Hezbollah Has Become Lebanon’s Protector in Name Only

Hezbollah is the world’s most powerful non-state militia operating today. Gaining prominence in the Lebanese Civil War and Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, the group quickly gained popularity throughout the country. Their popularity heightened in the Middle East and North Africa for being the only actor that successfully fought the IDF to a stalemate.

Having been founded by Iran’s IRGC,  the group bears the fruits of funding directly from the Mullahs, along with the ruling Baathist Party of Syria. The Assad regime made an executive decision to let Hezbollah be the only militia allowed to keep their weapons during the thirty-year Syrian occupation, allowing the group to grow beyond the military capabilities of the Lebanese Security Forces.

Despite its rise to prominence, the paramilitary group has been embroiled in controversy and gained a negative image in the same Arab world that used to praise it. Having been comfortable with its status in the forefront of Lebanese society, the group has started to show its true colors the past several years and instead of being a protector, Hezbollah has shown the world that it is nothing more than a mercenary for hire-narcotic organization.

Hezbollah’s popularity has diminished lately due to several factors that have not only affected Lebanon, but the region. Formally intervening in the Syrian War, Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of the organization ordered tens of thousands of his fighters to bolster Assad’s forces. This move was praised in the pro-Hezbollah circles in the region, but likewise condemned as the Arab militia now fought against fellow Arabs to continue propping up an unpopular autocrat—breaking their own statements to only fight against Israel for the Palestinian cause.

As Assad used the militia to solidify his occupation on Lebanon, including a Hezbollah linked assassination against a former Lebanese Prime Minister, he used the group to solidify his rule in Syria. The militant group would become Lebanon’s largest political party as demographics drastically changed in the country in the aftermath of the civil war. Forming a coalition with the then ruling controversial Amal and Free Patriotic Movement, the group now has its allies and puppets in the highest levels of government to where the group’s operations would never be interrupted, challenged, or investigated.

Public opinion in Lebanon turned against Hezbollah as it brought the country closer to a war it didn’t want to be a part of. The Lebanese-Syrian border would fully come under Hezbollah’s control and the group would swell its black-market operations.

Due to sanctions that have crippled the militant group’s funding, Hezbollah has used the black market to their advantage. Fuel smuggling to Syria and illicit drug trading globally has helped the group operate freely in lieu of sanctions. Drugs such as captagon are being funneled throughout the Levant, as Hezbollah has helped Assad avoid sanctions as well by funneling his narcotics. This has caused relations with Jordan between Lebanon and Syria because of them.

Hezbollah has increasingly taken orders directly from the Islamic Republic instead of the people of Lebanon, causing a drift amongst the locals. Qasem Soleimani, the now deceased Major General of the Iranian Quds Force and UN designated global terrorist also used the group as a mercenary organization for Tehran’s bidding in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The organization has been linked to various massacres and sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites in the region.

Public opinion of Hezbollah has declined in Lebanon within the Druze, Christian, and Sunni communities. Even their power base, the Shiites have slowly and gradually turned from favorable views as the militia continues to be subservient to its foreign autocratic supporters more so than Lebanese citizens.

A heightened negative opinion of the group between these communities came in the aftermath of the Beirut Blast, as the group has been linked to ammonium nitrate smuggling—the chemical that blew up the Port of Beirut. Due to militia having unvetted control over the port and borders in the past, it has used the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut corridor to smuggle weapons and illicit drugs such as captagon. This has led to increased strikes on IRGC and Hezbollah weapon facilities in Syria the past couple of years.

The militant group has also used the people of Lebanon as human shields with their rocket attacks. These actions have threatened the seven million plus Lebanese of being in the crossfires of another potential Hezbollah-Israel War.

In August 2021, showing how much the organization has become resented by using Lebanese citizens as human shields, local Druze detained militia members which fired rockets in their village as a human shield tactic. The fighters were handed over to the Lebanese Security Forces who released them without charges only a few hours later, showing how much power the group holds over the Lebanese security apparatus and government. Only two months later, armed Hezbollah supporters marched into a Maronite neighborhood in the capital using intimidation tactics towards the Lebanese authorities investigating the Beirut Blast, leading to an armed conflict which included several Hezbollah deaths.

What has constantly kept the militant group in power hasn’t only been external support from the Syrian and Iranian regimes, but the collapsing political system in Lebanon. Hezbollah came to power through IRGC recruitment of Shia Muslims of the south, marginalized by the French installed system of government in Lebanon that benefitted the Maronites in a lopsided governmental representation. These Shias came into conflicts with Christian and Palestinian militias and the brutal Israeli military occupation, which gave rise for Khomeini’s views to be enshrined on the population.

With a continued collapse of Lebanese public institutions and lack of faith in government, Hassan Nasrallah has used this to his advantage. Hezbollah has created social services, especially in the poorer Shiite neighborhoods that were neglected under the golden years of Lebanon. The militia has helped build schools, brought in wheat, rebuilt homes after the civil war, and various other public activities.

In order to force pressure on the terrorist organization, Lebanese civilians must continue to put progressives and non-sectarian representatives in government, as seen in this year’s elections. Hezbollah has thrived off the ineptitude of the government and sectarianism in Lebanon, especially as most of the current party leaders are warlords from the 70s and 80s.

As the current protests in Iran become more organized with growing pressure on the Mullahs, the organization may become more radical in its approach towards the Lebanese government and heightened resentment against it—but Lebanon will continue to be plagued by sectarian militias until the core of the political system is resolved.

[Photo by khamenei.ir, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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