August 7, 2006 Special Dispatch No. 1234

Debate in the Arab Countries – Is Hizbullah a ‘Resistance’ Organization or Not? Cracks in the United Arab Position on Hizbullah's Right to ‘Resistance’ Against Israel

August 7, 2006
Special Dispatch No. 1234

The war between Israel and Hizbullah has revealed profound disagreement in the Arab world concerning the legitimacy of Hizbullah's activities against Israel. Two major camps have emerged. The first camp, led by Saudi Arabia, opposed Hizbullah's activities and called them "uncalculated adventures," not "resistance," and said that in order for a group to be considered a resistance organization it must meet certain criteria that Hizbullah does not meet. The second camp, headed by Syria, has supported Hizbullah and has considered it a true resistance organization that is conducting "glorious national resistance" that brings honor to the Arabs. They contend that resistance is always legitimate, and that its legitimacy is not dependent on any particular conditions. [1]

In a speech at the emergency summit of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, on July 15, 2006, Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh observed that there was a shift in Arab perceptions: "There has been a development in the concepts and criteria employed in the international arena. [These concepts] are crystallizing in a manner that is contrary to the Arab interest. [According to these criteria,] resistance is terrorism, but [Israel is seen as employing] self-defense, which gives it a free hand to destroy and kill without any limitation." [2]

The following are excerpts from statements by Saudi and Syrian officials and media, as well as the Egyptian press.

Senior Saudi Officials: Hizbullah's Actions "Uncalculated Adventures"

The contention that Hizbullah's actions were not resistance was first heard July 12, 2006, from a senior Saudi official who stated: "There is no choice but to differentiate between legitimate resistance and the uncalculated adventures that some elements in the country [i.e. Hizbullah] are carrying out - they and those who stand behind them - this without their having had recourse to the legitimate sovereign authority in their country, and without any coordination or consultation with the Arab countries. Saudi Arabia sees this as a very dangerous situation that is bringing destruction to the Arab countries and to their achievements, without these countries being able to express their opinion [on the matter]. The time has come for these elements, and they alone, to bear full responsibility for their irresponsible behavior, and they alone need to bear the burden of the crisis they caused." [3]

Similar statements were made by Saudi Foreign Minister Sa'ud Al-Faisal, in a speech at the emergency summit of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on July 15, 2006: "A decision made [independently] by a single country is not acceptable - all the more so when irresponsible elements who do not recognize the supremacy of the state make decisions on their own that not only entangle that country, but also push the other countries to uncalculated adventures." [4]

*"The Land Has Been Liberated; the Role of the Resistance Must End"

Saudi Ambassador to the Arab League Ahmad 'Abd Al-'Aziz Qattan explained the Saudi position: "No one is opposed to resistance everywhere in the Arab world, but the true aim of any resistance must be the liberation of land. If the land has [already] been liberated, then the role of the resistance must end, and it must be dissolved into the melting pot of the country..." [5]

Saudi Daily: "[Hizbullah] Cannot Be Considered Legitimate National Resistance if it is Loyal to Anyone Other than Lebanon... [if it is] Unilateral... And if it Disregards [Arab] Reactions"

An editorial in the Saudi daily 'Okaz claimed that Hizbullah does not meet the criteria to be considered legitimate resistance: "There exists a consensus concerning the definition of an 'occupier': he is one who uses force to illegitimately steal land that is not his own from its residents. However, there is disagreement concerning the definition of 'legitimate resistance.' In the case of the resistance in southern Lebanon and the degree of legitimacy [given] to Hizbullah as national resistance, we find ourselves before an interpretation that is different [than the standard one in support of resistance movements]... The Hizbullah organization's being a defense [organization] on Lebanese soil is not sufficient for it to be considered a legitimate resistance movement, if it acts outside of the umbrella of the Lebanese government. Actions that some [i.e. Hizbullah] consider quality actions against the Israeli enemy are actually [actions] that bring disasters and troubles on all of Lebanon.

"Likewise, [Hizbullah's] resistance cannot be considered legitimate national resistance if it is loyal to anyone other than Lebanon, for any reason, and it cannot be [considered] legitimate national resistance as long as it does not receive the blessing of the government and the people. It also cannot be considered legitimate resistance that enjoys the support of Arab and Muslim public opinion if [it undertakes] unilateral actions whose consequences are uncalculated, and if it disregards the [Arabs'] reactions to this..." [6]

*"When Injustice is Done, This is No Longer Resistance"

Egyptian columnist 'Abdallah 'Abd Al-Salam also claimed that Hizbullah's actions can no longer be considered resistance. In an article in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram he wrote: "Isn't it strange that Hizbullah disregarded even to the need to inform the Lebanese government about the operation before it happened - and then afterwards demanded that it attest that it had seen nothing, that it lend its signature to [Hizbullah's] strategy being correct, and that it got Lebanon entangled in a declared war with Israel - this after Hizbullah expropriated the decision to go to war from the government, and made it into its own decision...

"One of the most important goals of resistance is to eliminate injustice and to restore to the people their stolen honor. But when [the resistance] becomes a tool that gives the enemy an excuse to violate the country's sovereignty, wipe out installations on the ground, and murder innocent Lebanese - and even worse, when other countries can take advantage of the resistance for the sake of escalation - then the resistance fully ceases to be resistance." [7]

*The Sovereignty of the Government "Has Been Expropriated"

Yahya Rabbah, former PLO Ambassador to Yemen and columnist for the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, wrote: "The Palestinian resistance forces [i.e. Hamas] took political decision[-making] hostage from the Palestinian political framework [i.e. the PLO]; the Lebanese resistance forces - Hizbullah - took political decision[-making] hostage from the Lebanese [government]. The resistance forces here [in the PA] and there [in Lebanon] led to both of the political regimes, the Palestinian and Lebanese, having to pay a high price, even though they did not know what was going on, and even though they were not given even the smallest chance to manage the crisis that was caused by the two actions.

"In other words, the roles of the two regimes were expropriated, their legitimacy was sidestepped, and they were left irrelevant to what was going on. The resistance forces here and there took hostage the role of the regimes in the Arab states, and left them [i.e. the regimes] standing confused and impotent, almost completely paralyzed... All of this [was carried out] via a regional coalition axis, stretching from Gaza to southern Lebanon, to Damascus, to Tehran." [8]

Top Syrian Officials: Criticism for Hizbullah's Critics; "We Support the Resistance"

The countries supporting Hizbullah's activities - and first and foremost Syria - claimed that Hizbullah was carrying out legitimate resistance, and denounced its Arab critics. At the Cairo summit of Arab foreign ministers, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allem defended "Hizbullah's right, and the right of the Lebanese people, to put up resistance against Israel's wild behavior, which is not in need of excuses [in order to attack]," and expressed criticism of any Arab element providing "Arab backing for [Israeli] aggression." [9]

Mahdi Dakhlallah, former Syrian information minister and current head of the Syrian leadership's research department, said: "We are proud of our support for Hizbullah and the resistance, wherever it is being conducted. It is a great source of pride, not shame. We support the resistance with all our force and with all our capabilities, whether in southern Lebanon or in Palestine... The Arab people has taken matters into its own hands. The issue is no longer in the hands of official institutions, governments, and armies. It is rather the people who decide. This is a positive development for the Arabs." [10]

Syrian Dailies Praise the "Resistance"

*"The Resistance... is the True Face of the Nation, Whose History is Full of Glorious Deeds"

An article in the Syrian government daily Al-Thawra read: "The brave resistance of today, as Hassan Nasrallah said, is leading the nation's battle, and this is a historic opportunity for the nation to achieve victory over its enemy. The resistance... is the true face of the nation whose history is full of glorious deeds. This face will never agree to [accept] the denigrating blows, and it has freshness and vitality that allow it to be the face of the new East." [11]

*"Resistance is Always a Legitimate Act"

Another article in Al-Thawra fiercely attacked those who cast doubt on whether Hizbullah was a resistance organization: "It is unthinkable that, at a time when the nation is facing the boundless Israeli hatred and is subject to these mad crimes, the criteria are being turned inside out in the dictionary of some of the Arabs, and the resistance [i.e. Hizbullah] is being blamed for what is happening...

"The strange thing is that these voices... still do not understand that resistance is always a legitimate act for which there is no need to receive permission from anyone or to consult anyone. In light of this, the quality operation that the Islamic resistance carried out in southern Lebanon is a moment of glory and victory for this nation whose honor has been destroyed by the Arabs' traitorous positions, and the open conspiring with the nation's enemies..." [12]

*"The Arab Public... Is Stunned by These Voices [Critical of Hizbullah]"

A third article in Al-Thawra read: "It would have been better if these voices [of criticism], which remained silent for a long period of time and did not do the slightest thing in the face of what is going on in Gaza and the cities of the West Bank... had continued to remain silent, so long as they do not understand the meaning of the action of the capture of the two Israeli soldiers... Indeed, the Arab public, which expected [to hear] positions in support of the Islamic resistance, is stunned by these voices, about which the least that can be said is that they justify Israel's barbaric aggression and its wild crimes, and give it a green light to pursue its attacks and its open war on all fronts... Those who are saying these things should have listened to the pulse of the Arab public..." [13]

The Arab Press: The Lebanese Have the Right to Resist the Occupation

The Syrian position, that Hizbullah is a true resistance organization, has been echoed in numerous other articles in the Arab press. For instance, columnist and former editor-in-chief of the Egyptian government daily Al-Akhbar, Galal Duweidar, wrote: "As is known to all - and to Israel as well - Israel's refusal to sit at the negotiating table led to despair among the Palestinian people. Likewise, its determination to persist in its occupation of Lebanese territories and to apply pressure, through the U.S., to lay siege to the legitimate resistance to this occupation [i.e. Hizbullah] - these are among the factors that encouraged the outbreak of this crisis. It is impossible to separate the aggression and the destruction planned in advance that is occurring in Lebanon from what is happening in the Palestinian territories. Did Israel think that the Palestinians and the Lebanese should surrender and accept the occupation and the [territorial] expansion? In fact, the international conventions grant peoples the right to resist occupation and to confront military forces..." [14]

Columnist Ahmad Bahjat wrote in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram: "Nasrallah did nothing wrong when he took two Israeli soldiers prisoner. The capture took place on Lebanese territory that is occupied by Israeli forces. The meaning of this is that he [i.e. Nasrallah] has the right to take prisoner or to kidnap any Israeli soldier who places foot on Lebanese land, as part of the legitimate resistance.

"International, human, and religious [i.e. Muslim] law grant him this right... Southern Lebanon is occupied land, and following this logic, the residents of the occupied south can resist the occupying army." [15]

[1] The last major split in the Arab world on an issue related to fighting Israel was over suicide attacks. See:

MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 53, " Debating the Religious, Political and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings Part 1: The Debate over Religious Legitimacy," May 2, 2001, Debating the Religious, Political and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings Part 1: The Debate over Religious Legitimacy ;

MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 54, " Debating the Religious, Political and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings Part 2: The Debate over Political and Moral Legitimacy", Debating the Religious, Political and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings Part 2: The Debate over Political and Moral Legitimacy ;

MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 65, " Part 3: Debating the Religious, Political, and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings" Debating the Religious, Political, and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings: Part III ;

MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 66, "Part 4: Debating the Religious, Political, and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings: Part" Debating the Religious, Political, and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings: Part IV.

[2] Al-Nahhar (Lebanon), July 16, 2006.

[3] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), July 14, 2006.

[4] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), July 16, 2006.

[5] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 21, 2006.

[6] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), July 15, 2006.

[7] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 15, 2006.

[8] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), July 14, 2006.

[9] Al-Nahhar (Lebanon), July 16, 2006.

[10] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 2, 2006.

[11] Al-Thawra (Syria), July 18, 2006.

[12] Al-Thawra (Syria), July 17, 2006.

[13] Al-Thawra (Syria), July 17, 2006.

[14] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), July 14, 2006,

[15] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 21, 2006.

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