Hezbollah’s Evolution: From Lebanese Militia to Regional Player

Summary

Starting as a revolutionary Shiite militia, the Hezbollah of today dominates the political and military landscape of Lebanon, and possesses tens of thousands of trained fighters as well as an array of sophisticated armaments. Its intervention in Syria on the side of Bashar al-Assad has expanded its influence and reach in the region. As the war in Syria comes to a close, the risk of conflict between Hezbollah and Israel could increase, particularly over the future of the Golan Heights. But the mutual deterrence between the two foes remains strong for the time being. The United States is searching for strategies to limit the power of Iran’s Lebanese proxy, but given the group’s deep immersion within Lebanon’s political, economic, and social milieu, the number of realistic options for external powers to weaken Hezbollah or persuade it to forsake its armed wing are minimal.

Key Findings

  • Hezbollah is driven by a three pronged ideology: establishing an Islamic state in Lebanon (which remains an aspiration but not a current practical policy goal), opposing the existence of Israel, and following the Islamic Republic’s doctrine of wilayat al-faqih.
  • In the past decade, Hezbollah has expanded its role in Lebanon and the region, asserting its “resistance priority” against Israel and the West. After building experience and capacity in Syria, Hezbollah now poses a significant threat to Israel.
  • The future role of Hezbollah in Syria remains to be seen: Hezbollah will likely remain a fighting force in the ongoing conflict, but afterwards could shift to helping train Syrian forces, or pull out entirely to focus on its Lebanese base.
  • Despite its military prowess and influence in Lebanon, Hezbollah faces domestic challenges, including a potential financial shortage, and growing internal corruption.
  • Hezbollah is deeply embedded within the socio-political structures of Lebanon. External attempts to weaken Hezbollah could trigger dangerous destabilization of the Lebanese state.

Read the full Policy Paper here.

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