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LEBANON: Even those wary of Hezbollah believe in its prowess, pollster says

February 27, 2010 |  9:27 am

Hezbollah The Lebanese may be divided on whether the Shiite militant group Hezbollah is a savior or a menace, but according to a new poll they appear to agree on one thing: the group's armed wing is a force to be reckoned with.

According to the poll, which was conducted by the Beirut Center for Research and Information and published in the left-leaning Lebanese daily Al Akhbar, 84% of Lebanese "trust the resistance's capabilities facing any Israeli attack."

The paper published a chart based on the survey, which categorized respondents by sect, revealing surprisingly consistent answers to most questions among Druzes, Sunnis, Christians and Shiites.

Most of the questions were intended to gauge the effect of the "eye for an eye" defense strategy detailed by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah earlier this month during a speech in which he pledged to retaliate with equal force and even mentioned Israel's Ben Gurion airport by name.

The study appears to show that most respondents believe in Hezbollah's deterrent power and do not think a war with Israel is imminent. Only 26% said they believed Lebanese society would be deeply divided if Israel launched a war.

It is important to note, however, that the questions use the term "resistance" instead of the name of the party, Hezbollah. The "resistance" refers to Hezbollah's standing army and is enshrined in the government policy statement.

Babylon & Beyond spoke with pollster Abdo Saad, the head of the center that conducted the survey, and asked him what these results could mean for Lebanon.

Based on your research, what’s the mood in Lebanon like now?

The aim was not to measure the level of support for Hezbollah but rather to see how the Lebanese analyze [the situation], so it’s intended to measure analysis more than support. When 84% says they are confident Hezbollah is capable of confronting Israel, that’s not to say that 84% support Hezbollah. Definitely some of them don’t.

There is definitely less polarization than there was before. There has been some reconciliation -- there is a good political atmosphere, and this would help the Lebanese to think objectively. Had I conducted this during a more polarized period then surely the results would not have been the same because people would be answering from their emotions.

After their failure in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2008, Israel has been making threats against Hezbollah, Iran, Syria and Hamas, but doing nothing. Hezbollah has a great credibility among Lebanese and even among Israelis. When they say “we can hit their infrastructure,” people believe that, whereas the image of Israel is not the same as before; it has been weakened greatly.

These last few months there have been many theories flying around about the possibility of a regional war. Some of the evidence is anecdotal from people living in southern Lebanon, and some of it is based on official statements coming out of Israel, Lebanon and Syria. What influences people’s “war meter” in Lebanon?

I think now after Hassan Nasrallah’s speech people believe that war is not imminent at all, because Israel is not capable of waging a war and winning it. People are more confident that we are not going to see a war in the very near future. People believe Israel is too weak to wage war right now.

Did any of the results surprise you?

At first glance, the rate of positivity toward the resistance among Christians I thought was a little high, but when I looked over all the results, and I looked at the Sunni and Druze sects, I saw they were very similar. The respondents were positive towards Hezbollah, although not all of them are supporters, definitely. One would have to conduct a poll and ask specifically about support for Hezbollah.

What do you believe are the implications of these results?

I think it gives comfort to all Lebanese people, to the government, that people no longer fear an imminent war.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Hezbollah is known for its tightly disciplined fighters. Credit: AFP

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