From the precincts of the European Union to the United Nations to the editorial pages in the United States, it is being argued that Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s kidnapping of Israelis and firing of rockets into Israel is “disproportionate,” a threat to the region, and could undo the U.S. democracy project in the Middle East. What is disproportion in the Middle East? How should one state respond to multi-state-sponsored terror?
Begin with the fundamentals. Hezbollah, once described as “the A-team of terrorists” by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, is a terrorist group with a record of killing hundreds of Americans and Israelis (from Beirut to Saudi Arabia to Argentina to inside Israel). Hezbollah is of global reach and extent. It began with the fundamental goals of creating an Islamist state in Lebanon and the total annihilation of Israel. It is armed and supported by Syria and Iran, and it has branches in some 20 countries. It occupies 20 percent of the Lebanese parliament but that percentage does not give it sufficient due. Here is Amir Taheri in the London Times:
Hezbollah is a state within the Lebanese state. It controls some 25% of the national territory. Almost 400,000 of Lebanon’s estimated 4 million inhabitants live under its control. It collects its own taxes with a 20% levy, known as “khoms”, on all incomes. It runs its own schools, where a syllabus produced in Iran is taught at all levels. It also runs clinics, hospitals, social welfare networks and centres for orphans and widows.
The party controls the elected municipal councils and appoints local officials, who in theory should be selected by the central government in Beirut. To complete its status as a virtual state, the party maintains a number of unofficial “embassies”: the one in Tehran is bigger and has a larger number of staff than that of Lebanon itself.
Hezbollah also has its own media including a satellite television channel, Al-Manar (the lighthouse), which is watched all over the Arab world, four radio stations, newspapers and magazines plus a book publishing venture. The party has its own system of justice based on sharia and operates its own police force, courts and prisons. Hezbollah runs youth clubs, several football teams and a number of matrimonial agencies.
In sum, it may very well have the run of Lebanon more than non-Hezbollah factions and institutions. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, brags about this today.