Jihad and Hezbollah's Domestic and Regional Aspirations

Wednesday 5 December 201812:27 pm
Though Hezbollah is not generally associated with the current jihadist movements, its strong adherence to Iran and Shia jurisprudence certainly aligns its motives to the greater jihadi cause. It is a misconception that the current jihadi movement is exclusively Sunni. Jihad is central to Islamic teachings regarding aggression on Muslims or Islam, and several Shia leaders have promoted and even declared jihad. According to an article published by the Washington Institute, deputy secretary-general of Hezbollah, Naim Qassem, defined the group as "a jihadi movement whose primary objective is the jihad against the Zionist enemy." The article also states that Ayatollah Khomeini declared jihad as an Islamic obligation to fight tyranny. The fact that Hezbollah’s second in command described the group as "a jihadi movement" entails that Jihad equally applies to Shia movements.

Confrontation with Israel?

Though Hezbollah and Israel’s last official war dates back to 2006, both sides continue to provoke one another, playing cat and mouse. Since the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, Israel has attacked Hezbollah forces and locations in Syria over and over and it has met increasing defense from the ground. In a speech following the 2000 Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah claimed that "Israel always threatens", emphasizing the group’s constant state of alert. Even though both sides have regularly confronted one another since 2006, neither side has pushed the other far enough to declare war. More than ten years on from the conflict, Hezbollah has developed its armoury remarkably. Possessing over 100,000 missiles and rockets, Hezbollah has the capacity and reach to damage major Israeli cities, military bases and historical sites. Though Israel possesses some of the most advanced missile-defense and anti-rocket systems, a confrontation with Hezbollah would undoubtedly give the former a run for its money despite the incomparable capacity of the weapons available to each side. The fact that both sides are well equipped and robust makes conflict increasingly undesirable in the immediate future. Hezbollah knows that going to war with Israel would be biting off more than it could chew. Israel’s casualty sensitivity would ensure an asymmetrical response to Hezbollah with heavy bombing and missile raids. If a conflict does arise, Hezbollah’s goal will be to claim a political victory as it did in 2006. Hezbollah is aware that another conflict with Israel will come with considerable cost, and might even be its end and the total destruction of Lebanon. A substantial loss of leaders and militants would paralyze the group and damage its legitimacy both at home and in the broader Middle East conflict. Though it is in the interests of both sides to avoid war, provocation and overreaction from both sides may lead to an unanticipated upturn in tensions and possibly war.

Relationship with Iran

Due to the sectarian character the Middle East conflict assumes, Hezbollah and Iran’s shared Shia identity naturally aligns the two groups. Because Hezbollah’s survival largely depends on Iran’s support, the former must assist in carrying out the latter’s agenda. Hezbollah is expected to support Iran in future military conflicts by expanding the sectarian cause in the region as required. In the event Iran enters into another proxy war with Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah will have to assist its masters as it has done in Syria. Much of Hezbollah’s future funding will continue to depend on Iranian sponsorship despite the former’s strong foothold in the Lebanese economy. Iran will continue to bolster Hezbollah’s arsenal with the ever improving weapons in the case of war and eventually level the playing field with Israel in the case of confrontation in the sense that the weapons will reach their targets precisely anywhere in Israel, including the Gas fields in the sea. In May this year, President Trump violated the rules of the Iran Nuclear deal when the United States slapped fresh sanctions on Iran’s oil sector. President Trump is undoubtedly playing with fire. On the one hand, if the United States can cripple Iran through economic sanctions and coerce it into abandoning its ties in the region, then Hezbollah’s future would be in peril. On the other, now that the United States has distanced itself from the Iran deal, Iran may look to take up nuclear arms to ensure its own survival. If Iran can develop nuclear weapons, it is almost certain Hezbollah’s confidence will be boosted knowing Iran’s nuclear power will provide it with adequate cover.

Domestic Policy

Hezbollah’s domestic goals are vested in the prosperity of Lebanon’s economy and maintaining its control over Lebanon’s parliament. The Lebanese constitution states that the Prime Minister must be Sunni and the President be Christian. Hezbollah holds strategic ministerial positions but does not control the government but it effectively holds it captive through a parliamentary majority and political alliances. Nabih Berri, the leader of Amal, holds close ties to Hezbollah and will be an indispensable outlet for the group to dominate legislation in the coming years. Provided that Hezbollah can make things go its way, it will be able to mount pressure on Prime Minister Hariri to weaken its ties with the West and Saudi Arabia. If the group can instigate a shift in government’s alliances, it would open the possibility for closer ties with Iran. If Hezbollah pulls through, it will turn the country into an Iranian puppet regime and a Shia Jihadist breeding ground. In the case that Hezbollah is unable to coerce the Prime Minister into ditching western alliances, Hezbollah should use its parliamentary control to prevent Hariri from carrying out his campaign promises. If this occurs, it is unlikely that Hariri would win re-election and prove incompetent to his support. The group must place its resources to ensure it retains a majority in the next parliamentary elections. That will be paramount in ensuring Hezbollah dominates the country for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, Hezbollah will aim to grow its stake in the Lebanese economy. Hezbollah causes and profits from a weak central government and controls security and communication in Lebanese ports and Beirut International Airport, as a result, it is arguable that Hezbollah benefits from duty free imports into the country and possibly more including clout in the intelligence and communications sectors. Bridging its legislative power and its increasingly improving intelligence will see Hezbollah evolve into Lebanon’s undisputed de facto government. If Hezbollah can successfully merge its economic and political prowess to dominate the incumbent executives, then it will further impose its will and the Iranian agenda on Lebanon and the Lebanese people it now holds captive.
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