If there’s anything to unite the Arab world, it’s opposition to Israel. If there’s a group to do that unifying, writers former Boston Globe Middle East bureau chief Cambanis, it’s the much-feared Hezbollah, the Party of God.
Hezbollah, writes the author, makes for a complex, frightening enemy that has “put back into popular currency a notion that had lain in tatters since 1967: that Arab forces could do more than terrorize or harass Israel—they could defeat and destroy it. That promise of quick resolution, paradoxically, follows a long and patient process of outwaiting its Israeli foe, slowly building a unified, militant front and sniping at the edges, though unafraid to take on the full might of the Israeli Defense Forces, as in the short-lived but brutal Lebanon war of 2006. Centered in Lebanon but with ties to Iran and Syria, Hezbollah owes much of its success to its secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who, writes the author, “commands more popularity in the Middle East than any other leader.” Nasrallah has taken his organization from the fringe to the center of regional politics, both as an army and as a political force, offering followers a “heady mix of religion, self-improvement, and self-defense that translated into a sustained wave of toxic and powerful militancy.” That militancy is expressed in suicide bombings and other acts of terror, but Cambanis does not sensationalize. Such things are mere tactics, but if Hezbollah is on the whole less anti-Semitic than rival Arab groups, that does not lessen its irrevocable commitment to destroy Israel even as it is “willing to negotiate most other issues” in the interest of practical politics, a stance that gives it a veneer of respectability in the tumult of regional power struggles.
Hezbollah is a formidable presence that cannot be ignored, and Cambanis’s book, a well-balanced blend of journalism, history and geopolitical primer, is a significant aid to understanding it.