Syrian war and Israeli spies mean hard times for Hezbollah

January 7, 2015

A view shows the wreath offered by Iranian Parliament Speaker Larijani at the grave of assassinated Hezbollah military commander Imad Moughniyeh inBeirut

Drained and delegitimized by the Syrian civil war, penetrated by Israeli intelligence and separated from traditional allies, the Lebanese group Hezbollah’s self-proclaimed glory days of 2006, when it went to war with Israel, have never seemed so distant.

Supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s war against his people has put Hezbollah under unprecedented strain. Since its involvement began, the group has lost hundreds of fighters. For a relatively small outfit — Hezbollah’s core military force is a few thousand strong — these losses have a significant impact. Nevertheless, amid all the killing, Hezbollah’s most serious loss in Syria has been its reputation. With hundreds of thousands murdered in Syria — starved, poison-gassed and barrel-bombed — Hezbollah’s direct complicity with Assad has been noticed. After all, while Hezbollah has long claimed to defend “all the oppressed,” including Sunnis, Syria’s wreckage testifies to the group’s duplicity. Put simply, after witnessing Hezbollah kill Syrian Sunnis, other Sunnis view its claims of beneficence skeptically. Even the Sunni militant group Hamas has moved away from Hezbollah; a poor relationship emphasized by Hezbollah’s unwillingness to open a northern front during last summer’s Israel-Hamas war.

For “the Party of God,” this reputational damage is a big problem. Both a militant group and a political actor in the traditional sense, Hezbollah needs political consensus to advance its agenda. For a long time, Hezbollah’s hostility against Israel won it friends across the political spectrum, but now that it’s targeting Muslims, the well of diplomacy is evaporating. As Hezbollah’s intolerance for satire suggests, the group is deeply uncomfortable with challenges to its identity narrative as Lebanon’s pious, paternalistic guardian.

The Syrian civil war is the greatest challenge this narrative has ever faced, but there are challenges at home as well.

Hezbollah’s Lebanese political identity has been polluted by the way it has taken up arms to carry out Iran’s foreign policy by fighting on Assad’s behalf. Up until now, Hezbollah’s semi-independence has given the group flexibility to forge coalitions in Beirut.

But with other Lebanese political leaders now taking a tougher line against the group, things might be changing. Facing Islamic State fighters in Syria who are threatening northeastern Lebanon and increasing sectarian violence at home, Lebanese politics are hardening into more pronounced sectarian identities and greater paranoia. While Hezbollah hopes its military power will incentivize domestic alliances, it knows being outmaneuvered is a real risk.

The pain doesn’t end there.

Hezbollah is also hurting for another reason: its operational security collapse over the past few years. A senior commander was killed by a car bomb in 2008, another assassinated in December 2013 and new reports suggest another group of Hezbollah officers were recently identified as assets of the Israeli secret service, Mossad. This has surely shaken nerves in Hezbollah’s executive leadership.

Still, Hezbollah has one sign of hope. With the Obama administration so intent on making a deal with Iran, it’s unlikely that the United States will encourage political maneuvering against it.

PHOTO: A view shows the wreath offered by Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani at the grave of assassinated Hezbollah military commander Imad Moughniyeh in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Dec. 22, 2014. REUTERS/Aziz Taher


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

It’s utterly hilarious to hear “glory days” cited as when they went to war, and also that such a group can be considered the “party of god”. They seem like southern and western US republicans to me. Yep, Hezbollah and the Arian Nation side by side fighting the good fight.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

I doubt that an organization with an army of over 15,000 soldiers, and 100,000 rockets would flinch at the death of few hundreds. More importantly their strength comes from outside of Lebanon, which makes it even harder to beat them. Hezbollah will always be backed by its other allies; IRGC (Iran), Kata’ib Hezbollah (Iraq), Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (Iraq), Promised Day Brigade (Iraq), and Basij (Iran). This is why this organization is dangerous and potent.

Posted by Ianfoster1976 | Report as abusive

You must mean Aryan nation, not arian as in the arian heresy :)

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

Wishfull thinking Mr. Rogan. It is through that Hezbollah looks weaker but it is an illusion, Hezbollah still posesess tremendous power in Lebanon and its threat to Israel as well ae to the other groups in Lebanon was not diminished. You are right about the back wind given to the organization by the Obama administration policies, the only real danger to the Hezbollah is a new, more realistic, USA administration but until and if this happends the Hezbollah stays the most dengarous organization in the MIddle East, far more than ISIS.

Posted by Nofit | Report as abusive

The article speaks of Bashar al-Asaad’s war against his people. This is the narrative of those seeking regime change in Syria. It is not factual as the majority of Syrians support Asaad in this civil war perpetrated and supported by the U.S. and company.

Posted by arbeee | Report as abusive

The last sentence in this article is reason enough for every peace loving person on the planet to be disgusted with the current US administration. Obama won’t encourage maneuvers against one of the most despicable terrorist groups in the world so he can make a deal with their buddies and backers in Iran. Think about that

Posted by thinkfirst23 | Report as abusive