The Voices of War

104. Nadim Shehadi – Beyond Gaza: Unpacking The Middle East’s Entrenched Conflicts And Power Dynamics

VOW 104 | Middle East

 

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Today, I spoke with Nadim Shehadi, a distinguished Lebanese economist and academic, who delved into the intricate mesh of Palestinian, Israeli, and broader Middle Eastern politics, economics, and conflicts. With a rich background that spans prestigious positions at the Fletcher School, Chatham House, and Oxford as well as personal experiences of previous wars in Lebanon and beyond, Nadim brings a nuanced perspective to the complexities and tragedies of the region.

 

Some of the key topics we covered are:

  • Gaza Dynamics: Analysing recent events in Gaza, Nadim offers an expert take on the guerrilla warfare tactics of Hamas and the cyclical nature of the conflict with Israel.
  • Global Reactions: The discussion turns to the diverse international reactions to the Gaza conflict, highlighting the polarising effect on global politics.
  • Trap Warfare: Nadim introduces the concept of ‘trap’ warfare, elucidating how Hamas’s tactics bait international disapproval for Israel.
  • Lebanese Sovereignty: The conversation addresses Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon, discussing the challenges to Lebanese sovereignty and governance.
  • Civilians in Conflict: An exploration of the civilian experience in Gaza and Lebanon, emphasizing the human cost of ongoing tensions.
  • Resistance and Negotiation: Nadim contrasts the methodologies of armed resistance and negotiation in political struggle.
  • Lebanon’s Political Mosaic: A historical overview of Lebanon’s political evolution, with insights into its unique culture and the legacy of empires.
  • Intricacies of Conflict: Nadim delves into the intricate connections between local politics and broader regional dynamics, underscoring the international community’s involvement.
  • Regional Dynamics: The discussion highlights the strategic roles of Arab states, the Gulf region, Egypt, Jordan, the European Union, and the United States in fostering stability.
  • Critique of U.S. Policy: Nadim offers a critical analysis of the U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, noting a misalignment with the complex regional context.
  • Security Concerns for Israel: Insights into Israel’s security priorities and the existential challenges it faces from regional adversaries.
  • Underestimating Iran: A critique of the U.S. administration’s oversight of Iran’s influence in the region, particularly in relation to the JCPOA.
  • Policy Proposals Examined: Nadim assesses Antony Blinken’s policy proposals, suggesting they lack the depth required to grasp the region’s nuanced challenges.
  • Survival Mentality: The conversation closes with a personal reflection on living under constant threat, depicting the day-to-day reality of Middle Eastern geopolitics.

 

Nadim Shehadi’s expertise sheds light on the historical and current challenges facing the Middle East, offering a profound examination of the power dynamics at play. This episode is a must-listen for anyone seeking to understand the deeper narratives that shape this complex region.

 

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Nadim Shehadi – Beyond Gaza: Unpacking The Middle East’s Entrenched Conflicts And Power Dynamics

My guest is Nadim Shehadi, who’s a renowned Lebanese Economist and thought leader who has enjoyed an extensive career in academia and policy advice. He was the Executive Director of the Lebanese American University’s New York Headquarters and Academic Centre. He has also held positions as Director of the Affairs Centre for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House in London and a senior member of St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, where he also served as Director of the Centre for Lebanese Studies from 1986 to 2005.

Nadim is also a consultant to several governments and international organisations. He has produced several publications and contributes regularly to media coverage of Middle Eastern affairs, including through a semi-regular opinion column in Arab News. Nadim joins me for his reflection on the events unfolding in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank and how these impact Lebanon and the broader region. Nadim, thank you very much for joining me.

Thank you, Maz.

It’s an absolute pleasure, as we were talking offline. There are many intersecting interests that we share.

I’m speaking to you from the mountains outside Beirut. I look out of the window and the balcony to check if there are any planes coming.

That’s rather dark humour. I can understand that. I have been to the wonderful city of Beirut. I’ve had the pleasure of spending a couple of wonderful days walking the streets. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope to make the link as you alluded to now preamble.  

I’ve been to Sarajevo. It was an interesting visit. I met a lot of people from civil society there. We discussed the differences between the peace agreements that settled our conflicts, the Taif Agreement in Lebanon and the Dayton Agreement.

I want to come to that, but before we dive into the discussion proper, it would be useful for our audience to get an understanding of your own background. Given how much you’ve done across your career, how do you describe what you do? How did you even get into the space where you are now? What motivated your entry into international relations and economics?

I studied economics. I was unhappy with the way economics was being taught with mainstream economics at the time I was studying. I got distracted and got interested in the history of economic thought rather than economics proper. I’m more of a historian of ideas and how and how ideas become accepted, how they become unquestioned, and where sets of ideas become unquestionable. That’s the biggest danger part.

We become wedded to them. For example, trickle-down economics.

You don’t question anymore the fundamental assumption. I was doing a PhD in the history of ideas of post-World War II economics, which were very status. What were the debates that made us reach there? By pure accident, I started a job in Oxford and stayed there for several years instead of two months. I shifted completely to Middle Eastern studies and later at Chatham House for several years. I shouldn’t call myself an economist. I’m an imposter in several fields.

That’s not how I would’ve described it, given your reputation, but I do appreciate the humility. One thing that I guess struck me is when you were talking about economic thinking and how we can get stuck in our ways. It feels like that resonates quite strongly right now, given what’s happening in the Middle East, that many players might be stuck in their paradigm or theory, perhaps geopolitical theory or however we want to describe it. That’s an interesting launching platform for us. How would you summarise, in your view, what is happening in the Middle East now?

To simplify matters, what happened in Gaza was a standard guerilla operation that succeeded beyond expectation. The standard guerilla operation, if you look at textbook guerilla theory, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh, it’s three steps. You infiltrate the population. You hit at the enemy, and the enemy hits back and causes collateral damage to the population. The population gets angry and outraged. They support the guerilla more.

That’s what we are seeing. We’ve seen that pattern happen over the last several years regularly, where Hamas provokes something by Israel and retaliates. Israel reacts and hits Gaza. The whole region rises in outrage. In this case, the whole world is rising in outrage because of the way Israel is bombing Gaza. That is called this strategy of revocation.

We’ve certainly achieved that. There’s no two ways about it.

Going back from that, what’s silly in a way is that we’ve seen it happen. There was one episode in April 2023 and 2021, which was a major one. There were in 2014, 2009, and 2012 at different stages and intensity but always the same pattern.

You pointed out global outrage towards what Israel is doing now in Gaza, although I do want to ask you whether you think that is global. Are they pockets of support for Israel that we’re still seeing?

There is. It’s interesting because this crisis has brought out the best and the worst in people. It’s brought out the real people or person. I’m looking at the declarations of some of the politicians in the US. It’s fascinating how some of them, the ones who pretended to be progressive, take a position that is political. It’s divided. Almost every country is divided.

From where you are sitting, and as you made the point in Beirut, I want to place our readers in a moment that is now the 8th of November. It’s gone after midday in Beirut and Jerusalem. This might come out, but barely a few hours later. People know when we’re talking. How do you interpret from where you are sitting the actions by Israel in Gaza, as well as in the West Bank?

Israel has, in a way, no choice but to fall into the trap every time. I’m surprised that they do that. They haven’t found an alternative to falling into the trap. On the Gaza side, the real victims are the people of Gaza, who are, in a sense, hostages of Hamas. Hamas has never consulted them about dragging them into a war that’s going to destroy them, kill many people and displace many more.

VOW 104 | Middle East
Middle East: The real victims are the people of Gaza, who are, in a sense, hostages of Hamas. They were never consulted and just dragged into a war that will destroy them.

 

They have no choice. Hamas controls the area and the negotiations with Israel. Hamas, from time to time, eases matters. That’s the reason why the Israelis were taken by so much surprise. There has been an agreement between Israel and Hamas brokered by the UN, the Qataris and the Egyptians to allow 18,000 workers to go across to Israel for services and money. They’ve released some money.

It’s in the construction industry, in particular.

For someone in Gaza to go and work in Israel is lucrative. You’re asking me where I am. I’m also hostage because Lebanon itself is a hostage to another militia, which is Hezbollah, because they can ignite a war any minute without us in Lebanon having an opinion on it. That’s why I feel this similarity with the people of Gaza. There is no descent in Gaza because they control it. Descent is not allowed. It’s ruled by the iron fist and by gravity. They throw people off balconies sometimes. The way they took over Gaza is through violence. That’s also the way that Hezbollah took over Lebanon.

I want to get into those parallels because they are important.

The other side of the equation is that these movements are empowered by Israeli reactions. Their main victory is against their local rivals. Hamas’s victory is complete and absolute against the PLO and against the Palestine National Authority. It’s not against Israel.

Hamas' victory is complete and absolute against the PLO and the Palestine National Authority, not against Israel. Click To Tweet

It galvanises its grip on Gaza.

It takes credit for defending the cause. Hamas’ agenda is that only armed resistance can liberate you, whereas the PLO and the Palestinian Authority are negotiating. Israel takes a lot of the credit or the blame for empowering Hamas because in several instances, in 2006 and 2009, when there were hostages taken by Hamas or Hezbollah, Israel would do a swap.

They would swap one hostage for hundreds of prisoners in Israeli jails. The negotiations, which have been going on now for many years, haven’t released a single prisoner from the Israeli jail. Hamas can claim that their armed struggle methods produce and the enemy only understands the armed struggle, and playing Gandhi doesn’t work with the Israelis.

One of the things that I liked in the language that you use is that Hamas has set a trap. I published a short little piece. I’m talking from the same angle about this trap that Israel was left between a rock and a hard place. They are doomed if they don’t because they had to react to what is gross in humanity that we saw on October 7th, 2023, and because of those hostages, their ability to act was also severely constrained and limited. Therefore, in my view, they resorted to excessive bombardments for vengeance.

Those are Netanyahu’s words. It was vengeance. That is the blood lust that is understandable, given the circumstances. One of the things that I’m still wrestling with to understand, and this applies both to Hezbollah as well as Hamas, is they don’t necessarily enjoy a lot of support, perhaps by the locals, but in Hamas’s case, as democratically elected as they could be and from all accounts, he was a Democratic.

In the 2006 elections, I was in Cairo. I opened the newspaper. There were eleven lists for the PLO and the independence, which is the secular part. There was only one single Hamas list with its allies. The anti-Hamas vote was divided.

It was diluted because there were many options.

It’s unfair to say that it was democratically elected after several years because most of the people in Gaza were not born yet. They could not vote. The election of Hamas is mentioned as a blame. If you elected them, it’s your fault, but it’s not. The world has changed a lot. You have a completely new generation, and generations change.

There has been a generational change since that time in the whole region, but in a way represented by the Arab Spring. Arab Spring is a generational change against the ideas of the previous generations, which were nationalistic. You accepted the rule of dictatorship because of the priorities of the battle, the cause and nationalism. They represent that.

In Gaza, we don’t know because there’s no expression. There was a time around 2011 when you could see a lot of hip-hop and YouTube music videos. You can get these things on online discussions like Clubhouse or Twitter spaces. I listen to Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse when I’m going for a walk or when I’m on the treadmill.

I stumbled on a group from Gaza on a discussion from Gaza less than a month before the war started. It was interesting. Some people were in Gaza itself, and others were in Germany, Canada, and Belgium. The people who were in Gaza were telling them how good life was. They cross over to Israel. They make $4,000 a month. They live like a king in Gaza with that money.

I do barbecue and eat fish on the beach. What do you do in Belgium? How many people do you see? Do you have any friends? You work your ass off. You can hardly pay the bills. One of them told him, “When I came here, I only knew one cousin.” He told him, “How many times have you seen that cousin in the last several years?” This was the atmosphere before the war started.

I’m not trying to say that Gaza was not a prison. It was a prison. They are hostages. They don’t have much choice. People carve themselves since you are about voices of war. It’s interesting because very few people understand war if they haven’t lived through it. People carve themselves a space during the war where they can ignore it, especially if it’s a long one.

People carve themselves a space during the war where they can ignore it, especially if it's a long one. Click To Tweet

It’s their way to retain sanity and connect to others. Beirut has experienced that.

We had the best parties during the war in the basement.

My dad says the same thing. He’s been on the front lines for several years, but he often would reflect, and despite the fact that his wife and two sons were away in Germany as refugees, those are still some of the most vivid memories of a sense of purpose and collective enduring of everybody sharing and coming together. They dug a well because there was no water, a seven-meter deep well in winter. They had a communal garden.

Besides all the killing and the death, there were moments that he even reflects now on fondly, and I don’t want to tarnish them with the wrong brush, but they are some of the most memorable, certainly joyous moments of his life, despite the fact that they were in the middle of a war zone or under siege. That resonates.

You made me think about these things. I hadn’t thought about them before. It’s almost like there is a state of war. It’s like a switch. When it’s over, the switch is switched off, and people go back to normal life and normal relations with those youth considered as enemies. That’s why when we get to the differences between our peace process and your peace process in Sarajevo, this is an irrelevant factor because, in the Dayton Agreement, they froze the situation of conflict as though it’s permanent.

Let’s get to that now because we are talking about it anyway, and it will allow us to open up the conversation as it relates to what’s happening on the ground. Give us some context because you have spent some time in Sarajevo.

I did not spend enough time in Sarajevo, but it was quite intense because I went with an institution called the Arab Reform Initiative with a group of the Syrian opposition. We had two days of discussions with people from civil society in Sarajevo. I was there at Chatham House. I was there as a Lebanese expert on Lebanon. They were friends so they invited me. It was to talk about the Tief Agreement.

The best way I can explain it is that we are children of empire. Empires rule over many nations. In a city like Beirut or Sarajevo, during times of empire, there are many nations who live together in that city. You have centuries of coexistence and interaction between families and personal relations. Sometimes, relations across communities are better than within communities. People forget that there’s also rivalry within communities that are more intense than across communities.

The way these cities are constructed is there are quarters. You have the Jewish quarter, the Christian quarter, the Turkish quarter, the Kurds, and, in your case, the Serbs. The interaction happens in the common areas. At night, they can go to their area and be different people. You almost have a schizophrenic. You need a certain degree of hypocrisy to coexist. You perfect it. You can’t teach it to people. Foreigners never understand it.

That’s context and nuance.

It’s impossible to explain it to anyone who doesn’t experience it. How can you have so much prejudice, coexistence and love in the same context?

It can shift overnight.

Overnight, it can shift to brutal. Freud called it the narcissism of small differences. He uses Serbs and Croats as an example. They even have the same moustache. It’s an intense conflict between them. Yes, it does switch off. The difference between our agreement and the Dayton Agreement is that the Dayton Agreement takes the situation of conflict and freezes. It’s not a peace agreement. It’s a cease-fire, but it freezes the separation.

When we were in Sarajevo, the activists said, “It’s not us. What the result is not us. We do not have the prerogative to do joint cross-communal political programs and projects because the Dayton Agreement freezes the separation between us. It becomes more internal politics.” In Lebanon, we switched off, forgot that there was a war, produced an amnesty to all that happened before that war, and continued as though nothing happened with a small fine tuning on the power-sharing arrangement.

Many of our readers might not have sufficient understanding of the Lebanese Civil War, perhaps not even the Bosnian one. Can you give us the wave tops because it was quite a long war? We’re not talking a couple of years. We’re talking several years.

If you want to zoom into the details, it was not a civil war all the time. Some Lebanese also denied that it was ever a civil war, but it was different visions and views. In a nutshell, a lot of the war was internal within each community because of the Syrian takeover of the country. There were Syrian factions. Even amongst the Palestinians, there were pro-PLO factions and pro-Syrian factions.

This is in Lebanon as well. These are the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

It’s not just Palestinian refugees. The PLO set up a state within a state in Lebanon. It was the capital of global revolutionaries because you had Carlos the Jackal, the brother, the Italian Red Army, the Red Brigade, the Sandinistas and Iranian exiles. This was an intense place intellectually during the Civil War. I’ve spoken to some of the people who were here about the interactions between the different revolutionaries and how there was a rift between the Northerners, the Germans, the Italians, the British, the Irish and the Southerners. The Iranian revolution took a lot from here because a lot of the exiles were in Lebanon.

Why was Lebanon such a breeding ground? What was it about Lebanon? I don’t want to digress too much because all of this matters as we link it.

It’s all connected and relevant. If I wanted to explain Lebanon in one sentence, I would say that Lebanon is a country that skipped the 20th century. The 20th century is about creating homogeneous nationalists, strong states that are sovereign and decolonised, where you have one language, one religion, one culture, and one identity. The Turkish lays it, which is easy to achieve. Some people idealise it, but you have to massacre the Armenians first, kick out the Greeks, suppress the Kurds, and brainwash 2 or 3 generations with a dictatorship that imposes a new language that forgets 500 years.

VOW 104 | Middle East
Middle East: Lebanon skipped the 20th century, the time of creating homogeneous nationalists, strong states that are sovereign and decolonised, and one identity.

 

We don’t do that. All the countries in the region did that. We absorbed the cosmopolitan Levantine spirits of the region in one place. Beirut inherited that culture of the cosmopolitan culture, a non-nationalist. As a result, it attracted most of the intellectuals, business people, and merchant families from the region.

Think of a place like Alexandria, which was a cosmopolitan city in Ottoman Times. Nasser defines Arab identity as a rigid thing, which excludes the Greeks of Alexandria, who have probably been there in a continuous presence since the days of Alexander the Great. Suddenly, they become alien because it’s a nationalist. They come to Lebanon. Some of them go to Greece. They can’t live in Greece because it’s a homogeneous place. You sometimes need people to look down on you.

That’s a psychological factor of us and them. That’s amongst people and social groups.

If you’re used to a cosmopolitan existence and multicultural existences, It’s difficult to live in a boring, homogeneous place where people are clones of each other. We attracted a lot of people from Southern Turkey, Egypt, and Palestine. The elite of Palestine came to Lebanon. The bankers and the contractors from Syria, Iraq, and the whole region. Beirut was a vibrant place in terms of art, music, culture and cafes.

You’re describing Sarajevo. I find the parallels incredible.

It’s different from the rigid nationalism we had corruption in the good sense of the world.

Things were getting done.

In all worlds, in 1984, corruption is freedom because an authoritarian regime puts down the rules and imposes the language and the ideas. Any departure from that is corruption. We were corrupt to the core. The best example and I’m sure there is the same in Sarajevo, Bosnia, is that the Lebanese have attributed the collapse of the state to the lack of nationalism. They say, “We don’t have a common history. Each one has a different story. What is this? You need to create a homogeneous textbook that unifies the history. All the students in universities and schools learn the same history. That would prevent conflict. That was a common discussion in Lebanon.

In Oxford, we had a conference on Lebanese history. They were discussing this, and a Turkish historian from Brown University, from the States explained that he was sacked from his job. He lost his job. He was almost put in jail and persecuted because he dared teach the common history book critically. If you define history as a unifying factor to maintain civil peace and security and you dare question it, you’re corrupt. You are creating division. It’s an attempt at national security and the cohesiveness of the nation. We were not like that.

It’s that freedom in Lebanon with weak state institutions. We only had an army for parade in nice uniforms because there was a deliberate anti-military around us. It’s for two reasons. One of them is that the military was native in the sense that they were the real Lebanese in the military, whereas the elite was cosmopolitan. The elite were from different areas. There was a cultural difference between them. There was a precedent of the military taking over the whole region.

It was a global fashion from Latin America to Pakistan at the time. You had people in military uniform taking over. The way to avoid this is to create a separation and keep it small and weak. The other side of this is that freedom also allows for the PLO to come and set up, especially half the population who sympathise with the PLO.

How does then Hezbollah come into the picture? Hezbollah is a political movement as well as a military faction. How does that come into the picture?

This is also a fascinating story because when you live in a multicultural space, each group has a different regional affiliation and historical references. The Shia of Lebanon experienced the same phenomenon of Shia revival from the ‘50s and ‘60s that happened in Iran and Iraq after the Mosadic revolution. The main division is that in Shia Islam, there is a culture of suffering. You’re supposed to suffer quietly, and it’s called quietism until the hidden Imam comes back.

It’s messianic. The hidden Imam will come back and establish justice on earth. This means that if you are a quietist, you have to wait for the hidden Imam to come. You have to wait for the return to establish justice. It also means that it’s futile to try and establish justice before the hidden Imam comes. If you try to participate in politics, it means that your faith in the hidden Imam’s return is a bit shaky. The mainstream of the clergy were quietists in Iran, and Najaf, Iraq, was the main centres.

Imagine yourself in the ‘50s with the rise of nationalism, all these ideas floating, and your clergy is telling you that you should pray and not participate in politics and all these revolutions happening. There was a movement that was across the board. It’s a rebellion against quietism, which is called the Shia Revival. It’s a political revival, where they started participating in politics. Many of them were kicked out of Iran and spread all over the world. Many went to Paris, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

When it wasn’t healthy to be in Syria, Iraq under Saddam or Egypt, where there was not enough freedom, they all conglomerated to Lebanon. One of their classmates was appointed as the head of the Shia council in Lebanon. It’s Imam Musa al-Sadar. He is a key figure in this. It’s a family that originates from Lebanon and immigrated to Iran to spread the Shia faith in safari times. There are relations and dense links.

This is what happens in a multicultural environment. They have links. We don’t. These are their links. This is not our link. They’re experiencing a revival. We are not. We are experiencing a different revival, which is more connected if you’re a Christian to secular movements within the Christian world or to nationalist movements in the region. When you’re in an environment where you respect multiculturalism, you give it freedom of expression. You don’t clash with it because if they believe in the Imam, let them believe in their Imam. This brings an even worse thing, which is compromised.

When you're in an environment where you respect multiculturalism, you give it freedom of expression. Click To Tweet

The PLO was kicked out of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. They ended up in Beirut with the support of, at least, half the population. You compromise. You don’t put the supporters of the PLO in jail, especially the Sunni population, who were taken by the nationalist revival of Nasser. It was not exclusively Sunni. It’s not that sectarian, but even if you don’t accept the idea, you accept that they believe that, and you make a compromise.

That’s how the PLO became central, and that’s embedded. The Shiite movements in Lebanon were close to Iran. The Amal Movement was created by Mostafa Chamran, who was an exile from Iran in Lebanon. He went back to Iran and became the first defence minister of Khomeini. The military training that these people got was with the PLO in Lebanon.

The ideological training was with that toxic mixture of revolutionaries, which included the liberation theology from the Latin Americans. You have Marxists becoming Islamists. There is even one example in Lebanon of a Palestinian Christian who was a Marxist who founded an Islamist party in Tripoli. He’s still alive. That travesty is you can’t even invent in fiction that existed.

In Lebanon, we like and enjoy the freedom. When it gets out of control, we accept the authoritarianism of either the army or Syrian presence. When that gets too much, we reject it again. You have a pendulum swinging from complete anarchy and chaos, which we love, to insecurity, which makes us accept. In 1958, after the first clash over Nasserism, we accepted an army general as a president, which was fashionable. It was in tune with global fashion at the time.

VOW 104 | Middle East
Middle East: Lebanon enjoy the freedom. But when it gets out of control, they accept the authoritarianism pendulum swinging from complete anarchy and chaos.

 

It sounds like an interesting place. In a world of order, chaos rules. That’s what that seems like because there is an order, a deeply intertwined, culturally nuanced order that allowed the place to be the hippie of the Middle East in the sense that it was liberated in its intellectual capacity and freedom. On the other side, it’s in this rebellion/resistance to authoritarianism, which is why I found the link you made to the revolutionaries interesting. I never knew that.

You have the Levantine merchants and bankers who came from Aleppo and were part of the trade route to India. The ones that came from Alexandria and Cairo were people who had taken part in sophisticated global financial transactions during the building of the Suez Canal and the deaths of the ruler for the Sudan campaign. They would trade international bonds. In Beirut, at the same time, there were small trading houses that dealt with silk production. What the immigrants brought was far more sophisticated than what we are saying.

Given its eclectic, colourful history and design openness, why is Lebanon experiencing such economic strife over the more recent past? You can even give us a quick summary as to where Lebanon is at the moment economically.

Lebanon is now in complete paralysis. We have no president, government, parliament, and central bank governor. Soon, we will have no army chief. It’s a complete collapse of the whole state institutions through paralysis. The paralysis was created mainly by Hezbollah in the same way as Hamas took over Gaza. Hezbollah took over here but in a different context. Since 2005, it’s been assassinations, triggering and wars. I wrote a piece comparing what’s happening in Gaza now in 2006 that was triggered by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, in 2006, was in a corner sense because the conversation was there’s no more need for resistance. The Israelis withdrew in 2000. We give you credit. You liberated, and we accept all this. You never contradict the national narrative of your partner. The Syrians withdrew. Let’s turn the page and rebuild the country.

By triggering the war, they re-established their political credentials. If I was speaking to a Hezbollah person and telling him, “The UN has issued seven security council resolutions for Lebanese sovereignty and security in the last several months. The United States, the EU, France and the Arab League are all in support of Lebanon. The Syrians have been forced to withdraw. Let’s build a new country. We don’t need the arms anymore.”

One week after the war, he would tell you, “Israel is still a threat. The United States and the EU supported Israel. The UN and Arab League are powerless.” It managed to regain the legitimacy of the arms and gradually took over the country through paralysis, assassinations, and maintaining a constant state of war.

In 2006, it can be said that Hezbollah technically won against Israel as much as Israel overwhelmed.

Hezbollah won against Israel in the same way as Hamas has won.

It produced a reaction that forced Israel to overreact.

Whatever happens, Hamas will declare victory. The people who paid the price are the civilians in Gaza. We paid the price, and the country was destroyed. Hezbollah declares victory.

Whatever happens, Hamas will declare victory. The people who paid the price are the civilians in Gaza. Click To Tweet

Somebody already came out. As you mentioned, Hezbollah has got deep Shiite roots far deeper than I realised. The density between Hezbollah and Iran is far denser than I realised.

Hamas is Sunni and deeply ingrained in the Muslim Brotherhood, which is completely tracked.

Rationalise that for us.

In 1992, Israel rounded up all the senior Hamas leaders, 400 of them, and kicked them out of the country. They exiled them across the Lebanese border, and they established a camp in South Lebanon for a whole year. That’s where they bonded. That’s the brotherhood. There are two factions in Gaza. One of them is the Palestinian Islamic Shia, which is part of Khomeini’s export of the revolution. They’re not Shia. They’re Sunni who drank the Kool-Aid of Khomeini.

There were always tensions with Hamas on that. There was a serious rift between Hamas and Hezbollah and Hamas and Iran during the Syrian revolution because the Muslim brotherhood element in Syria was anti-Assad. Hezbollah was helping Assad. Hamas was helping the Muslim Brotherhood with digging. They taught them how to dig tunnels and tactics and gave them technology that they had learned from the Iranian revolution regards.

At the time, the Iranian revolutionary guard elements thought that it was treason that they were selling and communicating the technology that they had taught them to find them. There was a lot of tension, but this was sorted out because they needed the money and support. All this talk that Iran had nothing to do with it and the attack had nothing to do with Iran is purely a Palestinian resistance matter.

VOW 104 | Middle East
Middle East: All this talk that Iran had nothing to do with Hamas and the attack had nothing to do with Iran is purely a Palestinian resistance matter.

 

That is a narrative that’s taken hold, especially since Hassan Nasrallah’s speech, which was much awaited by the world to gauge where Hezbollah sits.

It’s a clever PR.

If you don’t mind, it might be worthwhile delving into that because he was fairly explicit in saying that this was a Palestinian thing and Hezbollah stands ready to go, but Hezbollah doesn’t want to, in not so many words or in far more words. Many analysts have drawn links to 2006, where he also came out and said that had he known what was going to happen. He anticipated the wrath that Israel was going to exact on the civilians of Lebanon. He would’ve made another decision.

If you cross the border, kill eight soldiers, and kidnap two, and when you go back, you start throwing Katusha at Israel, what do you expect Israel to do? It was a deliberate provocation of war, and they succeeded in it. This was the objective. The objective was to cause as many civilian casualties as possible to gain the sympathy of the Arab world. Nasrallah became a hero in the Gulf in North Africa right at Columbia University.

What does Hezbollah want out of this now? Given what’s happening in that, one of the big fears and many are saying, is that the US has bolstered its presence in the region. There is a risk of serious escalation. Hezbollah is trying to play the game. We’ve seen an increase in missiles being launched between Israel and Hezbollah. Many are saying, “It’s within the accepted normalised state of war.”

That’s what you say when you don’t know. Each side can escalate at any moment.

Soldiers are dying, certainly, on the Israeli side, civilian and Hezbollah fighters in the ‘60s.

There were quite a lot of Hezbollah fighters. In 2006, the number was below 200. Sixty is now one-third of 2006. It’s quite a lot.

 

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