Creating people's geographies
Hezbollah is re-grouping amid war jitters and Israeli war games, Nicolas Blanford writes in the Christian Science Monitor. The heightened tensions may simply mean more posturing, but since the assassination of Imad Moughniyeh two months ago, the Lebanese Shia group are recruiting more Sunnis, Druze and Christian Lebanese to their ranks, and undertaking intensive training stints in Iran. (Excerpted, read in full at the CSM)
Over the past few weeks, military activity on both sides of the border has contributed to war jitters … The Israeli military just wrapped up a nationwide war drill it dubbed “Turning Point 2,” and Hizbullah appears to have devised new battle plans that include cross-border raids into Israel and has mounted a sweeping recruitment and training drive, even marshaling non-Shiites and former Israeli-allied militiamen into new reservist units.
[…] Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the party’s leader, in February said that Hizbullah had evolved into an “unparalleled new school” that is part guerrilla force and part conventional army.
A European diplomat in Beirut, who has been watching Hizbullah’s preparations, likened attacking the organization to “punching a sponge” – it absorbs the blow then bounces back – and questioned whether Israel still fully appreciates what it is up against.
Hizbullah’s military buildup is not confined to Shiite Lebanese. Sunnis, Christians, and Druze also are being recruited into reservist units called “Saraya,” or battalions.
Building ties to Sunnis serves for Hizbullah the double purpose of expanding support while also helping improve Shiite-Sunni relations, strained due to political divisions in Lebanon.
In the southern coastal town of Sidon, a Sunni Islamist militant group called the Fajr Forces, which fought invading Israeli troops in the early 1980s, has been resurrected as a Hizbullah ally.
Sheikh Afif Naboulsi, a prominent Hizbullah cleric, last month was quoted as saying that next time “the Israelis will find resistance fighters from all sects and denominations.”
Hizbullah has been particularly active, according to residents, in the eastern pocket of the zone patrolled by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The area is the mainly Sunni Arqoub district and faces the Shebaa Farms, an Israeli-occupied mountainside running along Lebanon’s border with the Golan Heights.
Having lost ground here to political rivals after the 2006 war, Hizbullah is now seeking to regain its influence through funding a new group called the Arab Resistance Front, a reservist force for local Sunnis. Even former members of the now disbanded Israeli-allied South Lebanon Army militia have joined the new group, according to local residents.
“Hizbullah will not turn down anyone who wants to join the resistance,” says Izzat Qadri, the Sunni mayor of Kfar Shuba and an ally of Hizbullah.
Despite the frequent recruiting in the border zone, officials with UNIFIL say there is no evidence Hizbullah has reactivated its bunkers and rocket-firing positions that the militants abandoned at the end of the 2006 war.
Hizbullah fighters presently are deployed along a new front line above the Litani River, north of the area patrolled by UNIFIL. In the past 18 months, Hizbullah has purchased land from local Druze and Christians, constructed an entire Shiite-populated village, and turned the mountains and valleys of the area into sealed-off military zones.
“There are armed and uniformed Hizbullah men crawling all over the hills. We often hear gunfire and explosions from their training,” says one local resident.