Hizballah Pulls Back As Support Deteriorates
On Wednesday, Hizballah political leader Hassan Nasrallah declared that he could topple the Lebanese government anytime he wanted to. This statement was made as he decided to call off the Hizballah protests ongoing in Lebanon, at least for the coming weeks. The Iran-backed terrorist group’s leader went to great lengths to convey that the decision was his because of Hizballah’s “desire to preserve civil peace.”
That, however, appears to be far from the true situation as grassroots Lebanese Shi’a support appears to be waning due to his increasingly violent attempts to overthrow the elected Lebanese government. While Shi’a support for his instigation of Israel quietly showed signs of being less than universal at the time, those same hesitant sentiments toward the group’s actions are more clearly visible today as the Hizballah-organized mass protests near the 60-day mark since they began December 1, 2006.
Tuesday saw violence across the country with three Lebanese killed and approximately 100 reported injured. The most violent incidents occurred in the northern city of Tripoli, where Sunnis clashed with Alawites, a sect of the Shi’a also common in Syria, though also a minority, including Syrian president Bashar Assad. Throughout Lebanon, roads were blocked with burning tires and cars.
Beirut’s Daily Star reported that the most violent clashes occurred between different Christian factions. The Lebanese Christian community is split between support for Hizballah and support for the current government. While Nasrallah called off the current protests, the leader of the Hizballah-aligned Christians, Michel Aoun, promised “more surprises” ahead for Lebanon and its government.
Yet, some of the disillusioned Lebanese Shi’a are speaking out – albeit often in unanimity for fear of reprisal Hizballah attacks on them or their family members. Said on Lebanese woman, “I was a supporter. Before, (Hezbollah leaders) acted in a more transparent way. But I am very much against what they did yesterday – destroying roads, traffic lights and everything else.”
Another said his sympathy for Hizballah “died yesterday. They take advantage of our religious loyalties … but turn the streets into military zones.” But the support appears perhaps more shallow than meets the eye, yesterday’s seeming ‘breaking point’ for some notwithstanding. Italy’s Adnkronos News International references a Saudi Arabian magazine describing how Hizballah has been paying Lebanese protesters $20 per day, largely through Iranian financial assistance. Notably, while the Palestinian cause is readily trumpeted by Hizballah for its universal appeal in the region, Palestinian protesters in Lebanon are paid only $10 per day, according the AKI report.
While international donors meet in Paris to summon material support for the Lebanese government and the United States plans to more than triple its aid to the Lebanese military, Hizballah finds itself with a base of supporters growing weary of its strategy of constant conflict and increasing violence within their own borders and against other Lebanese.
Nasrallah may publicly declare his decision to pull back from the protests is rooted in benevolence and a “desire to preserve civil peace.” The true impetus for his decision is almost certainly supplied in large part through a deteriorating level of popular support among Hizballah’s own Shi’a population.