Technorati Profile

Britain, Hostages, and Hezbollah

March 29, 2009

The explanation for Britain’s surprising announcement earlier this month that it would authorize contacts with the political wing of Hezbollah has now become somewhat clearer.  A report in Friday’s Guardian details how British authorities, in the course of negotiating the return of 5 British hostages taken in 2007, have sought Hezbollah’s help as an intermediary to the Sadrist affiliated kidnappers.  The Guardian writes unambiguously that, “Efforts to finalise the deal were a factor in Britain’s move to re-engage publicly with Hezbollah’s political wing in Lebanon this month.”  This contrasts sharply with the statement given by Bill Rammel of the Foreign Office a few weeks ago:

“We have reconsidered our position on no contact with Hezbollah,” the Foreign Office said, “in light of more positive recent political developments in Lebanon, including the formation of the national unity government in which Hezbollah are participating. We are exploring certain contacts at an official level with Hezbollah’s political wing, including MPs.”

This article in al-Akhbar, which relies on the Guardian as its source, nevertheless emphasizes the connection between the British reversal vis a vis Hezbollah’s political wing and the hostage negotiations moreso than the Guardian piece.

This episode illustrates a number of key points.  First, it shows that while many Hezbollah experts emphasize the uniquely “domestic Lebanese” aspect of Hezbollah, it is in fact a robust international organization (I’m not so much arguing here that the experts are totally offbase, but rather that the international dimension is not studied and emphasized as much as I believe it ought to be).  Hezbollah naturally has close ties to Iran and Syria, but also Shia militant organizations across the region.  Another key aspect of the Party’s international dimension are ties to Lebanese Shia expatriates across the world and particularly to some of the more unsavory Lebanese who engage in illicit activities like drug trafficking and money laundering.  These international elements also reflect a degree of autonomy from Iran that analysts often underestimate.  When European governments openly deal with Hezbollah it only further legitimizes the organization and makes it a more potent actor on the international scene.

Second, it is unlikely that Hezbollah had any role in planning or carrying out the kidnapping operation (though they may have provided training to those who did).  However, Hezbollah clearly recognized an opportunity and exploited it for all it was worth.  Iraqi militants affiliated (though perhaps only indirectly) with as-Sadr took five British hostages.  In return for their services as mediators not only did the Party acheive a diplomatic coup with the Foreign Office, but also apparently secured the release of Ali Mousawi al-Daqdouq, a Hezbollah leader who is a 24 year vet of its military wing and wanted by Israel for an array of violent acts.

Bookmark and Share

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>