Although it is hard to imagine now, not so long ago Hezbollah was popular in Lebanon as the self-proclaimed center of “national resistance” to Israel. It had fought Israel to a 33-day standstill, or so it claimed, seemingly oblivious to the vast damage the IDF had inflicted on it and, because Hezbollah had hidden weapons throughout civilian areas, also on the Lebanese infrastructure in southern Lebanon. But now the luster is gone, and Hezbollah has become reviled in Lebanon even as it has become the most powerful force in the country. That story, as told by an Israeli Arab, is here.
The recent security incident on the Israel-Lebanon border, which Hezbollah attempted to deny ever happened, reflects the terrorist group’s decline as a regional player.
Despite receiving substantial support from its Iranian patrons, Hezbollah has lost its luster. Drained by its operatives’ fighting to sustain Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in the prolonged civil war, Hezbollah has lost much – but not all – of its military effect, but the real story is its fall from public grace.
Iran now is itself desperate for money, because of the effect of the re-imposed American sanctions, and this has led it to slash its subsidies to Hezbollah. That, in turn, has led Hezbollah to cut the salaries of its fighters, and some of them have angrily left the terror group altogether.
In Syria, Hezbollah’s casualties — 3,000 killed and 5,000 wounded – constituted nearly one-third of its active personnel of 25,000. That is a huge loss for the terror group. It does still have more than 140,000 missiles from Iran in its armory, but the terror group has been careful not to launch any of them, for fear of Israel’s response.
Hezbollah is fast losing the support it once had in the Arab world and particularly in Lebanon, where its political prestige is sustained – barely – by the constant touting of its involvement in fighting the “Zionist regime.”
The boasting by Hezbollah of its deeds of derring-do against Israel, which either never happen, or are quickly thwarted by the IDF, has naturally lessened its support even among those Lebanese, not members of Hezbollah, who were once among its enthusiasts.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s standing, however, is at an unprecedented low.
The Shiite terrorist group was once immensely popular among Palestinians and Israeli Arabs alike, and Israel media gave Hezbollah propaganda a wide platform, thus lending it credibility.
This made many in the Arab Israeli sector perceive Nasrallah as the leader of the Arab world – the only one who can stand up to the “evils” of the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.
And then came the Arab Spring.
The series of anti-government protests and uprisings that swept through the Arab world in 2011, saw Iran call on Hezbollah to do its bidding, plunging Tehran’s largest regional proxy into the bloody civil war in Syria.
The daily fighting did not prevent Hezbollah from tightening its grip on the Lebanese government, to the point where its political opponents now clearly call for it to be stripped of all weapons, in accordance with UN Resolution 1559.
Hezbollah members are not only in the Lebanese government, but the terror group has also co-opted certain non-Shi’a Lebanese in that government to do its bidding. Particularly of note as a puppet of Hezbollah is the Maronite President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun.
Hezbollah has taken the side of the government, which it controls, and violently put down Lebanese protesting against the mismanagement and corruption in the government. That has enraged many Lebanese, who see Hezbollah not as a stout defender of “national resistance,” but as the enforcer for, and protector of, a corrupt political class.
Over the past decade, the support for Hezbollah in the Arab Israeli sector has also waned.
Islamic Movement officials have even taken to referring to Hezbollah, whose name translates into “Party of God,” as “Party of the Devil”, and Arab parties Balad and Hadash are actively trying to distance themselves from the Shiite terrorist group over its war crimes in Syria.
The Palestinian Arabs, and Israeli Arabs, are almost entirely Sunni. They look with horror at Iran’s tentacles being spread throughout the Middle East, abetted by its use of proxies and allies, including the Houthis in Yemen, the Kataib Hezbollah militias in Iraq, and – in Lebanon and Syria –Hezbollah. They know that Hezbollah has participated, along with Assad’s military, in war crimes against Syrian civilians. Israeli Arabs have also realized how ineffective Hezbollah has been against Israel – think of those thwarted attacks by the group in the north, and the six massive terror tunnels that the IDF uncovered and destroyed. And though Israel has shown every sign of not wanting a war with the group, Hezbollah might find itself having to save face by going through with an attack on Israel that would then provoke a furious response leading to war; Hezbollah dragged Lebanon in 2006 into a war that the other Lebanese did not want, and from which they greatly suffered.
Hezbollah has been repeatedly warned by both Prime Minister Netanyahu and by Benny Gantz that it is “playing with fire.” Israeli reinforcements have been moved to the northern border with Lebanon. If Hezbollah foolishly decides that the way to redeem itself in Lebanese eyes is to go to war with Israel, it should consider carefully the consequences. It will be badly mauled, and the infrastructure in southern Lebanon subject to destruction even more devastating than what happened, because of Israeli bombing of suspected weapons sites and Hezbollah outposts, in the 2006 war. In any future conflict, given that Israel will have to take out as many of those 140,000 rockets and missiles in Hezbollah’s armory as it can, which are hidden all over south Lebanon and even south Beirut, the destruction will be much greater than in 2006.
If Hezbollah wants to “redeem itself” in Lebanon there is only one way. The group’s fighters should cease to do the bidding of Iran. Hezbollah should be willing to disarm, as U.N. Resolution 1559 requires it to do, and to turn its armory of missiles over to the Lebanese National Army as the sole legitimate armed force in the country. Its members should cease beating up those who protest against the government’s corruption. More than that, Hezbollah should take the protesters’ side, and refashion the group as a political party, akin to Amal of Nabih Berri, that will represent Shi’a interests. That just might win back some of the support that Hezbollah, at a historically low point in the esteem of Lebanese, needs to survive.
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