In recent weeks Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah, one of the Middle East’s more formidable fighting forces, scored a victory against ISIS fighters in Lebanon, pushing them out of a stronghold. Attacking in conjunction with Lebanon’s armed forces, Hezbollah considered its triumph a “great victory” on the scale of forcing out Israel’s occupation forces in 2006.
The question now becomes whether Hezbollah will be able to translate this victory into wider political influence in Lebanon, where it already holds considerable sway.
The victory did not come without controversy. Though the ISIS fighters’ stronghold was on Lebanese soil, it was Hezbollah, not the Lebanese government, that negotiated an end to hostilities that allowed hundreds of Islamic State fighters to move into the extremist group’s remaining territory in neighboring Syria.
Iran-backed Hezbollah lost much of its luster in the wider Middle East once it sided with the Syrian regime after the revolution there erupted in 2011. But as the increasingly bloody Syrian conflict flooded tiny Lebanon with refugees—and Sunni extremists—the group has managed to position itself as the defender of the region’s minorities, particularly Christians. That, in turn, has generated domestic support well beyond Hezbollah’s Shiite home base.
Such an ability to build a broader consensus at home has provided Hezbollah, whose militia is one of the Middle East’s most formidable fighting forces, with unparalleled political sway. After a two-year delay, the group’s preferred candidate, Christian former army chief Michel Aoun, was elected as Lebanon’s president in October 2016.
“Hezbollah has behaved as a parallel state,” said Basem Chabb, a Christian lawmaker and a member of the Sunni-led coalition of current Prime Minister Saad Hariri. “And now that ISIS is out of the way, even some of its Christian allies may become alarmed.”
“After this, opposing Hezbollah’s political will in Lebanon will be even more difficult. Hezbollah is gaining additional cards in Lebanese politics,” said Ali Abdallah Fadlallah, an expert on the group and a professor at the American University in Beirut.
Why it’s on our radar: Though Hezbollah has political opponents inside Lebanon, there is no arguing that it is widening its grip over Lebanon. And with each advancement, Iran moves closer to its goal of achieving great power status and regional hegemony.
This is alarming mostly to Israel, as Hezbollah is committed to Israel’s destruction — as is Iran. With each military and political victory — in Lebanon, in Syria, and beyond — Hezbollah grows stronger and becomes more dangerous to the Jewish state.
See our additional coverage and analysis of Hezbollah’s rising influence in Lebanon and how that threatens Israel in the 1 Sept. Executive Intelligence Summary — to subscribe, click here.