Even the terror group’s longtime Lebanese backers are fed up.
How is Hizbullah doing after about four years of fighting in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime, as part of the axis led by Iran?
In terms of bluster, and particularly threats against Israel, Hizbullah hasn’t changed much. But in other ways—and not only with regard to the often-cited 1500 fighters Hizbullah has lost on Syrian soil—the war is taking a toll on the Shiite terror organization. That includes growing unpopularity in Lebanon itself—even among its traditional supporters.
On June 18, speaking to a Lebanese audience on Hizbullah’s Al-Manar TV channel (as translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, MEMRI), Hizbullah MP Walid Sukkarieh painted a scenario in a future war between Hizbullah and Israel.
He asked: “What would the capturing of settlements mean?”
Hizbullah has indeed been planning for years to capture Israeli communities in the Galilee in a prospective war.
Answering his own question, Sukkarieh said:
First, we would be liberating land. Second, we would take hostages, prisoners. The Israeli people would be a prisoner in your hands. This would prevent Israel from targeting civilians on your side. It would not be able to implement the Dahiya Strategy. They have threatened that in the next war, they will implement this strategy and destroy all of Lebanon. What will they destroy if we hold settlements hostage? We will have hostages. If they kill us, we will kill them.
The term Dahiya Strategy refers to the Israeli air force’s attack on the Dahiya neighborhood of Beirut, a Hizbullah stronghold, in the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah war. Although that war had mixed results for Israel, the Dahiya strike is now regarded as a devastating blow that produced deterrence and has helped keep the Israeli-Lebanese border quiet for ten years.
For his part, Israeli intelligence minister Yisrael Katz had warned a few days before Sukkarieh’s statement that “a war in Lebanon and an attack on the Israeli home front will bring about the ousting of [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah and will bring ruin to Lebanon”—one of many Israeli warnings that another Israeli-Hizbullah war would be a bad proposition for Lebanon as a whole.
MP Sukkarieh’s televised statement to the Lebanese public was an attempt to reassure them that Hizbullah has tricks up its sleeve that can prevent such outcomes.
But these days, reassuring the Lebanese public about Hizbullah is an increasingly difficult task.
In another dispatch, MEMRI describes a situation in Lebanon where, amid the fierce fighting in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, Hizbullah’s support is tanking even among Lebanon’s Shiite population—including even Hizbullah’s longtime supporters.
It turns out that:
- On May 1 an anti-Hizbullah, secular Shiite party called Lebanese Option staged a demonstration in central Beirut. The party decried Hizbullah’s “sacrificing the lives of Lebanon’s Shiite youth,” and emphasized that not all Lebanese Shiites are followers of Nasrallah. A student leader of Lebanese Option, Sally Hafez, said: “[Hizbullah], you bought and sold the blood of our young people…. We are only citizens who [love] their land and want to live in their country in peace.”
- Anti-Hizbullah Shiite journalists are also speaking up. One of them, Nadim Koteich, wrote that Hizbullah is in “political, military, and security crisis in Syria, but also in deep moral crisis that is leading its program and its existence to suicide….” He also tweeted: “If only Israel would annex Aleppo—because then it would be quiet like the Golan. Better for Aleppo’s residents to be under the occupation regime than under the ruins.”
- An anti-Hizbullah Shiite cleric, Sheikh ‘Ali Al-Amin, declared that “fighting alongside the Syrian regime is against the Shiite view…. The slogans that Hizbullah is using as an excuse [for intervening military in Syria] are disproved and invalid.”
- Hizbullah faces draft-dodging—even among children of its own officials. An April 28 article on the Alarabi21 website “revealed that young Shiites are leaving Lebanon so that Hizbullah cannot recruit them into its ranks to fight in Syria.” An UAE journalist says that Hizbullah officials have been smuggling their sons into Europe to keep them out of the fighting. Bereaved mothers have been “shouting in rage against Nasrallah at their sons’ funerals.”
- Hizbullah has been losing strength in local elections—“particularly in the organization’s areas of influence in the northern Beqa’a, southern Dahiya, and South Lebanon…. [Pro-Hizbullah daily] Al-Safir stated that in light of the results of the local elections, the South Lebanese were no longer deluded that it was not possible to run against the Hizbullah-Amal list.”
Is Hizbullah’s grip on Lebanon finally loosening? It is probably too soon to answer affirmatively. But whenever Hizbullah does finally come limping home from Syria—if and when that conflict finally winds down—it may well not be eager to launch a war with Israel compared to which its involvement in Syria will have been child’s play. Especially not when that will be the last thing an increasingly resentful Lebanese population wants.
Meanwhile, for the United States and other Western powers, the time is ripe to put more and more pressure on Hizbullah and try to pry Lebanon loose from its claws. Congress has already taken a step in that direction by passing the Hizbullah sanctions bill last December, which has already led to Lebanese banks closing Hizbullah accounts.
Whoever is the next U.S. president should work to strengthen the anti-Hizbullah elements in Lebanon and put the terror group—spearhead of Iran’s expansionist ambitions in the Middle East and the world—out of business.