July 21, 2021
  • July 21, 2021

With growing influence, Hezbollah stands ready to exploit chaos in Lebanon

By on July 18, 2021 0

A Lebanese Hezbollah supporter gestures as he holds a Hezbollah flag in Marjayoun, Lebanon, May 7, 2018. REUTERS / Aziz Taher / File Photo

Lebanon is going through one of the most serious economic depressions in modern history. More than half of the country’s population now live in poverty and the country’s currency has fallen by 90%. Fuel shortages have led to fighting at gas stations and the shutdown of critical power plants.

The state of the Middle East is now on the verge of a “social explosion”. This terrible warning from interim Prime Minister Hassan Diab was issued on July 6 as he desperately called for international aid to save “the Lebanese from death” and “prevent the disappearance” of his country.

Instead of taking some responsibility for Lebanon’s economic crisis, Hezbollah – the country’s most dominant political force – is seeking to exploit the crisis and further expand its influence.

Israel responded to Diab’s call for help and officially offered humanitarian aid to Lebanon through the United Nations peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL). But Hezbollah should block any form of Israeli aid to Lebanon, further illustrating the terrorist organization’s obedience to Iran’s extremist Shia ideology, to the detriment of the Lebanese people.

“As an Israeli, as a Jew and as a human being, it hurts my heart to see the images of starving people in the streets of Lebanon,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the earlier this month, adding that Israel is “ready to act and encourage other countries to reach out to Lebanon so that it can once again prosper and emerge from its state of crisis.”

Instead of focusing on how to remedy his country’s woes, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah deflected the blame to the United States in a July 6 event titled “Palestine is Victorious,” and emphasized the main objective of his group to fight Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported.

“When in the Resistance Axis we talk about ‘the liberation of Palestine’, we are not talking about dreams or fantasies,” Nasrallah said, adding “we are not exaggerating our goals, and that is. one of the most important elements of resistance strength.

Nasrallah also dehumanized Jews and Israelis: “There are no people in the Israeli entity, they are all occupiers and settlers.

As a terrorist organization heavily involved in the governance of Lebanon, Hezbollah reaps the benefits of receiving state-like legitimacy while lacking accountability to its people. That’s the assessment of a new report released last month by Lina Khatib at the UK-based think tank Chatham House.

Hezbollah has gradually increased its power and influence over Lebanese institutions and society, taking advantage of various crises and vulnerabilities in the state system in recent years. If the Lebanese state collapses, Hezbollah is in a strong position to assume even more control.

Other political parties compete for power in the same way, Khatib wrote, but Hezbollah is in a better position to exercise control over its political partners.

Unlike other power brokers, Hezbollah de facto controls major border crossings and critical infrastructure. On Saturday, Israeli security officials said they had foiled an effort to move 43 weapons and ammunition (worth around $ 820,000) through a Lebanese border crossing Hezbollah controls in northern Israel.

Hezbollah also uses the Port of Beirut to facilitate drug trafficking and shipments of weapons, including explosives, without state control over its operations or warehouses.

Last August, a huge amount of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port of Beirut, killing over 200 people and injuring over 6,000. Hezbollah has been accused of corruption and negligence in the blast. , given that the group maintains significant control over Lebanese ports. A Lebanese government investigation into the explosion failed to bring a senior official to justice and is marred by a corrupt justice system.

Beyond territorial and institutional control, Hezbollah has obtained the unique right to maintain its own arsenal of weapons and is allowed to “use force at its own discretion under the pretext of national security,” Khatib wrote.

In May 2008, for example, the Lebanese government attempted to dismantle Hezbollah’s independent telecommunications network. The terrorist organization responded with an armed takeover of Beirut, which led to a government crisis and a new unity administration.

For the first time, Hezbollah and its partners have obtained an official veto in government affairs. Since then, Hezbollah has regularly used force to suppress its political opponents and has increasingly conducted independent operations that serve its narrow interests. A leading activist who openly criticized Hezbollah, Lokman Slim, was recently assassinated in an attack widely seen as the terror group’s way of silencing its critics.

Another example is Hezbollah’s decade-long intervention in Syria’s civil war. The terrorist group sent fighters to Syria largely at Iran’s request, seeking to secure its regional arms supply route. The organization has consolidated an arsenal of more than 130,000 rockets and missiles that directly threaten Israeli national security. The Israeli military predicts that Hezbollah could launch between 1,000 and 3,000 missiles per day for more than a week in the first week of a future war between Israel and the terrorist group.

But intervening in Syria sparked jihadist attacks and an increase in refugee flows to Lebanon, further destabilizing an already fragile country. Instead of prioritizing internal Lebanese concerns, Hezbollah has expanded its foreign operations throughout the region, including Iraq and Yemen.

Hezbollah likewise continues to strengthen its presence internationally, using parts of Latin America and Europe as a base for drug trafficking, arms smuggling, fundraising, recruiting, l espionage and terrorist operations.

Hezbollah has no incentive to formally take control of the Lebanese state, although it has the capacity to do so, Khatib’s Chatham House report concluded. Hezbollah prefers to maintain a calibrated level of indirect influence to avoid total liability.

However, as Lebanon continues to crumble towards potential state collapse, Hezbollah’s incentives may shift. The management of the group could take even more power instead of sitting idly by. Western governments must therefore seriously prepare for a scenario in which an Iranian-backed terrorist organization further consolidates its control over a country at the gates of Israel.

Steven Emerson is the director of the Terrorism Investigation Project.

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