Shujaiya in Gaza has suffered massive Israeli bombing (Picture: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam)

Israel regularly shells towns and villages that sit on its northern border in Lebanon. And every blast risks drawing Hezbollah fighters into Israel’s war. The West characterises the Hezbollah resistance group as “terrorist”, saying it is fuelled by Islamic militancy and armed with rockets.

But Hezbollah doesn’t not conform to their stereotypes. It is a mass political party, with hundreds of thousands of supporters, which has in the past formed the Lebanese government.

And, it is also an experienced and well-armed militia group able to defeat the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Then it surprised the world by combining a popular uprising with well‑studied military tactics. Hezbollah humiliated the Israelis that thought their Western made weapons guaranteed them superiority.

Last week, Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, warned it is now prepared to wage a “war without limits” against Israel.

Since its formation in the early 1980s, Hezbollah has gained widespread support from the Lebanese people as defenders of the country against imperialist aggression. That’s mostly because the highly fragmented and sectarian Lebanese “state” won’t itself come together to face down Israel.

State power in Lebanon is shared between religious sectarian parties. This system, concocted to spread divide and rule, was set up by the French imperialists, who formally handed Lebanon its independence in 1943.

Politicians from each sectarian group compete for their own interests, plummeting the country’s resources and plunging ordinary people into crisis. The Lebanese state and economy have for many years hovered on the brink of collapse.

At its inception in 1982, Hezbollah tried to show that it was different from the other warring sectarian parties. Born out of resistance from below, it took root, particularly among Shia Muslims, who were politically underrepresented and some of the poorest people.

Israel’s invasion in 1982 allowed Hezbollah to show that it would not compromise with the enemy—and led to it amassing more support. That backing only grew after Israel’s ill-fated invasion in 2006.

But Hezbollah has always faced a dilemma—should it challenge Lebanon’s sectarian system or become part of it? Even though the group says the parliamentary system is corrupt, it entered parliament in 1992. And despite having mass support after the war in 2006, Hezbollah chose not to be a radical, liberatory force for change but instead a party similar to others in the sectarian system.

In 2019, the Lebanese people, furious at austerity cuts plunging them further into poverty, rose up. But according to Lebanese socialist Simon Assaf, “Hezbollah found itself outside this uprising.”

“They even offered other parties their troops to put down the uprising”, he said. “Last year Hezbollah made a deal with Israel so the Zionists could extract gas from the eastern Mediterranean Sea. And they have been mobilising together with extreme right parties for some time.”

“Hezbollah doesn’t have the same support it used to have outside of the Shia in the south.”

“But of course, since the 7 October, everything has been thrown into disarray. Despite the contradictions, the Lebanese people are with Hezbollah in their attempts to stop Israeli incursions across the border. This has always been what has marked Hezbollah as different to the other sectarian parties.” Simon says that more potent force is needed to stop Israel. 

“What Hezbollah can do is limited. This war has already been expensive for them. They’ve lost troops and some of their top cadre. And up against the military of Israel, armed by the US, it wouldn’t really be possible for them to win. To win this time, we need the masses, not just missiles, and a revival of the Arab Spring revolutions seen across the region in 2011.”

Palestinians and Lebanon

Palestinians settled in Lebanese refugee camps in the wake of the 1948 Nakba. Here they faced poverty, compounded by state repression. The Lebanese state tried to do deals with the Israelis but in 1967 everything changed. Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Several Arab armies opposed Israel but it defeated them.

The Palestinians knew then that Arab leaders were not coming to save them. In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees trained to carry out attacks against Israel. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was based in Lebanon between the 1960s and the 1980s.

The PLO became so powerful during this time that it threatened Lebanon’s rulers. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to crush the PLO, it gave the go-ahead for its Lebanese allies to murder Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The PLO was driven out of Lebanon.

Thousands of Palestinians still live in Lebanon but don’t have the same rights as Lebanese people.

Yemen

Many of the world’s most powerful nations are readying themselves for war against one of the weakest—Yemen. A gang, including the US, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Britain formed last week. It issued a final warning to Yemen’s Houthi fighters to stop attacking Western shipping in the Red Sea or face bombing.

Houthi fighters target cargo ships and oil tankers in the vital shipping area as an act of solidarity with the Palestinians and in opposition to Western imperialism that has laid waste to their country.

Britain and the US has rushed gunboats into the Red Sea in a bid to regain control. The Wall Steet Times newspaper reports new bombing campaigns could include “launchers for anti-ship missiles and drones, targeting infrastructure such as coastal radar installations, and storage facilities for munitions.”

In reality, the West will lash-out at coastal villages where many Houthi fighters are based. Such a war would be launched under the guise of supporting a free Yemen, but which would instead help to install a government obedient to US imperialism.

The Houthis won state power across most of Yemen after the civil war which erupted in the wake of the 2011 revolution. The popular uprising targeted the dictatorship of Ali Abdallah Saleh, but was eventually derailed through the intervention of the Gulf States and Western powers.

The civil war pitted forces in the north of Yemen, including the Houthis, against armed movements from Southern Yemen, which were backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a devastating and bloody war on Yemen fuelled by British and US arms.

The Campaign against the Arms Trade (CAAT) estimates that £26.8 billion worth of British-made arms have been sold to Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the war in 2015. The war started after the Houthis took control of the capital city of Sanaa, demanding a reduction in fuel prices and a new government.

Despite the onslaught, widespread famine and destruction of the country, the Houthis came out victorious against the Saudi and Emirati forces.

The United Nations estimates that more than 377,000 people were killed by the end of 2021 and over four million people were forced to flee their homes. 

In its war drive the West will doubtless talk of humanitarian aims. Its real aims are economic and strategic. Some 10 percent of all global trade passes through the Red Sea. The northern region of Yemen being rich in oil is another cause for imperialist interest.

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