In Hizbullah, Khashan of the American University of Beirut expertly unfolds the political evolution of the group, starting with "its bloody suicide bombings in 1983 of the U.S. and French military headquarters in Beirut, as well as its subsequent kidnappings of American and European nationals in Lebanon." It is significant that Khashan opens the introduction to the book with this simple fact: It means that Hezbollah existed and carried out these and other attacks even before it formally announced its existence in 1985.
Khashan convincingly argues that Iran's commitment to export its revolution led to an aggressive Arab policy. Revolutionary Guard commander Ali Shamkhani molded seven Lebanese Shiite groups, all disaffected with Nabih Berri's Amal Movement, into what became Hezbollah. From the outset, Hezbollah clearly articulated its commitment to the principle of wilayat al-faqih, guardianship by jurists, and to Iran's supreme leader. But "the strategic objectives of Iran are not necessarily contingent upon the well-being of its Arab Shi'ite clients."
Khashan maintains that Hezbollah's claims of victory in its guerilla warfare against Israeli and allied forces in South Lebanon are "a gross overstatement." Hezbollah declared a "divine victory"—by virtue of not being destroyed—in its 2006 war with Israel. Here, too, Khashan argues that Hezbollah's original plan for kidnapping Israeli soldiers dragged Lebanon into an unwanted war and an Israeli retaliation that crippled Lebanese infrastructure.
Although peace in Syria and a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement may not be around the corner, Khashan argues Hezbollah will be in for a rude awakening when it ultimately comes: "The fragmentation of the social and demographic fabric of Hizbullah is unlikely in the near future, but it is inevitable when peace returns to Syria, and the standoff between the United States and Iran comes to a realistic conclusion."
Although Hezbollah's rise to power in Lebanon was backed by Iran, Khashan argues the group's time is nearly up: "History has a self-correcting mechanism, and its logic informs that the rise of Hizbullah and the consolidation of its powers amount to little more than a transient millennial event." Only time will tell if Khashan's prediction of the group's decline is prescient or naïve. But he speaks truth to power either way when he adds that Hezbollah has proven to be a negative for Lebanon as a country and its sectarian communities, even for the Hezbollah's core constituent, the Shiite community.
For those interested in where Hezbollah came from and where it may be going, this is a book well worth reading.