Hezbollah Faces Many Challenges in Lebanon, But War With Israel Could Bring it Back to Life

On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah fighters kidnapped two IDF soldiers to increase their leverage in future prisoner swaps. The incident culminated in a 33-day-long full-blown war, where Israel displayed its aerial military strength, but failed to achieve its goal of destroying the armed party. Today, six years later, Hezbollah has gotten stronger and added to its arsenal, but is challenged by a series of domestic and regional events.

In Lebanon, the party became accustomed to dealing with staunch political opposition to its defence system from the pro-western March 14 group. These political rivals allay one another’s concerns, or often disagree with one another in the consecutive meetings of the national dialog convened by Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman.

More recently, the challenge to Hezbollah’s stronghold over Southern Lebanon has come from Sheikh Ahmad AlAsir, a Sidon-based Sunni cleric who espouses the Islamist inclinations rising in the region. AlAsir exploits Friday sermons to call on his supporters to block pavements and highways in the South’s capital of Sidon. He overtly threatens Hassan Nassrallah and Nabih Berrie, the two most influential Shiia leaders of Lebanon. Hezbollah may not feel threatened by the rising cleric, but his charged messages add fuel to the fire, increasing tension between the Sunnis and Shiia of Lebanon.

Hezbollah has placed high stakes on  Syria, the regional bulwark sponsoring its activity, and the ongoing events in Syria would definitely harm the party’s interests if the balance of power were to tip toward anti-Iranian rebels. Burhan Ghalioun, former Syrian National Council leader, promised to cut-off relations with Iran and Hezbollah if made president.

The threat of losing its Syrian lifeline should not necessarily pose a logistical challenge to Hezbollah, however, for the 100 militias operating within Syria and the chaos that will prevail in the event of a power vacuum could forge a new network of non-state actors that transport weapons to the group. Logistical sponsorship aside, Syria was and continues to be the only Arab state extending unwavering support to Hezbollah and is the main defender of the party in all international fora. Hence, Hezbollah would go bankrupt in the Arab league if the Assad regime is ousted from power.

Yet prospects are not entirely gloomy for the party. Iran’s influence on the politics of Afghanistan and Iraq, its ability to block activity across the Straight of Hormuz, its deployments jeopardizing Gulf security, and its nuclear dossier provide enough leverage to bargain for a regional order that salvages Hezbollah, in case Syria decides to turn the table. Moreover, any future margin of action the party enjoys would be affected by the relationship between Iran on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar on the other.

But again, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the cause for persisting in the struggle to regain Arab territory is one shared by ideologues, Islamists, secular-oriented people, and minority groups alike. Hence, if Hezbollah finds itself amidst renewed conflict with Israel, the Arab street may temporarily bury sectarian grievances and herald support for their Arab partner, albeit Shiia, Christian, or leftist.

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Joe Helou

Joe Helou is a political researcher and analyst. He holds a BA in economics and an MA in international relations. Some of Helou’s research interests include conflict resolution, global governance of energy, international security risk factors, and public policy as well as topics pertaining to the Middle East and Arab Gulf.

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