when they realized that Sharon, like Arafat, had no intention of leaving Lebanon.
Hezbollah, with bases in the Bekaa and in Beirut’s southern suburbs, quickly became the most successful terrorist organization in modern history. It has served as a role model for terror groups around the world; Magnus Ranstorp, the director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, says that Al Qaeda learned the value of choreographed violence from Hezbollah. The organization virtually invented the multipronged terror attack when, early on the morning of October 23, 1983, it synchronized the suicide bombings, in Beirut, of the United States Marine barracks and an apartment building housing a contingent of French peacekeepers. Those attacks occurred just twenty seconds apart; a third part of the plan, to destroy the compound of the Italian peacekeeping contingent, is said to have been jettisoned when the planners learned that the Italians were sleeping in tents, not in a high-rise building.
Until September 11th of last year, Hezbollah had murdered more Americans than any other terrorist group-two hundred and forty-one in the Marine-barracks attack alone. Through terror tactics, Hezbollah forced the American and French governments to withdraw their peacekeeping forces from Lebanon. And, two years ago, it became the first military force, guerrilla or otherwise, to drive Israel out of Arab territory when Prime Minister Ehud Barak withdrew his forces from South Lebanon.
Using various names, including the Islamic Jihad Organization and the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, Hezbollah remained underground until 1985, when it published a manifesto condemning the West, and proclaiming, “Every one of us is a fighting soldier when a call for jihad arises and each one of us carries out his mission in battle on the basis of his legal obligations. For Allah is behind us supporting and protecting us while instilling fear in the hearts of our enemies.”
Another phase began in earnest in 1991, when, at the close of Lebanon’s sixteen-year civil war, the country’s many militias agreed to disarm. Nominally, Lebanon is governed from Beirut by an administration whose senior portfolios have been carefully divided among the country’s various religious factions-Maronite and Greek Orthodox Christians, Sunnis and Shiites and Druze. But in fact Lebanon is under the control of Syria; and the Syrians, with encouragement from Iran, have allowed Hezbollah to maintain its arsenal, and even to expand it, in the interest of fighting Israel as Syria’s proxy. The Syrians also allowed Hezbollah to control the Shiite ghettos of southern Beirut, much of the Bekaa Valley, and most of South Lebanon, along the border with Israel.
Hezbollah’s current leader, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, is as important a figure in Lebanon as the country’s ruling politicians and the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah officials run for office in Lebanon and win-the group now holds eleven seats in the hundred-and-twenty-eight-seat Lebanese parliament. But within Hezbollah there is little pretense of fealty to the President of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud, who is a Christian, and certainly none to the prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, who is a Sunni Muslim. The only portraits one sees in Hezbollah offices are of Khomeini and of Ayatollah Khamenei, the current ruler of Iran.
Hezbollah has an annual budget of more than a hundred million dollars, which is supplied by the Iranian government directly and by a complex system of finance cells scattered around the world, from Bangkok and Paraguay to Michigan and North Carolina. Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah operates successfully in public spheres that are closed off to most terrorist groups. It runs a vast and effective social-services network. It publishes newspapers and magazines and owns a satellite television station that is said to be watched by ten million people a day in the Middle East and Europe. The station, called al Manar, or the Lighthouse, broadcasts anti-American programming, but its main purpose is to encourage Palestinians to become suicide bombers.
Along with this public work, Hez bollah continues to increase its terrorist and guerrilla capabilities. Magnus Ranstorp says that Hezbollah can be active on four tracks simultaneously-the political, the social, the guerrilla, and the terrorist-because its leaders are “masters of long-term strategic subversion.” The organization’s Special Security Apparatus operates in Europe, North and South America, and East Asia. According to both American and Israeli intelligence officials, the group maintains floating “day camps” for terrorist training throughout the Bekaa Valley; many of the camps are said to be just outside Baalbek. In some of them, the instructors are supplied by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence. In the past twenty years, terrorists from such disparate organizations as the Basque separatist group ETA, the Red Brigades, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and the Irish Republican Army have been trained in these camps.
A main focus today appears to be the training of specifically anti-Israel militants in the science of constructing so-called “mega-bombs,” devices that can bring down office towers and other large structures. The explosion of a mega-bomb is the sort of event that could lead to a major Middle East war. In fact, such attacks have been tried: in April, a plot to bomb the Azrieli Towers, two of Tel Aviv’s tallest buildings, was foiled by Israeli security services; in May, a bomb exploded beneath a tanker truck at a fuel depot near Tel Aviv, but did not set off a larger explosion, as planned. Had these operations been successful, hundreds, if not thousands, of Israelis would have died. Salah Shehada, a Hamas leader in Gaza, is said by Israel to have been planning a coordinated attack on five buildings in Tel Aviv. (In July, an Israeli warplane dropped a one-ton bomb on the building where Shehada lived; he was killed, along with at least fourteen others, including nine children.)
Gal Luft, an Israeli reserve lieutenant colonel and an expert on counterterrorism, told me that Hezbollah’s role in these plans is unknown. “Hezbollah has experience with bulk explosives,” Luft said. “You can make the case that the Hezbollah provides inspiration and advice and technical support, but I wouldn’t rule out its own cells trying this.” Luft said that it is only a matter of time before a “mega-attack” succeeds.
Hezbollah agents have infiltrated the West Bank and Gaza, and Arab communities inside Israel, helping Hamas and Islamic Jihad and attempting to set up their own cells; many Palestinians revere Hezbollah for achieving in South Lebanon what the Palestinians have failed to achieve in the occupied territories. In the past year, Hezbollah has also been stockpiling rockets for potential use against Israel. These rockets, most of which are from Iran, are said to be moved by truck from Syria, through the Bekaa Valley, and then on to Hezbollah forces in South Lebanon.
Hezbollah has not been suspected of overt anti-American actions since 1996, when the Khobar Towers, in Saudi Arabia, were attacked, but, according to intelligence officials, its operatives, with the help and cover of Iranian diplomats, have been making surveillance tapes of American diplomatic installations in South America, Southeast Asia, and Europe. These tapes, along with maps and other tools, are said to be kept in well-organized clandestine libraries.
In recent days, top American officials have suggested that Hezbollah-and its state sponsors-may soon find themselves targeted in the Bush administration’s war on terror. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage recently called Hezbollah the “A-team” of terrorism and Al Qaeda the “B-team.” The C.I.A. has lost at least seven officers to Hezbollah terrorism, including William Buckley. Sam Wyman, a retired C.I.A. official, who recommended Buckley for the job in Beirut, told me that “those who work the terrorism problem writ large, and those who are working the Hezbollah problem writ small, know that this is an account that has not been closed.” The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Bob Graham, of Florida, says he wants the Administration’s war on terrorism to focus not on Iraq but on Hezbollah, its Bekaa Valley camps, and its state sponsors in Iran and Syria. “We should tell the Syrians that we expect them to shut down the Bekaa Valley camps within x number of days, and, if they don’t, we are reserving the right to shut them down ourselves,” Graham said last month.
After drinking a third Pepsi, I watched a Land Cruiser pull up to the restaurant and deliver a stiff and unhappy-looking man with a well-kept beard. The man sat down silently across from me. Three men, one of whom wore a leather jacket, despite the terrific heat, stood quietly by the Land Cruiser.
The bearded man was not Hussayn al-Mussawi, whom I had hoped to meet. He said that his name was Muhammad, that he was an aide to Mussawi, and that he had been sent to assess my intentions. I was here, I said, to examine the claim that Hezbollah had transformed itself into a mainstream Lebanese political party.
I said that I also wanted to gauge the group’s feelings about America, and look for any sign that its implacable opposition to the existence of Israel had changed.
“Are you going to ask about past events?” Muhammad asked. I indicated that I would.
When he pressed me further, I admitted that I was curious about one person in particular, a Hezbollah security operative named Imad Mugniyah. Mugniyah, who began his career in the nineteen-seventies in Arafat’s bodyguard unit, is the man whom the United States holds responsible for most of Hezbollah’s anti-American attacks, including the Marine-barracks bombing and the 1985 hijacking of a T.W.A. flight, during which a U.S. Navy diver was executed. He is also suspected of involvement in the attack on the Khobar Towers, in which nineteen American servicemen were killed.
Last year, the U.S. government placed Mugniyah on the list of its twenty-two most wanted terrorists, along with two of his colleagues, Ali Atwa and Hassan Izz-al-Din. (Atwa and Izz-al-Din are wanted specifically in connection with the hijacking of the T.W.A. flight in 1985.) The very mention of Mugniyah’s name is a sensitive issue in Lebanon and Syria, which have refused to carry out repeated American requests-one was delivered recently by Senator Graham-to shut down Hezbollah’s security apparatus, and assist in the capture of Mugniyah. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hariri became agitated when, in a conversation this summer, I asked why his government has refused to help find Mugniyah and his accomplices. “They’re not here! They’re not here!” Hariri said. “I’ve told the Americans a hundred times, they’re not here!”
Seated in the Nawras Restaurant in Ras al-Ein, across from a man who called himself Muhammad, I said yes, Imad Mugniyah would figure in my story. At that, Muhammad rose, looked at me dismissively, and left the restaurant without a word.
The chief spokesman for Hezbollah is a narrow-shouldered, self-contained man of about forty named Hassan Ezzeddin, who dresses in the style of an Iranian diplomat: trim beard, dark jacket, white shirt, no tie. His office is on a low floor of an apartment building in the southern suburbs of Beirut, which are called the Dahiya. Hezbollah has five main offices there, and all are in apartment buildings, which helps to create a shield between the bureaucracy and Israeli fighter jets and bombers that periodically fly overhead. The shabby offices are sparsely furnished; apparently, the idea is to be able to dismantle them in half an hour or less, in case of an Israeli attack.
The eight members of Hezbollah’s ruling council are said to meet in the Dahiya once a week. Lebanese police officers are stationed at a handful of intersections, but they don’t stray from their posts. The buildings housing Hezbollah’s offices are protected by gunmen dressed in black, and plainclothes Hezbollah agents patrol the streets. Once, while walking to an appointment, I took out a disposable camera and began to take pictures of posters celebrating the deaths of Hezbollah “martyrs.” Within thirty seconds, two Hezbollah men confronted me. They ordered me to put my camera away and then followed me to my meeting.
The Shiite stronghold in the southern suburbs of the city is only a twenty-minute drive from the Virgin Mega-store in downtown Beirut, but it might as well be part of Tehran. Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei stare down from the walls, and the Western fashions ubiquitous in East Beirut are forbidden; many women wear the full chador. The suburbs are the most densely packed of Beirut’s neighborhoods, with seven- and eight-story apartment buildings, many of them jerry-built, jammed against one another along congested streets and narrow alleys. The main businesses in the Dahiya are believed to be chop shops, where stolen automobiles and computers are taken apart and sold.
I was introduced to Ezzeddin by Hussain Naboulsi, and he translated our conversation. Naboulsi is in charge of Hezbollah’s Web site. He spent some time in America, and incorporates American slang unself-consciously into his speech. He is young and gregarious, but he grew evasive when the subject of his background came up. “We lived in Brooklyn, and I was going to go to the University of Texas, but then we moved to Canada… .” He trailed off.
Ezzeddin said that anti-Americanism is no longer the focus of his party’s actions. Hezbollah, he said, holds no brief against the American people; it is opposed only to the policies of the American government, principally its “unlimited” support for Israel. Like all Hezbollah’s public figures, Ezzeddin is proud of the victory over Israel in South Lebanon, two years ago, and he spoke at length about the reasons for Hezbollah’s success. He quoted a statement of Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, made shortly after the Israeli withdrawal: “I tell you: this ‘Israel’ that owns nuclear weapons and the strongest air force in this region is more fragile than a spiderweb.” Ezzeddin explained that Ehud Barak pulled out his troops because the soldiers-and their mothers-feared death. This isn’t true for Muslims, he said. “Life doesn’t end when you die. To us, there is real life after death. Reaching the afterlife is the goal of life. Once you have in mind the goal of dying, you stop fearing the Jews.”
After Israel withdrew from south ern Lebanon, many experts on the Middle East assumed that Hezbollah would focus on social services and on domestic politics, in order to bring about a peaceful transformation of Lebanon into an Islamic republic. Even before the Israeli pullout, a leading scholar of Hezbollah, Augustus Richard Norton, of Boston University, wrote a paper entitled “Hezbollah: From Radicalism to Pragmatism?” In his paper, Norton said that in discussions with Hezbollah officials he had got the impression that the group “has no appetite to launch a military campaign across the Israeli border, should Israel withdraw from the South.”
But Hezbollah is, at its core, a jihadist organization, and its leaders have never tried to disguise their ultimate goal: building an Islamic republic in Lebanon and liberating Jerusalem from the Jews. Immediately after the withdrawal, Hezbollah announced that Israel was still occupying a tiny slice of Lebanese land called Shebaa Farms. The United Nations ruled that Shebaa Farms was not part of Lebanon but belonged to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and thus was a matter for Israeli-Syrian negotiations. Hezbollah disagreed, and, with Syria’s acquiescence, has continued to launch frequent attacks on Israeli outposts in Shebaa.
Ezzeddin seemed to concede that the Hezbollah campaign to rid Shebaa of Israeli troops is a pretext for something larger. “If they go from Shebaa, we will not stop fighting them,” he told me. “Our goal is to liberate the 1948 borders of Palestine,” he added, referring to the year of Israel’s founding. The Jews who survive this war of liberation, Ezzeddin said, “can go back to Germany, or wherever they came from.” He added, however, that the Jews who lived in Palestine before 1948 will be “allowed to live as a minority and they will be cared for by the Muslim majority.” Sayyid Nasrallah himself told a conference held in Tehran last year that “we all have an extraordinary historic opportunity to finish off the entire cancerous Zionist project.”
The balance of forces on Israel’s northern border suggests that Hezbollah’s ambitions are unrealizable. Its fighters number in the low thousands, at most; the Israeli Air Force is among the most powerful in the world. But the pullout from Lebanon heightened Hezbollah’s self-regard, its contempt for Jews, and its desire for total victory. “Everyone told us, ‘You’re crazy, what are you doing, you can’t defeat Israel,’ ” Ezzeddin said. “But we have shown that the Jews are not invincible. We dealt the Jews a serious blow, and we will continue to deal the Jews serious blows.”
The withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, after eighteen years, closed a disastrous chapter in Israeli military history. The conflict destroyed the government of Menachem Begin, and Begin himself; he lived out his final days as a recluse. An Israeli commission held Ariel Sharon, his defense minister, “indirectly responsible” for the massacre by pro-Israeli Christian militiamen of approximately eight hundred Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, in Beirut, in 1982. The Lebanon invasion seemed to have ended Sharon’s career. By the time the troops left, more than nine hundred Israeli soldiers had been killed in Lebanon. The withdrawal was badly managed and chaotic. The Army abandoned equipment, and also deserted its Christian allies, a militia called the South Lebanon Army.
In one of the Israeli Army’s final acts, sappers tried to bring down the twelfth-century Beaufort Castle, a fortress that sits high over the upper Galilee. The castle had served as a platform for P.L.O. rocket attacks on Israeli towns and farms before Sharon’s invasion, and, in the final days of the occupation, the Army was hoping to deny the Palestinians the shelter of its battlements. The Israelis succeeded only in part. The walls did not crumble, and the Hezbollah flag now flies from the highest tower.
I visited Beaufort on a brilliantly hot day this summer, and the only people around were a handful of Hezbollah fighters, a group of Beirutis on a day-long excursion through the South, and two Iranian tourists, with cheap cameras hanging from their necks. One of the Hezbollah guerrillas, a pimply man in his early twenties named Na’im, showed me around. We picked our way across half-collapsed battlements, among thorn bushes and patches of purple and yellow wildflowers, to the remains of the outer rampart, which overlooks a steep drop to the floor of the Litani River valley. Na’im wore bluejeans and a redand-green plaid shirt. He carried a rifle, which he used as a walking stick. He told me that the castle dated back to the Islamic conquest of the Holy Land. In fact, Beaufort was built by the Crusaders, but in Na’im’s version the castle began as a Muslim fortress. “Saladin used this to defeat the Crusaders,” he said, in a rehearsed manner. “Hezbollah will use it to defeat the Jews.”
From where we stood, we had a clear view into the Israeli town of Metulla, with its red-roofed, whitewashed houses, small hotels, and orchards. “The Jews are sons of pigs and apes,” Na’im said. We walked down the crumbling rampart, past a dry cistern, and up a ridge to the high tower, where the Hezbollah flag waved in the wind.
From Beaufort, I headed to the village of Kfar Kila, and the border, where the Fatima Gate is situated. During the occupation, Israel called it the Good Fence; it was the entrance to Metulla for Lebanese workers. The Good Fence has been sealed, and is now famous as the place where Palestinians and Lebanese throw rocks at Israeli soldiers.
I saw, on my drive down, the digging of what appeared to be anti-tank trenches, but, though the South may be a future battlefield, it is also a museum of past glory. Of the four or five main Islamic fundamentalist terror organizations in the Middle East, Hezbollah has by far the most sophisticated public-relations operation, and it has turned the South into an open-air celebration of its success against Israel. The experience of driving there is similar in some ways to driving through Gettysburg, or Antietam; roadside signs and billboards describe in great detail the battles and unit formations associated with a particular place. One multicolored sign, in both Arabic and English, reads:
On Oct. 19, 1988 at 1:25 p.m. a martyr car that was body trapped with 500 kilogram of highly exploding materials transformed two Israeli troops into masses of fire and limbs, in one of the severe kicks that the Israeli army had received in Lebanon.
Most of the signs place the word “Israel” in quotation marks, to underscore the country’s illegitimacy, and every sign includes a fact box: the number of “Israelis” killed and wounded at the location, and the “Date of Ignominious Departure” of “Israeli” forces. The historical markers also carry quotations from Israeli leaders praising the fighting abilities of Hezbollah’s martyrs. One sign reads, “Zionists comments: ‘Hezbollah’s secret weapon is their self-innovation and their ability to produce bombs that are simple but effective.’ ” The attribution beneath the quote is “Former ‘Israeli’ Prime Minister Ihud Barak.”
According to Israeli security sources, the Israelis have never been able to infiltrate Hezbollah as they have the P.L.O. One intelligence official told me that Hezbollah leaders have so far been immune to the three inducements that often lure Palestinians to the Israeli side. In Hebrew, they are called the three “K”s: kesef, or money; kavod, respect; and kussit, a crude sexual term for a woman.
The centerpiece of Hezbollah’s propaganda effort in the South is the former Al-Khiam prison, a rambling stone-and-concrete complex of interconnected buildings, a few miles from the border, where I stopped on the way to Kfar Kila. For fifteen years, the prison was run by Israel’s proxy force in Lebanon, the South Lebanon Army, with the assistance of the Shabak, the Israeli equivalent of the F.B.I. Prisoners in Al-Khiam-which held almost two hundred at any given time-were allegedly subjected to electric-shock torture and a variety of deprivations. The jail has been preserved just as it was on the day the Israelis left. There are still Israeli Army-issue sleeping bags in the cells. Hezbollah has added a gift shop, which sells Hezbollah key chains and flags and cassettes of martial Hezbollah music; a cafeteria; and signs on the walls of various rooms that describe, in Hezbollah’s terms, the use of the rooms. “A Room for Investigation and Torturing by Electricity,” reads one. “A Room for the Boss of Whippers.” “A Room for Investigation with the Help of the Traitors.” And “The Hall of Torturing-Burying-Kicking-Beating-Applying Electricity-Pouring Hot Water-Placing a Dog Beside.” A busload of tourists, residents of a Palestinian refugee camp outside Beirut, were clearly in awe of the place, treating the cells as if they were reliquaries and congratulating the Hezbollah employees.
Like me, the tourists were headed for the border at Kfar Kila, where one can walk right up to the electrified fence, and where Israeli cameras feed real-time pictures to a series of fortified observation stations just south of the line. An Israeli bunker sits about fifty feet in from the fence-one man told me that the Israeli soldiers never show their faces-and the Palestinians took turns taking pictures and yelling curses. I drove a short distance to a Hezbollah position that faces a massive concrete Israeli fortress called Tziporen. The tour bus, headed for the same place, stopped on the way at an overlook, and the Palestinians got out. On the Israeli side, on a track that ran parallel to the Lebanese road, was a Humvee and three Israeli soldiers. They were protecting a group of workers who were repairing a section of the road. The Israelis were no more than forty feet away, on the lower part of the slope. The experience for the Palestinians-and for a group of Kuwaitis who arrived by car-was something like a grizzly sighting in a national park. “Yahud!” one Kuwaiti said, dumbfounded. “Jews!” His friends produced video cameras and began filming. The Israeli soldiers waved; the Arabs did not. A few began cursing the soldiers and, once it was decided that the workers were Israeli Arabs, cursed them, too. “Ana bidi’ani kak!” one Palestinian yelled at the soldiers-“I want to fuck you up.” “Jasus”-“spy”-another called out. An argument broke out on the ridge, and the Palestinians decided that it was not right to curse the Arab workers, who were only earning a living in oppressive circumstances. Apologies were offered, and what was by now a cavalcade moved forward, to the Hezbollah position opposite the Israeli fortress.
Tziporen, the fortress, overlooks the mausoleum of a Jewish sage named Rav Ashi, who was the redactor of the Babylonian Talmud, and who died in 427. The modest mausoleum sits half in Lebanon and half in Israel. Barbed wire runs atop it, and, with the help of a southerly breeze, the Hezbollah flag planted on the Lebanese side of the mausoleum flapped into Israel. The fighters at the Hezbollah position warned us not to get too close to the fence; the Israelis might fire. Rock throwing from a comfortable distance was encouraged, and the Palestinians aimed for the roof of the fort. On weekends, when the crowds are thicker, villagers drive in tractors full of rocks to supply the tourists.
Because it was too risky to approach the fence, it was impossible to read a large billboard planted three feet north of the line. It faced south into Israel, carrying what was obviously a message for the Israelis alone. The border is, of course, sealed, so it was a month before I got a clear look at the billboard. It read, in Hebrew, “Sharon-Don’t Forget Your Soldiers Are Still in Lebanon.” The message was written under a photograph of a Hezbollah guerrilla holding, by the hair, the severed head of an Israeli commando.
III—The Suicide Channel
The true propaganda engine of Hezbollah is the Al Manar satellite television station. Unlike most of Hezbollah’s public offices, the studios of Al Manar are not shoddily built or cheaply decorated. The station’s five-story headquarters building in the Dahiya, at the end of a short side street, is surrounded by taller apartment buildings. Guards carrying rifles patrol its perimeter, but, inside, Al Manar has a corporate atmosphere. The lobby is glass and marble, and behind the reception desk a pleasant young man answers the telephone. He sits beneath a portrait of Abbas al-Mussawi, the previous Hezbollah leader, who was assassinated ten years ago by Israel. At the reception desk, women whose dress is deemed immodest can borrow a chador.
Al Manar’s news director is Hassan Fadlallah, who is in his early thirties and is a member of the same clan as Muhammad Hussayn Fadlallah, the Hezbollah spiritual leader. Fadlallah, a studious-looking man who had several days’ stubble on his face, is working on a Ph.D. in education. He apologized for his poor English. A waiter brought us orange juice and tea.
I began by asking him to compare Al Manar and the most famous Arabic satellite channel, Al Jazeera. “Neutrality like that of Al Jazeera is out of the question for us,” Fadlallah said. “We cover only the victim, not the aggressor. CNN is the Zionist news network, Al Jazeera is neutral, and Al Manar takes the side of the Palestinians.”
Fadlallah paused for a moment, and said he would like to amend his comment on CNN. “We were very happy with Ted Turner,” he said. “We were so happy that he was getting closer to the truth.” He was referring to recent comments by Turner, the founder of CNN, who talked about suicide bombers and the Israeli Army and then said, “So who are the terrorists? I would make a case that both sides are involved in terrorism.” Turner was criticized harshly in the American press and by supporters of Israel, and later said that he regretted “any implication that I believe the actions taken by Israel to protect its people are equal to terrorism.” Fadlallah claimed that Turner revised his statement because “the Jews threatened his life.” He said Al Manar’s opposition to neutrality means that, unlike Al Jazeera, his station would never feature interviews or comments by Israeli officials. “We’re not looking to interview Sharon,” Fadlallah said. “We want to get close to him in order to kill him.”
Al Manar would not rule out broadcasting comments from non-Israeli Jews. “There would be one or two we would put on our shows. For example, we would like to have Noam Chomsky.” Fadlallah suggested, half jokingly, that I appear on a question-and-answer show. (Later, another Al Manar official suggested that I answer questions about what he termed “the true meaning of the Talmud.”)
Fadlallah said that one of Al Manar’s goals is to set in context the role of Jews in world affairs. Anti-Semitism, he said, was banned from the station, but he was considering a program on “scholars who dissent on the issue of the Holocaust,” which would include the work of the French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy. “There are contradictions,” Fadlallah said. “Many Europeans believe that the Holocaust was a myth invented so that the Jews could get compensation. Everyone knows how the Jews punish people who seek the truth about the Holocaust.”
It would be a mistake, Fadlallah went on, to focus solely on Al Manar’s antiIsrael programs. “We have news programming, kids’ shows, game shows, political news, and culture.” At the same time, he said, Al Manar is “trying to keep the people in the mood of suffering,” and most of the station’s daily schedule, including its game shows and children’s programming, tends to center on Israel. A program called “The Spider’s House” explores what Hezbollah sees as Israel’s weaknesses; “In Spite of the Wounds” portrays as heroes men who were wounded fighting Israel in South Lebanon. On a game show entitled “The Viewer Is the Witness,” contestants guess the names of prominent Israeli politicians and military figures, who are played by Lebanese actors. Al Manar also has a weekly program called “Terrorists.”
Avi Jorisch, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank, who is writing a book about Al Manar, has visited the station and watched several hundred hours of its programming. The show “Terrorists,” he told me, airs vintage footage of what it terms “Zionist crimes,” which include, by Hezbollah’s definition, any Israeli action, offensive or defensive. According to Jorisch, Al Manar, with its estimated ten million viewers, is not as popular in the Arab world as Al Jazeera, although he noted that Arab viewership is not audited. He said that his Lebanese sources credit Al Manar as the second most popular station among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. (Al Manar can be received in the United States via satellite.)
Al Manar regularly airs raw footage of violence in the occupied territories, and it will break into its programming with what one Al Manar official called “patriotic music videos” to announce Palestinian attacks and applaud the killing of Israelis. When I visited the station, the videos were being produced in a basement editing room by a young man named Firas Mansour. Al Manar has modern equipment, and the day I was there Mansour, who was in charge of mixing the videos, was working on a Windows-based editing suite. Mansour is in his late twenties, and he was dressed in hip-hop style. His hair was gelled, and he wore a gold chain, a heavy silver bracelet, and a goatee. He spoke colloquial American English. I asked him where he learned it. “Boston,” he said.
Mansour showed me some recent footage from the West Bank, of Israeli soldiers firing on Palestinians. Accompanying the video was a Hezbollah fighting song. “What I’m doing is synchronizing the gunshots to form the downbeat of the song,” he told me. “This is my technique. I thought of it.” He had come up with a title: “I’m going to call it ‘Death to Israel.’ ” Mansour said that he can produce two or three videos on a good day. “What I do is, first, I try to feel the music. Then I find the pictures to go along with it.” He pulled up another video, this one almost ready to air. “Try and see if you could figure out the theme of this one,” he said.
The video began with Israeli soldiers firing on Palestinians. Then the screen filled with pictures of Palestinians carrying the wounded to ambulances, followed by an angry funeral scene. Suddenly, the scene shifted to Israelis under fire. An Israeli soldier was on the ground, rocking back and forth, next to a burning jeep; this was followed by scenes of Jewish funerals, with coffins draped in the Israeli flag being lowered into graves.
Mansour pressed a button, and the images disappeared from the screen. “The idea is that even if the Jews are killing us we can still kill them. That we derive our power from blood. It’s saying, ‘Get ready to blow yourselves up, because this is the only way to liberate Palestine.’ ” The video, he said, would be shown after the next attack in Israel. He said he was thinking of calling it “We Will Kill All the Jews.” I suggested that these videos would encourage the recruitment of suicide bombers among the Palestinians. “Exactly,” he replied.
The anti-Semitism of the Middle East groups that oppose Israel’s right to exist often seems instrumental-anti-Jewish stereotypes are another weapon in the anti-Israeli armamentarium. The rhetoric is repellent, but in the past it did not quite touch the malignancy of genocidal anti-Semitism. The language has changed, however. In April, in a sermon delivered in the Gaza Strip, Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi, a Palestinian Authority imam, said, “Oh, Allah, accept our martyrs in the highest Heaven. Oh, Allah, show the Jews a black day. Oh, Allah, annihilate the Jews and their supporters.” (The translation was made by the Middle East Media Research Institute.) In Saudi Arabia, where anti-Semitism permeates the newspapers and the mosques, the imam of the Al Harram mosque in Mecca, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman alSudais, recently declared, “Read history and you will understand that the Jews of yesterday are the evil forefathers of the even more evil Jews of today: infidels, falsifiers of words, calf worshippers, prophet murderers, deniers of prophecies … the scum of the human race, accursed by Allah.” Hezbollah has been at the vanguard of this shift toward frank anti-Semitism, and its leaders frequently resort to epidemiological metaphors in describing the role of Jews in world affairs. Ibrahim Mussawi, the urbane and scholarly-seeming director of English-language news at Al Manar, called Jews “a lesion on the forehead of history.” A biochemist named Hussein Haj Hassan, a Hezbollah official who represents Baalbek in the Lebanese parliament, told me that he is not anti-Semitic, but he has noticed that the Jews are a pan-national group “that functions in a way that lets them act as parasites in the nations that have given them shelter.”
The Middle East scholar Martin Kramer, a biographer of Sayyid Muhammad Fadlallah, told me that he has sensed a shift in hard-line Shiite thinking in the past twenty years. In the first burst of revolution in Iran, the United States was cast by Ayatollah Khomeini and his allies as the “Great Satan.” Israel occupied the role of “Little Satan.” This has been reversed, Kramer said. Today, Shiite authorities in Lebanon view America as one more tool of the Jews, who have achieved covert world domination. President Mohammad Khatami of Iran, who is often described as a reformer, last year called Israel “a parasite in the heart of the Muslim world.”
There are bitter feelings, to be sure, about Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories, about the Israeli Air Force’s not infrequent patrols in the skies over Beirut. But even some cosmopolitan Beirutis I met, Christians as well as Muslims, seemed surprisingly open to anti-Jewish propaganda-for instance, that the World Trade Center was destroyed by Jews.
A young Shiite scholar named Amal Saad-Ghorayeb has advanced what in Lebanon is a controversial argument: that Hezbollah is not merely anti-Israel but deeply, theologically anti-Jewish. Her new book, “Hezbollah: Politics & Religion,” dissects the anti-Jewish roots of Hezbollah ideology. Hezbollah, she argues, believes that Jews, by the nature of Judaism, possess fatal character flaws.
I met Saad-Ghorayeb one afternoon in a cafe near the Lebanese American University, where she is an assistant professor. She was wearing an orange spaghetti-strap tank top, a knee-length skirt, and silver hoop earrings. She is thirty years old and married, and has a four-year-old daughter. Her father, Abdo Saad, is a prominent Shiite pollster; her mother is Christian.
Saad-Ghorayeb calls Israel “an aberration, a colonialist state that embraces its victimhood in order to displace another people.” Yet her opposition to anti-Semitism seemed sincere, as when she described the anti-Jewish feeling that underlies Hezbollah’s ideology. “There is a real antipathy to Jews as Jews,” she said. “It is exacerbated by Zionism, but it existed before Zionism.” She observed that Hezbollah, like many other Arab groups, is in the thrall of a belief system that she called “moral utilitarianism.” Hezbollah, in other words, will find the religious justification for an act as long as the act is useful. “For the Arabs, the end often justifies the means, even if the means are dubious,” she said. “If it works, it’s moral.”
In her book, she argues that Hezbollah’s Koranic reading of Jewish history has led its leaders to believe that Jewish theology is evil. She criticizes the scholar Bernard Lewis for downplaying the depth of traditional Islamic antiJudaism, especially when compared with Christian anti-Semitism. “Lewis commits the … grave error of depicting traditional Islam as more tolerant of Jews … thereby implying that Zionism was the cause of Arab-Islamic anti-Semitism,” she writes.
Saad-Ghorayeb is hesitant to label Hezbollah’s outlook anti-Semitism, however. She prefers the term “antiJudaism,” since in her terms anti-Semitism is a race-based hatred, while anti-Judaism is religion-based. Hezbollah, she says, tries to mask its antiJudaism for “public-relations reasons,” but she argues that a study of its language, spoken and written, reveals an underlying truth. She quoted from a speech delivered by Hassan Nasrallah, in which he said, “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli.” To Saad-Ghorayeb, this statement “provides moral justification and ideological justification for dehumanizing the Jews.” In this view, she went on, “the Israeli Jew becomes a legitimate target for extermination. And it also legitimatizes attacks on non-Israeli Jews.”
Larry Johnson, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton State Department, once told me, “There’s a fundamental view here of the Jew as subhuman. Hezbollah is the direct ideological heir of the Nazis.” Saad-Ghorayeb disagrees. Nasrallah may skirt the line between racialist anti-Semitism and theological anti-Judaism, she said, but she argued that mainstream Hezbollah ideology provides the Jews with an obvious way to repair themselves in God’s eyes: by converting to Islam.
IV-“THE LOGIC OF WAR”
One day near the end of my stay in Lebanon, I visited Sayyid Fadlallah, Hezbollah’s spiritual leader, at his home in the Dahiya. Fadlallah, who is sixty-seven, is a surpassingly important figure in Shiism, inside and outside Lebanon. As many as twenty thousand people pray with him each Friday at a cavernous mosque near his home. He is a squat man with a white beard, and wears the black turban of the sayyid, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Fadlallah has long denied any official role in Hezbollah. Some experts take him at his word; others believe that he is dissembling. However, intellectually Fadlallah has taken an independent course, and people close to him told me that he privately scorns Hezbollah’s most important patron, Ayatollah Khamenei, as a mediocre thinker and cleric.
Several attempts have been made to assassinate Fadlallah. He believes that the C.I.A., working with Saudi Arabia, tried to kill him by setting off a bomb near his apartment building in 1985, an event cited in Bob Woodward’s book “Veil: The Secret Wars of the C.I.A. 1981-1987,” which, Fadlallah told me, he has read carefully and repeatedly. His offices are well guarded by men who have apparently been assigned to him by Hezbollah. My briefcase was taken from me for ten minutes and thoroughly searched by the guards. A man carrying a pistol sat in on our interview, along with three translators: Fadlallah’s; mine (a Christian woman from East Beirut, who had been required to wear a chador for the occasion); and Abdo Saad, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb’s father, who had arranged the interview.
Fadlallah entered the meeting room slowly and deliberately. He sat in a plush chair, the rest of us on couches near him. The room was lit with fluorescent light; as always, a picture of Khomeini stared down from the wall.
Fadlallah framed the core issues in political, not religious, terms. “The Israelis believe that after three thousand years they came back to Palestine,” he said. “But can the American Indian come back to America after all this time? Can the Celts go back to Britain?” He said that he has no objection to Jewish statehood, but not at the expense of Palestinians. “The problem between Muslims and Jews has to do with security issues.”
Like many Muslim clerics, he holds romantic, condescending, and contradictory views of the historic relationship between Jews and Muslims. He is aware that for hundreds of years, while Jews were persecuted and ostracized in Christian Europe, they were granted the status of protected inferiors by the caliphs, and subjected only to infrequent pogroms. Yet, despite his assertion that the dispute between Jews and Muslims was political, he made the theological observation that the Jews “never recognized Islam as a true religion.” I asked him if he agreed with this passage from the Koran: “Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans.” Yes, he said. “The Jews don’t consider Islam to be a religion.”
I tried to turn the conversation to Islamic beliefs-in particular, the rationale for suicide attacks. In the early nineteen-eighties, Fadlallah was accused of blessing the suicide bomber who destroyed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, a charge that he heatedly denied to me. He pointed out that he was among the first Islamic clerics to condemn the September 11th attacks, though he blamed American foreign policy for creating the atmosphere that led to them. He has, however, endorsed attacks on Israeli civilians. Suicide, he said, is not an absolute value. It is an option left to a people who are without options, and so the act is no longer considered suicide but martyrdom in the name of self-defense. “This is part of the logic of war,” he said.
On the killing of Israeli civilians, Fadlallah said, “In a state of war, it is permissible for Palestinians to kill Jews. When there is peace, this is not permissible.” He does not believe in a peaceful settlement between two states, one Palestinian, the other Israeli; rather, he favors the disappearance of Israel.
I thought about Saad-Ghorayeb’s argument that many in Hezbollah consider all Jews guilty of conspiring against Islam, and I asked Fadlallah if it was permissible to kill Jews beyond the borders of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors are considered by the governments of Israel, the United States, and Argentina to be responsible for the single deadliest anti-Semitic attack since the end of the Second World War: the suicide truck-bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, in 1994, which left more than a hundred people dead. As in the case of other accusations of terrorism, Hezbollah and Iran say that they were not involved in the attack. “We are against the killing of Jews outside Palestine,” Fadlallah said. “Unless they transfer the war outside Palestine.” When I asked if they had, Fadlallah raised an eyebrow, and let the question go unanswered.
Major General Benny Gantz is the chief of the Israeli Army’s Northern Command, which is responsible for defending Israel from Hezbollah and Syria and any other threats from the north. Until recently, Gantz was the commander of Israeli forces in the West Bank.
When we met this summer, at an airbase outside Tel Aviv, he seemed pleased to have left behind the moral and strategic ambiguities of service in the West Bank. Gantz is forty-three, tall, lean, and cynical. Much of his career has been spent dealing with the Lebanon question. Before serving in the West Bank, he was the top Israeli officer in Lebanon in the days leading up to the withdrawal. A helicopter was waiting to carry him north to the border after our meeting. Gantz is almost certain that he will soon wage war against Hezbollah and Syria. “I’ll be surprised if we don’t see this fight,” he said.
The Israelis believe that in South Lebanon Hezbollah has more than eight thousand rockets, weapons that are far more sophisticated than any previously seen in the group’s arsenal. They include the Iranian-made Fajr-5 rocket, which has a range of up to forty-five miles, meaning that Israel’s industrial heartland, in the area south of Haifa, falls within Hezbollah’s reach. One intelligence official put it this way: “It’s not tenable for us to have a jihadist organization on our border with the capability of destroying Israel’s main oil refinery.”
Hezbollah officials told me that they possessed no rockets whatsoever. But one reporter who has covered Hezbollah and the South for several years said he believes that Hezbollah has established a “balance of terror” along the border. The reporter, Nicholas Blanford, of the Beirut English-language newspaper the Daily Star, said that he is “pretty certain” that Hezbollah has “extensive weaponry down there, stashed away.” He added, “Their refrain is, we’re ready for all eventualities.”
Blanford, who has good sources in the Hezbollah leadership, said, “They seem to be convinced that sooner or later there’s going to be an Israeli-Arab conflict. In the long term, Israel cannot put up with this threat from Hezbollah.” It seems clear that in ordinary times Israel would already have moved against Hezbollah. But these are not ordinary times. Intelligence officials told me that Israel cannot act preemptively against Hezbollah while America is trying to shore up Arab support for, or acquiescence in, a campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein. To do otherwise would be to risk angering the Bush Administration, which needs Israel to show restraint. One Israeli Army officer I spoke to put it bluntly: “The day after the American attack, we can move.”
Both Israel and the United States believe that, at the outset of an American campaign against Saddam, Iraq will fire missiles at Israel-perhaps with chemical or biological payloads-in order to provoke an Israeli conventional, or even nuclear, response. But Hezbollah, which is better situated than Iraq to do damage to Israel, might do Saddam’s work itself, forcing Israel to retaliate, and crippling the American effort against an Arab state. Hezbollah is not known to possess unconventional payloads for its missiles, though its state sponsors, Iran and Syria, maintain extensive biological- and chemical-weapons programs.
If Hezbollah wants to provoke Israel, it has other options. Early this year, it tried to smuggle fifty tons of heavy Iranian weapons-including mines, mortars, and missiles-to the Palestinian Authority aboard a ship called the Karine A. The Israeli Navy seized the ship in the Red Sea. Intelligence officials believe that the operation was under the control of a deputy of Imad Mugniyah, the Hezbollah security operative. According to a story in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, King Abdullah of Jordan told American officials that Iran was behind attempts to launch at least seventeen rockets at Israeli targets from Jordanian territory. Hezbollah, meanwhile, is working with Palestinian groups, including Islamic Jihad, which, like Hezbollah, is sponsored by Iran, and which, like Hezbollah, is searching for the means to deliver a serious blow to Israel.
There is no affection for Saddam Hussein among the ruling mullahs in Iran, which lost a vicious war to Iraq in the nineteen-eighties, with hundreds of thousands of Iranians dead; or in the office of President Bashar al-Assad, in Syria. But some American analysts think that both regimes are alarmed by the prospect of Saddam’s overthrow. Dennis Ross, the Clinton Administration’s Middle East envoy, told me that American success against Iraq would legitimatize American-led “regime change” in the Middle East. It would also leave Iran surrounded by pro-American governments, in Kabul, Baghdad, and Istanbul. “They see encirclement,” Ross said. “This explains the incredible flow of weaponry to Hezbollah after Israel left Lebanon.”
Ross said that Bashar al-Assad’s interest in forestalling an American attack on Iraq by igniting an Arab-Israeli war is more subtle, but still present. “Bashar realizes that if we go ahead and do this in Iraq he runs an enormous risk” by continuing to support terrorist organizations. The State Department lists Syria as a sponsor of terror. Ross also believes that Bashar, unlike his late father, is not thoughtful enough to grasp the cost of a war with Israel. “He still thinks that Israel will stay within certain boundaries,” Ross said. “He needs to hear from us that, if he provokes a war, don’t expect us to come to your rescue. He’s playing with fire.” Indeed, in April this year the Bush Administration had to intervene with Syria to halt Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel.
General Gantz told me that if Hezbollah uses rockets against Israel his forces will be hunting Syrians as well as Lebanese Shiites. Lebanon may be the battlefield, he said, but the twenty thousand Syrian soldiers in Lebanon will be fair targets. “Israel doesn’t have to deal with Hezbollah as Hezbollah,” he continued. “This is the Hezbollah tail wagging the Syrian dog. As far as I’m concerned, Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese and Syrian forces. Syria will pay the price. I’m not saying when or where. But it will be severe.”
The Syrian Army, which used to have the Soviet Union as its patron, is no match for Israel, Gantz said. “I think the Syrians can create a few problems for us. But it’s very hard to see in what way they’re better than us. I just don’t know how Bashar is going to rebuild his army after this. Assad, the father, was a smart guy. He knew how to walk a tightrope. His son is trying to dance on it.”
In conversations with people in Beirut, and especially in the Christian areas to the city’s north, I found great anxiety about an Israeli counterstrike against Lebanon. Hezbollah understands that the Lebanese have grown used to peace, and that they fear an Israeli attack; many Lebanese would hold Hezbollah responsible for the devastation caused by an Israeli attack. Among some of Lebanon’s religious groups, particularly the Maronite Christians and the Druze, there is a feeling that the Syrians have overstayed their welcome in the country. These groups fear Hezbollah, too, but they do not express it; after all, Hezbollah is the only militia that is still armed, long after the end of the civil war.
Israel’s foreign minister, Shimon Peres, mentioned these constraints when I spoke to him recently. “Hezbollah must not appear to be the destroyer of Lebanon,” he said. Peres noted, however, that Hezbollah is an organization devoted to jihad, not to logic. “These are religious people. With the religious you can hardly negotiate. They think they have supreme permission to kill people and go to war. This is their nature.”
When I met with Prime Minister Hariri, he alluded to some of these worries. Hariri, a Sunni, is a billionaire builder who made most of his money in Saudi Arabia. We spoke in a building that he constructed in Beirut, with his own money, to serve as his “palace”; it seems to be modelled on a Ritz-Carlton hotel. Hariri has tense relations with Hezbollah, which has accused him of trying to thwart development in poor Shiite areas. Hariri understands that Israel will make the Lebanese people suffer for any attacks that are launched from Lebanese territory. He loathes and fears Ariel Sharon, and said to me that Sharon was “no different” from Hitler in his belief “in racial purity.” The people of southern Lebanon do not want the Israelis provoked, Hariri said. “Look around the South,” he said. “Look at all the building.”
In recent weeks, the borderland has become even more unstable. An Israeli soldier was killed last month when Hezbollah fired on an Israeli outpost in Shebaa; and the Lebanese government, with the endorsement of Hezbollah, announced plans to divert water that would otherwise be carried by the Hatsbani River into Israel. Israel has said that it will not allow Lebanon to curtail its water supply. General Gantz assumes that internal political considerations will not trump its desire for jihad. As he prepared to board his helicopter and fly to the border, he said, “I was the last officer to leave Lebanon, and maybe I’ll be the first one to return.”
(This is the first part of a two-part article.)