Saturday 09 Oct 2021 | 19:42 | SYDNEY
Saturday 09 Oct 2021 | 19:42 | SYDNEY

Dealing with Al-Shaytan


Rodger Shanahan


3 July 2008 14:18

Today’s announcement by Hizbullah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah that his organisation has agreed to a UN-mediated prisoner exchange with Israel highlights the difficult choices faced by the Israeli government over the decision, and also provides an insight into Hizbullah thinking. The Olmert government has had to make a significant and difficult concession in agreeing to the proposal, releasing Samir Quntar, the longest serving Lebanese prisoner in Israel who was responsible for the deaths of three people including two children, in Nahariyya in 1979. In exchange, Israel will receive the two Israeli soldiers whose capture in July 2006 sparked a 34 day war (and whom the Israeli government believe died at or shortly after their seizure) and conclusive proof regarding the fate of Ron Arad, the air force navigator who parachuted from his aircraft over Lebanon in 1986, was captured alive but whose ultimate fate has never been determined.

The issue also provides an insight into the different timeframes that Hizbullah uses when it makes policy decisions. Unlike the electoral cycles that often determine policy timelines in democratic societies, Hizbullah is free to look at the short, medium and long-term consequences of its decisions. This allows it to view the definition of victory in different terms. For example, its quest for political power may take generations, but it believes that demographics alone will eventually force the necessary electoral law reforms that will allow it to happen. Similarly, May’s armed incursion onto the streets of West Beirut and routing of Saad Hariri’s Future Movement was seen as a necessary short-term manoeuvre to protect its internal communication network and to send a message to the Siniora governments' Sunni and Western backers exactly who was capable of controlling the Lebanese street. When the prisoner exchange takes place, Hizbullah will claim that its actions that precipitated the 2006 war will now have been justified as their aim of forcing a prisoner release was achieved — two years later admittedly — but in Hizbullah’s worldview that is hardly any time at all.