Lebanon's historic parliamentary election, after nine years of political upheaval, has brought unexpected results. Hezbollah - a Shia political group with an armed wing, backed by Iran - and its political allies gained more ground by winning seats in the Lebanese Parliament. The voting turnout remained low at only 49 per cent as compared to 54 per cent of the previous election of 2009. According to Lebanon's power-sharing agreement, a Maronite Christian holds the presidency, a Shia Muslim is the speaker of the parliament and the post of prime minister is reserved for a Sunni Muslim. According to this formula, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the leader of Future Movement (FM), assumed premiership despite the fact that his party lost a third of its seats in the election. The low turnout and the FM's loss in the election, with many seats going to the Hezbollah allies, indicated the frustration among voters about the issues of governance and corruption.
The citizens' demand for effective governance, health care, jobs and an end to corruption had already been witnessed in massive protests previously.
Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh - the arch foes of Hezbollah - believe that the elections have boosted Hezbollah's clout. The success of Hezbollah and its allies drew swift reaction from Israel. In a naive statement, Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennett said, "The State of Israel will not differentiate between the sovereign State of Lebanon and Hezbollah." He made Lebanon equal to Hezbollah in spite of the fact that in a 128-member Parliament, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, an ally of Hezbollah, won 28 seats from their unified platform. The hawkish right-wing minister also threatened to hold Lebanon responsible in case of any action by Hezbollah from the Lebanese soil. The inflammatory tone comes amid rising tensions between Israel and Iran over Syria that have brought both countries at the brink of a regional conflict.
This is not the first time that Israel has used provocative language against Lebanon. Previously, on a number of occasions, Israel has threatened the Lebanese population of annihilation, destruction and sending them to the Stone Age. A practical manifestation of such threats was witnessed in the July 2006 war that Israel waged on Lebanon. Israeli jets targeted the civilian infrastructure and destroyed bridges, buildings, houses and roads of Beirut through heavy bombings. Nearly 1,000 Lebanese civilians were killed which Israeli officials tried to blame solely on Hezbollah. However, a detailed 249-page investigation report of the Human Rights Watch, released in September 2007, made Israel responsible for the civilian killings due to its indiscriminate airstrikes. The aim of the war for Israel was to secure the release of two of its soldiers captured by Hezbollah and to destroy the latter's military wing.
However, Israel failed to achieve its goals and made diplomatic efforts for a cease-fire which was mediated by France and the US. The recent electoral gains of the Hezbollah and its allies have mounted Israel's fear.
The Hezbollah was founded in the 1980s during the Lebanese Civil War. It fought against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It emerged after the amalgamation of Shia fighters who were fighting against Israel's occupation. Through their guerrilla tactics they eventually drove Israel out of Lebanon in 2000. In the 33-day war of 2006, Hezbollah's military wing defended Lebanon against Israel's aggression and garnered cross-sectarian support from the Lebanese society. Its military wing is a major regional paramilitary force and more powerful than the Lebanese army. When ISIS and other radical groups fighting in Syria reached the border of Lebanon, Hezbollah fought and drove the jihadists out of Lebanon's border areas and secured the country's borders.
Its strength and influence exponentially increased when the group joined the Syrian war in 2012 in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah's regional sponsors are Iran and Syria which provide military, political and financial support to the group.
Israel, USA, Canada and the Arab League have labelled Hezbollah as a terrorist group. However, the UK, EU and Australia differentiate between its political and military activities. When Hasan Nasrullah assumed the leadership of the group in 1992, he strengthened the political and social activities of Hezbollah. Today, the group not only enjoys the support of Lebanese Shias but also represents other sectarian groups including Christians. Despite the repeated demands to dismantle its armed wing by other political groups of Lebanon, Hezbollah deems it necessary to counter Israel and other external threats.
How the recent election makes Hezbollah powerful? The mainstream western media make headlines for Hezbollah's victory after the election. It is not only Hezbollah that has gained but its Hezbollah-led bloc has also increased its share and achieved more than half of the parliamentary seats. This also includes the Amal Movement and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) led by Lebanese President Michel Aoun. While Hezbollah's own seats largely remained intact, the gains by Amal, FPM and other allies have enabled Hezbollah to play a bigger role in Lebanese politics. The alliance has given Hezbollah the power of veto and has allowed it to extend its influence over the key issues of Lebanese politics.
If war in Syria has made Hezbollah fighters more battle-hardened, it is the recent election that has undoubtedly increased the group's political strength and influence. However, considering the strength of Lebanon and Hezbollah as equal and removing the distinction between the party and the Lebanese state is unwise and immature. Claiming that Lebanon is now hostage to Hezbollah or that it is a victory for Iran - as reported by some international media - will only favour Israel in pursuing its war crimes and belligerence against Lebanon.