Friday, May 18, 2007

Author of New History of Hezbollah Sees an Evolving Party and a Need for Dialogue

From The Chronicle::
In his new book, Hezbollah: A Short History (Princeton University Press), Augustus Richard Norton, a professor of international relations and anthropology at Boston University, provides a succinct account of the group's rise from the chaos created by Israel's invasions and occupation of Lebanon in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which ended only in 2000. Mr. Norton also explores the origins and political orientation of the group, now led by the Shiite cleric Hasan Nasrallah, in a complex web of religious and political identities in Lebanon -- with a special emphasis on the role of Shia Islam in the organization.
Q. The Israeli government recently released a report by an investigative commission that found serious lapses of political and military leadership in its 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. It's unlikely that Hezbollah would issue such a report, but what would it say if they did?

A. It bears pointing out that one of the first Arab personalities to respond to the Israeli report was Nasrallah. And he responded very positively, actually.

On the one hand, this report is valuable for [Hezbollah's leaders] as propaganda. They can say, "OK, we won the war and look at what a mess it is on the Israeli side." But to the surprise of many people, Nasrallah went on to say that the commission is something to be admired. He pointed out that it's too bad that Arab societies don't have the same kind of openness. That's characteristic of him. It's obvious he's made some horrible blunders and so on, but there's a degree of candor there that people find very appealing....

I want to say something about the war last year. Imagine the war stopped after four or five days, and the Israelis and Americans were more clever. You would have had many world powers saying that Israel was justified in what it did. You would have had critiques of Hezbollah coming from places like Jordan and Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah would have been at a real disadvantage. You would have had a lot of anger inside Lebanon. The tourist industry is very important, and tourists run for the hills when fighting starts.

If the Israelis and Americans had been clever -- and I believe there really was a partnership in the war in a significant way, with giant sales of arms and jet fuel and those kinds of things -- they really could have put this organization at a diplomatic disadvantage. Instead, they sort of played right into their hands, in my view. My take last summer was that we were actually strengthening Hezbollah.

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