This week, Hezbollah celebrated the anniversary of the martyrdom of three of its top founding leaders who were assassinated by Israeli intelligence over the past three decades. The life and role of each of those leaders reflects a big part of how Hezbollah emerged and evolved.
Coincidentally, all three leaders were killed during the month of February, which drove Hezbollah to set Feb. 17 as the annual date to commemorate them and shed light on their role within the party’s history. On Feb. 6, 1984 a special Israeli unit assassinated one of the party’s most prominent operatives, Sheik Ragheb Harb. On Feb. 16, 1992, Israeli jets killed Hezbollah’s first secretary general, Sheik Abbas al-Mussawi. And on Feb. 12, 2008, Israeli intelligence assassinated Hezbollah’s military commander Imad Mughniyeh by blowing up his car when he was visiting Damascus.
The party brags about being a “party of the martyred leaders,” as a sign that even the organizational heads of the party are jihadists, and not just occupying a post of privilege. But recently, that image has been somewhat tarnished. When the party joined the government and started benefitting from its spoils it caused the emergence within the party of a class that works to serve its own interests. What happened with Hamas after reaching power in the Gaza Strip is happening now within Hezbollah after it became part of the Lebanese government.
It has been said that the greatest danger for any resistance is when it starts to govern. This is what Hezbollah is now facing as the party has recently been connected to several corruption scandals. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah personally intervened recently to deal with corruption cases in the party’s leadership structure.
In the past year, Nasrallah met with a large group of party members and warned them of the occurrence of party members openly exhibiting their wealth. He asked them about the source of the money, which had allowed some leaders’ wives to buy luxury cars and be seen in the classiest shops and supermarkets accompanied by two servants. On more than one occasion, Nasrallah threatened to purge the party. But those familiar with party affairs say that corruption inside the party is too widespread to be eliminated by a cleanup campaign. They fear that after Hezbollah joined that the government, it became part of the Lebanese corruption order and is no longer the same party that was committed to resistance with fighters dispersed in remote mountains.
The sources said that Nasrallah wants to deal with the rampant corruption by restricting it to a narrow grouping within the party and preventing it from spreading to the military wing, which is referred to as the “jihadist body” and works constantly in preparation for war with Israel. The sources asserted that the military body is still free of corruption.
A new generation has emerged within Hezbollah’s political wing. That generation is disconnected from the founding generation of Sheikh Mussawi and Harb, whose martyrdom was celebrated this week. The new generation is reaping the gains sowed by the party’s first-generation. In the party’s early days, its leaders were of the turabiyyoun type, which is an Islamic word that means that they had no material ambitions and stayed close to their popular bases. There are few turabiyyoun remaining, and some point to Nasrallah as being one of the most prominent among them. There are others, but their names are unknown outside the party and they form the core structure of the party’s military body.
Hezbollah’s media currently focuses on the moral qualities of the three founding leaders and on their devotion to their goals. Harb is presented as a man who lived and died among the people that he defended. Mussawi is portrayed as Hezbollah’s Mao Zedong and who used to raise the banner of resistance that should always be preserved. Mughniyeh represents military creativity within the party. He is considered the hero of the July 2006 war and he transferred that experience to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. It is said that he taught his guerrilla tactics to a unit inside the Syrian army.
More than 30 years after its inception, Hezbollah is today a large party with economic, political, social and military extensions. It runs its own private economy, which it is said to be worth a few billion dollars and includes financial institutions, cross-border trade, restaurants, cafes and religious tourism companies. It owns educational institutions that graduate about 2,000 university students a year. The quality of education in its schools (especially Hezbollah’s al-Mustafa School, followed by al-Batoul School) compete with that of the Christian missionary schools that have been in Lebanon for more than 50 years.
So Hezbollah is no longer just a military group even though that aspect still gets the most nurturing. The military aspect of Hezbollah remains jihadist in nature and is independent from the party’s economic and social project. As the party strives to keep its jihadist military project protected from corruption, it deals pragmatically with the corruption in its social and economic project. It does that because the party knows that this corruption is part and parcel of the party’s economic, political and social alliances with entities outside of Hezbollah, and the purpose of the alliances are to expand Hezbollah’s political project inside the Lebanese government.