Hezbollah and Hamas – A Comparative Study

Joshua Gleis and Benedetta Berti (John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2012)

(Reviewed for International Affairs) Gleis and Berti are two security experts who have written a niche study which serves as introductory fare for US and Israeli policy makers wanting to confirm what they perhaps already think about Hezbollah and Hamas. With phrases such as “mega terrorism” and “terrorist nest” used within a light weight text that relies almost entirely on secondary sources, many of which are media rather than academic in nature, the partial nature of its qualities contradicts the apparent four years of research that was spent in its making.

The work’s aim is to “provide an in-depth view of two of the most popular and featured radical Islamist groups that the world has ever known” (p.4) but there is little in the way of comparison. Indeed the book is essentially divided into quite separate investigations into both organisations with the last ten pages providing a cursory examination of how they actually compare. It is an openly Israeli-centric analysis with little in the way of theoretical underpinning and is rather a chronological examination of the two group’s history, ideology, structure, strategies and tactics.

The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon is noted as the “ultimate accelerator for Hezbollah’s formation” (p.38) and the organisation is described as “more than just anti-Zionist; it also exhibits a rabid streak of anti-Semitisim” (p.56). The authors note both the organisation’s ‘pragmatism’ and its welfarism and deep connections to elements of Lebanese society, but the subject is only touched on in expense of a focus on the threats that Hezbollah can pose to Israel. However much of this analysis is seemingly based of rough speculation due to the admitted ‘shadowy’ and secretive structure of the organisation. The “difficulty” in knowing combined with sweeping generalisations undermine the premise of what could have been a fascinating genuine comparison of two important non-state actors.

The book proclaims certain black and white realities such as “Hezbollah combatants do not wear uniforms in combat” (p.76) which a few YouTube videos quickly disprove. It’s most interesting analysis, deserved of more comprehensive research, concerned the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay which Gleis and Berti introduce as the “operational and logistical centre for international terrorist groups” (p.71). However the conclusion reached – that Hezbollah has become a “leading insurgency organisation” (p.190) does not easily square with its far more complicated relationship with the Lebanese state and its more recently attempts to consolidate and defend the status quo by supporting the Assad regime in Syria.


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