Once a force above Lebanon’s day-to-day politics, Hezbollah finds itself bogged down defending a political system that many in Lebanon view as not fit for purpose.
The Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah over the last 20 years has transformed itself from a strictly non-state actor, defending Lebanon against Israel, into a political force in Lebanon’s politics.
On the face of it, this has been a success.
Yet more recently, as protests have continued in Lebanon, why have some Lebanese people began turning against the group.
Since 2005, when Hezbollah entered Lebanese politics, it has helped form governments, and in 2011 it even brought down the government. It has, as a result, become a significant player in Lebanese politics.
The group has, during this time, primarily played by and mastered Lebanon’s established political rulebook.
Its entrance into Lebanese politics has given the group a veneer of democratic accountability and credence to its claims that it’s a civic actor. It has helped to shield the group from recurrent international pressure to disarm, in particular, from Israeli lobbying in the United States.
As long as people in Lebanon continued to vote for the group, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, could claim that it was the voters’ will to maintain a hybrid group like his on the Lebanese political scene. This, in response to the threat from Israel that many in Lebanon feel has come true in the past.
Yet the onset of the Syrian war has resulted in the group treading more carefully. Many in Lebanon questioned what the group was doing and who it was defending in Syria.
While the 2006 war against Israel left many parts of Lebanon in ruins, the group still enjoyed a high degree of popularity for being seen as defending the country against Israeli aggression.
The Syrian war, however, has had the opposite effect, with Hezbollah helping to prop up the Assad regime on behalf of Iran, resulting in some politicians in Lebanon to say that the group is nothing but a proxy for Iran.
As economic discontent and anger towards Lebanon’s political class has mounted, due to widespread corruption and nepotism, Hezbollah - once a political outsider and seen as above the endemic ailments of Lebanon - has found itself defending Lebanon’s political status quo.
Hezbollah has some reason to fear that the current protests could be used by outside forces to weaken the political and armed wings of the organisation.
Earlier this year, Senator Ted Cruz introduced the “Countering Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Military Act of 2019” bill, tying military aid to identifying and removing “all military officers, commanders, advisers, officials, or other personnel with significant influence over the policies or activities of the Lebanese Armed Forces who are members of, paid by, or significantly influenced by Hezbollah”.
Reports suggest that military aid amounting to $105 million is being withheld from the Lebanese national army in a bid to pressure Lebanese institutions to turn against Hezbollah after Israel convinced the US to withhold the money earlier in November.
Domestically, however, Hezbollah finds itself in an awkward position. The protestors are primarily fed up with the entirety of Lebanon’s political class. They encompass many sects and religions.
Outside forces may well be seeking to take advantage of the situation and pushing for a government that is not composed of any of the political parties that many in Lebanon see as part of the problem.
Hezbollah, for its part, could view any such attempt as aiming to disenfranchise the movement of the gains it has made over the last two decades.
What made the Shia group a force in Lebanon’s politics, to begin with, was the appearance that the organisation placed the interests of the people and the country ahead of its own.
Despite its links and backing from Damascus and its principal patron Tehran, the organisation has always rooted itself in Lebanon and has eschewed being seen as a puppet of either capital. This has allowed the organisation to become apart of Lebanon’s society.
That perception has changed since.
Who is Hezbollah?
The organisation, literally meaning ‘The Party of God’, was founded in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in 1982 mainly as a response to the Israeli invasion and occupation of the country.
Nasrallah is the current head of the organisation. The group is widely believed to be funded and supported by Iran and to a lesser extent, Syria.
While some countries like the US, Israel and the UK, have labelled the organisation as a terrorist outfit, countries like Russian and China have not.