Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group, is expanding its military power by recruiting Sunnis, Christians and Druze in preparation for another conflict with Israel, according to sources close to Hezbollah.
In addition to its yearlong political campaign to bring down Lebanon's pro-Western government, Hezbollah has ignored U.N. and Lebanese government calls for disarmament and remains focused on bolstering its military strength by recruiting non-Shiites. The Islamic organization wants to allay fears that it is strictly a sectarian militia, these same sources say.
Former Lebanese Brig. Gen. Amin Hotait, an expert on Hezbollah, says the nonsectarian strategy began after Hezbollah declared a "divine victory" over Israel in a monthlong war in July 2006. Since then, its fighters have increased by several thousand, the analysts say.
"After the July war, the numbers of Shiites joining Hezbollah as fighters doubled, but the group has also expanded by appealing to other sects under the banner of the political opposition," said Hotait. "They are preparing for a future role in conflict against Israel."
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Although exact figures are impossible to come by, experts estimate that Hezbollah had several thousand professional fighters and about 10,000 second-rank troops before the war with Israel.
Hotait says Hezbollah has since re-established the Lebanese Brigades for Resisting Occupation, which had been scrapped in 1999 and whose ranks included Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Druze and Christians.
Hezbollah is also courting Sunni religious scholars known as sheikhs to shore up its military support, according to Patrick Haenni, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.
"Hezbollah is in desperate need of the Sunni sheikhs and went to meet as many as they could," said Haenni. "They are eager not to make the resistance against Israel a Shiite cause."
Moreover, Hezbollah is arming and training a Sunni militia group inside the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near the southern port of Sidon, ostensibly to counter al Qaeda fighters. It is the largest of a dozen Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, with an estimated 75,000 residents.
Sheikh Abu Ayoub, the commander of some 300 Sunni Palestinian fighters of Ansar Allah (Followers of God), acknowledges his group's affiliation with Hezbollah.
"Everything comes from Hezbollah -- financial support, weapons and training," said Abu Ayoub, inside the run-down camp. "Palestine is an Islamic issue. Hezbollah are Islamic. We are Islamic."
Ansar Allah members say they will monitor and expel foreign fighters to prevent a repeat of the devastating summer conflict between the Sunni al Qaeda-inspired militants of Fatah Islam -- many of whom were Saudi extremists -- and the Lebanese army in the northern Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. The three-month-long conflict was the worst internal violence since the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. The fighting destroyed much of the camp and killed 168 soldiers, more than 200 militants and 47 civilians.
"Hezbollah has an interest in preventing the rise of al Qaeda when you see what has happened in Iraq," said Abu Ayoub.
Hezbollah's media office ignored several requests to comment for this story. However, in an earlier interview, the group's foreign affairs spokesman, Nawaf Mousawi, blamed the rise of Sunni extremism in Lebanon on Washington and the government coalition, which sees such groups as a bulwark against Hezbollah. Washington and Beirut adamantly deny the allegation.
In a March article in the New Yorker magazine, reporter Seymour Hersh quoted a former British intelligence officer saying the Sunni extremist group Fatah Islam was "offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government's interests -- presumably to take on Hezbollah." (Hugh Macleod, "Lebanon's Militant Hezbollah Forging New Ties: Shiite Group Recruits from Other Sects to Help Build Strength," San Francisco Chronicle, 1 November 2007)
Friday, November 02, 2007
Hizballah Forges New Ties
The more Hizballah nationalizes its resistance, the better its chances are in Lebanon, and the more it can help check the empire in the Middle East. It already has a powerful ally in the Free Patriotic Movement led by General Michel Aoun and enjoys critical support of Lebanese Communists. Now, it is said that Hizballah is recruiting and training those from other faiths, not only to nationalize the resistance but also to exclude sectarians of the Al Qaeda tendency from Lebanon: