Hizbollah’s “divine victory”: three years on

Hazem Saghieh
20 July 2009

In the three years since the thirty-three day war waged across the border between Lebanon and Israel in July-August 2006, the judgment of the Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has remained consistent: this was for his movement a "divine victory".  

Hazem Saghieh is senior commentator for the London-based paper al-Hayat

Hazem Saghieh's articles on openDemocracy include:

"Rafiq al-Hariri's murder: why do Lebanese blame Syria?" (21 February 2008)

"Syria and Lebanon: keeping it in the family" (14 December 2005)

"How the European left supports Lebanon" (14 August 2006)

"Lebanon's internal struggle: two logics in combat" (19 December 2006)

"The Arab defeat" (11 June 2007)

"Lebanon's ‘14 March': from protest to leadership" (1 April 2008)

"Lebanon's elections: reading the signs" (12 June 2009)

"Iran: dialectic of revolution" (23 June 2009)

"Arabs and the Iranian upheaval" (9 July 2009)

This interpretation of the war, whose drumbeat is ever louder as the third anniversary of its end on 14 August 2009 approaches, involves a paradox. What Hizbollah's own politicians and journalists (and those close to the movement) are here doing is precisely to remind Lebanon's people of an event that they also proclaim is superhuman and thus eternal and unforgettable. Hizbollah's earthly translation of the divine will has included a scolding for those Lebanese it feels have ignored the event or dealt with it as if it had never happened.

In fact, this war happened in reality; it was neither virtual nor transcendent. It killed hundreds of civilian Lebanese and destroyed most of the infrastructure in an already bruised and indebted country. Yet there continues to be great divergence of Lebanese opinion over it. This is the true source of Hizbollah's orchestration of "forgetfulness": the base of the effort needed to turn victory (if victory there is) into a gain for a specific party, and to turn defeat into a loss for the rest of the people who do not belong to this party. This attitude reveals much about the "outsiderness" of Hizbollah, the "Party of God".   

In this sense, when Hizbollah's others "forget", they are practicing a type of tolerance, a turning away from the nearest available alternative option: namely, hatred of those responsible for the catastrophic destruction wreaked on their country. After all, a military victory is supposed to establish the foundation of higher levels of national unity and political consensus among the victorious people. What took place in Lebanon after the 2006 war is the complete opposite: the country became entirely ungovernable.

This has been made evident since then in both real and political battles. The events around 7 May 2008, when Beirut was occupied by Hizbollah and its allies, was one chapter (see Zaid Al-Ali, "Lebanon: chronicles of an attempted suicide", 20 May 2009). The current obstacles that face the formation of a new government after the general election of 7 June 2009 is another episode of a continuing impossibility (see Robert G Rabil, "Lebanon at the crossroads", 5 June 2009).

This explains the use by the victory advocates of a strictly technical argument, whereby the issue is reduced to the number of rockets Hizbollah is now able to launch against Israel - even in the absence of any reference to the United Nations Security Council's Resolution 1701 of 11 August 2006, which brought about the ceasefire and effectively rendered future military operations from Lebanon a very difficult venture.

After the divine  

A different logic needs to be applied, one that interprets the July-August 2006 war primarily as an internal event, closely related to the sweeping developments that were triggered by the assassination of Rafiq Hariri n February 2005 and the birth of the March 14 forces. In this light, the war can be seen as part of a familiar, and notorious, Arab tradition: that of exploiting the struggle with Israel to serve local purposes. In this customary world, the Arab tyrant uses the struggle to become even more tyrannical and avoid accountability; certain communal groups seek to improve their position in the national balance of power; the small ally of a strong regional power uses it to serve that power; and so on and on....

By contrast, Israel has adopted a completely different course towards this war and its outcome. Its politicians, analysts, and writers shared the negative judgment that was confirmed by the official Winograd report into the conflict published in January 2008. Many Israelis even spoke of "defeat", on the grounds that their army was unable to achieve its expected objectives (see Thomas O'Dwyer, "Israel after Lebanon: warning siren, deaf ears", 15 February 2008).

But gradually, Israelis too began to discover that they were not defeated, but rather able - thanks to Resolution 1701 - to arrive at a new status quo that worked to their advantage. At that point, many crossed the same threshold and allowed the word "victory" to fall from their lips. On both sides, however, the defeat was not satanic nor the victory divine. This is the middle east, where wars - and solutions - are and can only be human, all too human.

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