Coffee House

Don’t trust Hezbollah — whatever Terry Waite says

11 December 2012

12:05 PM

11 December 2012

12:05 PM

Earlier this month, while he was in Lebanon to highlight the plight of Christians in the Middle East, in particular those fleeing the fighting in neighboring Syria, Terry Waite, the former special envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, kissed and made up with Hezbollah, the militant Shia group that held him captive in Lebanon between 1987 and 1991. One probably shouldn’t blame Waite, now 73, for wanting to exorcise any residual demons of his 1,763-day nightmare, but in doing so he unwittingly gave Hezbollah dangerous and unwarranted legitimacy.

Talking to the UK’s Channel 4 news on his return, Waite declared, rather naively that he simply wanted to help ‘provide some degree of stability’ to Lebanon, a country he said was in ‘desperate difficulties, surrounded on all sides by dissention and trouble’.

Hezbollah, he added, ‘has moved in recent years from being an organization that seemed to be primarily concerned with terrorism… to becoming a fully fledged party’. He pointed out, correctly, that it has ministers in government and added, misleadingly, that it had formed an alliance with the majority of the Christian population and ‘that sort of relationship has to be encouraged in Lebanon’.

Oh Terry. They saw you coming my friend. Yes, Hezbollah has become more sophisticated since the mid-80s when it’s MO was lifting hapless westerners — journalists, academics and the like. Yes it is the most powerful party in the current Lebanese coalition, but did he know that it got there by toppling a democratically elected cabinet through the veiled threat of violence?

Yes, Hezbollah did form an alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement, arguably Lebanon’s biggest Christian party in terms of parliamentary seats, but this has less to do with the pursuit of sectarian harmony and more to do with the ruthless manoeuvrings of Lebanese politics.


The FPM is led by the former Lebanese army general Michel Aoun, who once fought a war with Syria before going into a 14-year Parisian exile. Aoun, whose party is part of the pro-Syrian March 8 bloc, wants the presidency and believes Hezbollah can eventually give it do him. In return, Hezbollah gets valuable Christian cover that it believes will soften its militant Islamic profile.

Waite was certainly sold on the idea, but there is a bigger, more sinister picture that he clearly didn’t see. The party he praised for having ‘moved on’ is slowly suffocating Lebanon’s fragile sense of statehood by its insistence of doing what it wants when it wants. It also poses a genuine threat to regional stability through its strategic military alliance with Iran, while its support of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s murderous regime, a key regional ally, has inflamed Sunni sentiment in Lebanon.

And just to show remind us that it hasn’t totally turned its back on its roots, at least four of Hezbollah members have been indicted by an international tribunal for their involvement in the February 2005 car bomb attack that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.

Hezbollah’s genius lies in the fact that it operates on two levels. The rank and file believes the party has brought a sense of dignity and honour to Lebanon’s Shia, a sect that was for so long an underclass. It has a strong welfare arm helping its constituents with schooling, healthcare and other social services in a country where the state does little for those in need, while its military wing makes up a national resistance movement that forced Israel to leave its self-imposed security zone in south Lebanon in 2000 after 22 years of occupation and gave the Jewish state another spanking in its brief but bloody war in the summer of 2006.

But this narrative is only part of the story. The party’s other core business is being an adjunct Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and a key asset in Tehran’s current stand-off with Israel and the West. Instead of declaring job done in 2000 and laying down its weapons as many Lebanese, myself included, had hoped, it has spent the last 12 years adding to its impressive arsenal and is today arguably the most effective Arab “army” in the region, one whose very presence could ignite regional Armageddon.

Not only is Israel nervous, Hezbollah’s increasingly aggressive martial posturing has created an imbalance in Lebanon, a country that built on consensus politics.

The watershed moment came on 7 May 2008 when, in response to a government decision to shut down its private mobile network and sack a party-appointed security chief at Beirut airport, the party staged what was, on reflection, an attempted coup. After three days of fighting in Beirut and the mountains above the capital (during which not everything went Hezbollah’s way) the politicians returned to the negotiating table. Hezbollah got what it wanted, but the mask of martial purity and steely patriotism had slipped. It had used its weapons to achieve domestic political goals, something it swore it would never do.

Further problems, this time ideological, arose in 2011 when the Arab Spring eventually pollinated Syria. Those Lebanese who were still drinking the Hezbollah Kool Aid wondered why a party that had claimed to stand up for the oppressed was backing a regime that gunned down its own people for simply demanding reform.

Did Waite know that his trip was in all likelihood sponsored by a foundation that believes that only the Assad regime can guarantee the perpetuity of the region’s minorities? Did he understand that his hosts in the FPM and Hezbollah’s Aammar Moussawi, with whom he warmly shook hands, are determined to see the perpetuity of a system that is now being accused of dusting down its chemical weapons arsenal?

In fact does Waite know that, Hezbollah is far more dangerous today than when it took him hostage in Beirut on January 20, 1987? It is at this point that the complexities of Middle East politics begin to run rings around an elderly man trying to do the decent thing.

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Show comments
  • Bibi

    His article in the Telegraph sounded more like a Stockholm Effect flashback than actual journalism.

  • Wesley Aring

    The man is trying to find his own peace with what happened…give him a break.

  • edlancey

    A useless big arsehole of a man.

  • Vicky

    “It is at this point that the complexities of Middle East politics begin to run rings around an elderly man trying to do the decent thing.”

    What a patronising comment to make. “It’s all so very, very complicated – far too complicated for an old man like him to get his poor old head round. I need to ‘splain things to him.”

  • Daniel

    How we forget that “negotiating with terrorists” is what brought long-sought peace to Northern Ireland.

    • anyfool

      Are you serious, i have looked very hard for the irony.

    • Mike

      It was the largely working class NCOs in the army and especially the Paras, Marines and Special Forces: The RUC and MI5 who brought the Provos to the table: not the charm of Blair and J Powell. In the 70s when Roy Mason had had enough of the violence he let the army off the lease . According to MMcGuiness ” The Army kicked the f….. shit out of the Provos” and was 3 weeks from defeating them. Roy Mason had Special Branch protection until recently as a consequence .

      From the early 90s the effectiveness of the Provos was being reduced . What McGuiness and Adams achieved was to persuade the gullible Blair they were stronger than they actually were. Mcguiness and Adams were astute enough to know Blair was desperate to obtain a deal for the political kudos and were able to negotiate very favourable terms..

      • anyfool

        Quite right, its time to put the pre 70s yellow card back in the rules of engagement as a warning to the current lot, now that Blairs capitulation is starting to unravel, even his surrender has failed what a prick.
        Roy Mason the last Labour MP with guts.

      • mikewaller

        I think key factors were: (a) the leading lights’ sons were by then of an age when they too would be expected to join the fight and very likely die; and, (b) that having spent time in the Maze studying politics and economics the leading Provos finally got it into their heads that really neither Eire or the UK really want the whole sorry mess and only the UK can, for the time-being, afford to pay the bills!

    • Hexhamgeezer

      you obviously dont live there or know no-one who does.

      ‘Mike’ and ‘anyfool’ have disrobed you perfectly.

  • john cronin

    I am prompted by this article to repeat a rather tasteless (and for younger readers probably totally non topical) joke which was doing the rounds some years back.

    After many years in Lebanese captivity, John mccarthy comes back to London and is reunited with Jill Morrell. They are lying in bed and he says:

    “Lokk, Jill this is difficult, its’ been a long time, I’m not the man I used to be.”

    Jill says, “I understand, John, I’ll be patient.”

    He then says: “Would you mind turning the light out?”

    She does so.

    “Jill” says John – “Would you mind, er blindfolding me?”

    Jill thinks this is bit kinky, but goes along with it.

    “Jill” he says “Would you mind, er, handcuffing me to the radiator?”

    She is still more perturbed, but does as as he asks.


    “WHAT THE BLOODY HELL NOW”? she replies.

    “Would you mind if I called you Terry?”

  • MaxSceptic

    Three obsrevations:
    1) Waite is indeed a Holy Fool with Stockholm Syndrome.
    2) As for Hezbollah giving “… the Jewish state another spanking in its brief but bloody war in the summer of 2006.”: Hezbollah got thrashed. They have remained silent since then.
    3) The success of the Iron Dome is a game-changer. Now that its efficacy is proven, Israel can deal with Iran knowing that its northern border is secure.

    • victor67

      If they got spanked then why did the IDF hold an internal enquiry into what went wrong? The guerilla fighters were more than a match for the IDF.

    • David Lindsay

      You do realise, don’t you, that the other side in Lebanon is at least no more pro-Israeli? Why the hell would anyone be there, of all places? The old Christian and Muslim Levant, as systematically destroyed further south, not least with the collusion of people who assume that there are no Christians outside the United States.

  • robert

    Spot on – “a Holy Fool” alright

  • Daviejohn

    I Liked this piece, Hezbollah,like any other Islamist set want a World dominated and under the control of Islam,no if’s, but’s or maybe’s, whether this takes another 2-300 years no matter the dripping tap on the stone process. they will be content knocking off countries one by one until the objective of making everyone 6th century cave dwellers again is achieved. Simpering politicians and Anglican envoys will be the first one’s to be removed by a tolerant loving faith that is Islam

    • Daniel Maris

      Yep, you are right to identify the long term perspective of a group like Hezbollah.

      • Andrea Borman

        I don’t have any sympathy with Terry wait or the other men that were taken prisoner by Hezbollah Milita in the 1980s. First of all Terry Anderson who is a reporter was snooping around asking lots of question.So was terry wait so of course they are bound to arouse suspicion. So in other works regarding him being taken prisoner,Terry wait did ask for it. He went to Lebanon of his own free will,no one forced him to go there. If he had stayed in England he never would have been in that situation. So sorry,no sympathy from me.

    • David Lindsay

      Thank God for Terry Waite.

      One side of the political divide in Lebanon is always termed
      “pro-Syrian” or “Syrian-backed”, and referred to as “Hezbollah and its
      allies” without the slightest examination of who, what or why those
      allies might be. Still less any examination, or even presentation, of
      the fact that neither the President nor the Prime Minister can be a
      member of Hezbollah, since the former has to be a Maronite Catholic
      while the latter has to be a Sunni Muslim.

      But the other side is never termed “pro-Saudi”, or “Saudi-backed”, or
      “Salafi”. Yet it is the real confessional monolith, although by no means
      representative of all Lebanese Sunnis. And it is the real threat to us,
      as Salafi militants are. Its potential takeover of that strategically
      vital strip which is Lebanon is an utterly terrifying prospect.

      Yet we pretend that the confessional monolith threatening us is the
      other side, the side already in power, the side at least politically and
      no doubt materially supported by pluralist and anti-Salafi Syria, the
      side made up of “Hezbollah and its allies”.

      Funny, that.

  • swatantra

    Very wise advice from Terry Waite. Hezbollah like many a fundamentalist fanatical religious group are quite prepared to lay down other peoples lives for their cause.
    Always watch ypour back when dealing with them.

  • Vulture

    I think he’s what Dostoyevsky called ‘a Holy fool’.

    • Daniel Maris

      Yes, and I wouldn’t like our society to lose its holy fools, its innocence if you like, as long as there are sufficient of us to point out the realities on the ground.

      Hezbollah like all true adherents of Sharia is looking to establish the global supremacy of Islam not just conquer some corner of the Middle East.

    • mightymark

      Agree with thse general sentiments here but I think Dostoevsky meant “fool” not in a bad way!
      Can we agree to split the doference, leave FD out of it and just say Waite is a gullible fool and insofar as he has any inlfuence, a dangerous one too.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    A useful idiot that isn’t actually very useful.

    For a man of God Waite has more than a whiff of arrogance about him, not just the stupidity of ignoring repeated warnings not to go to Lebanon when he was kidnapped.

    btw – a nice bit of analysis.

    • telemachus

      Not sure how you can say anything bad about a man sorly used who wants to forgive and at the same time spread the message of Peace

      Mebbe he can begin to bridge the gap next between Hamas and the wily Israelis