Is Iran’s Lebanese client losing its grip? Feb 2, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 20 • By LEE SMITH
Last week Hezbollah buried one of its princes, Jihad Mughniyeh, the 22-year-old son of the late Imad Mughniyeh, a legendary Hezbollah commander implicated in such infamous operations as the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. The assassination
of the elder Mughniyeh in Damascus in 2008, typically attributed to Israel, is regarded as one of the organization’s most traumatic blows. However, some in the Shiite community here say that Israel’s January 18 strike on a three-car convoy in the Golan Heights near the Syrian town of Quneitra—which killed the younger Mughniyeh and five other Hezbollah operatives, along with as many as six Iranians—is evidence of a dangerous crisis for Hezbollah.
The throngs attending the younger Mughniyeh’s funeral on January 19 yelled “Death to America” only once. “I counted,” says Lokman Slim, an anti-Hezbollah Shiite activist. “And they said ‘Death to Israel’ only a few times. Then they went to more religious slogans.”
According to Slim, the scaled-down rhetoric and modest size of the funeral are evidence that Hezbollah is caught in a bind. “The [Lebanese Shiites] don’t want another war with Israel,” says Slim, “but they also want to know Hezbollah can protect them like it says.”
Hezbollah’s general secretary Hassan Nasrallah can threaten to open the gates of hell on Israel’s northern border, but if he doesn’t take action he’s only underscoring his weakness and that of the Shiites in general. If he does take action, he risks escalation with a powerful neighbor at a time when Hezbollah is already stretched. Its campaign in Syria to defend Bashar al-Assad is absorbing the bulk of the group’s manpower, Syria and Assad being hugely important assets to their Iranian patrons. Moreover, if Hezbollah’s retaliation brings a crushing Israeli response, Nasrallah will have opened not only a fight with Israel, but a third confrontation as well, inside Lebanon, with the country’s Sunni community. “It would mean the Sunni-Shia conflict has come to Lebanon in earnest,” says Slim.
The political situation in Lebanon is therefore as freighted with danger as the actual war Hezbollah is fighting across the border in Syria. The organization portrays its combat there as a defensive war to prevent the Sunni extremist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS that are battling Assad from entering Lebanon and targeting the Shiites. Suicide bombings in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, and the pitched battles between Hezbollah and Sunni fighters on the Syrian border in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley are proof that the threat of Sunni violence is genuine. But the fact that Jihad Mughniyeh and his cohorts were killed in the Golan Heights—where they would pose a threat to Israel and less so to the Sunni extremists whose strongholds are elsewhere in Syria—is an embarrassment for Hezbollah in general and Nasrallah in particular.
In a long interview with a pro-Hezbollah TV station just two days before the Israeli strike, Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah was not active on the Golan. As it turns out, Mughniyeh and the others, including Iranian Revolutionary Guards Brigadier General Mohamed Ali Allahdadi, a confidant of Iran’s Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, were reportedly preparing the groundwork for an Iranian missile base. In other words, Hezbollah’s ostensibly defensive fight in Syria, to protect the Lebanese Shiites, has a significant offensive component as well—to open a second front against Israel, in addition to the group’s South Lebanon stronghold, on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Shiites, says Slim, have come a long way from their self-proclaimed “Divine Victory” over Israel in 2006. By its own telling, Hezbollah proved its bona fides as a resistance movement by standing toe-to-toe with an Israeli enemy that had repeatedly walked over Sunni powers like Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. The Shiites wanted to enjoy the spoils of their victory—money, prestige, and perhaps above all peace. But now they’re being dragged back to war, not with a regional superpower like Israel, but rather as an accomplice in a conflict in Syria that contradicts the values of their community.
“The Shia are supposed to side with justice against injustice,” says Slim. “Shia stand with the underdog. And now Hezbollah is fighting alongside a dictatorial regime.” Moreover, Hezbollah has also staked the Shiites to a position against the regional Sunni majority in a war whose best outcome, says Slim, can only be a political settlement. “Hezbollah will have fought this war, and at the end the Shia will ask to what purpose did we sacrifice so much?” The worst outcome, says Slim, is a war that won’t end.
12:10 PM, Oct 10, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
Experts continue to debate whether the explosion at an Iranian military base at Parchin earlier in the week was an act of sabotage.
The tunnels of Hamas and Hezbollah.Aug 4, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 44 • By LEE SMITH
During the first two weeks of the Gaza conflict, Hamas landed at least two significant punches. In firing missiles at Ben Gurion Airport, Hamas convinced the Federal Aviation Authority and European air carriers to temporarily suspend flights to Israel. The fact that relatively primitive rockets falling far short of their targets are nonetheless capable of at least briefly severing an advanced Western democracy with a leading tech economy from the rest of the world is a psychological blow.
Jun 2, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 36 • By LEE SMITH
Last month the president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition went to the White House. Ahmad Jarba and the Syrian rebels want American weapons, in particular the shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles that might neutralize Bashar al-Assad’s air force and stop it from dropping barrel bombs loaded with chlorine gas canisters. What Jarba got instead was a handshake and platitudes.
Talking to Matthew Levitt about his new book 'Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God.'1:19 PM, Feb 13, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
Six years ago Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated when the headrest in his car was detonated in Damascus. While Israeli intelligence neither denies nor confirms its involvement, the Mossad is generally believed to have been responsible for his death. And yet there is no shortage of Western as well as Arab intelligence services that wanted Mughniyeh dead—including the CIA, whose station chief William Buckley Hezbollah abducted, tortured and killed in 1985. Moreover, Mughniyeh was responsible for the April 1983 bombing of the American embassy in Beirut that killed 17 Americans, and the Marines barracks bombing in October of that year that killed 244 American marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen. As founder and director of Hezbollah’s terrorism apparatus, Mughniyeh left a long wake of blood across the world. And even six years after his death, Mughniyeh’s legacy of terror lives on, as Hezbollah has recently plotted operations on several continents, including Europe, Asia and Africa.
Why Hezbollah is fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad—and almost didn’t.3:58 PM, Feb 12, 2014 • By MATTHEW LEVITT
Remember a few years ago when Iranian officials had to intervene to prevent Hezbollah gunmen from turning on their Syrian patrons? Few people do. Today, the "axis of resistance" is as strong as ever, with Iran and Hezbollah fully committed to fighting for the survival of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, despite battlefield losses and the political costs of siding with a brutal dictator who gasses and bombs his own people.
An exclusive interview with Lebanon’s former prime minister on the eve of the trial against the four Hezbollah members who murdered his father.12:20 PM, Jan 17, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
Bombing in Hezbollah stronghold.2:18 PM, Jan 2, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
A car bomb detonated today in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold. So far, four are reported dead and over 50 have been injured. With rumors spreading that the bombing may have been the work of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Sunni jihadist group with ties to al Qaeda, it seems that this was the latest in a series of moves indicating that the regional conflict with Syria as its red-hot center is growing ever wider, now encompassing all the Levant, from Baghdad to Beirut. In the Lebanese capital alone, within a one-week span a former Sunni minister was assassinated, Saudi Arabia bought a $3 billion share of a national army heavily infiltrated by Hezbollah, and then today the Party of God was targeted on its home turf.
But interim deal with Iran puts the White House and its traditional Middle East allies in opposing camps.2:52 PM, Nov 25, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
In the wake of the interim deal that the White House signed with Iran Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry said on the Sunday talk shows that nothing has changed, not with the American position in the Middle East, or with the U.S. alliance system in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is screaming his head off, but Israel has nothing to worry about says Kerry.
4:04 PM, Nov 15, 2013 • By KEN JENSEN
The cartoon above is from the Great Game era in Central Asia, when the British and Russians were in a contest for places like Afghanistan and Iran. It's strongly (perhaps perversely) suggestive given current events.
It was always an outpost of the Iranian revolutionNov 25, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 11 • By TONY BADRAN
Thirty years ago last month, Hezbollah blew up the barracks of the U.S Marines and French paratroopers stationed at the Beirut airport, killing 241 U.S. servicemen and 58 Frenchmen. It wasn’t Hezbollah’s first terrorist operation, but this attack, the most memorable in Lebanon’s vicious and chaotic 15-year-long civil war, marked the Party of God’s entry onto the world stage.
Jun 10, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 37 • By LEE SMITH
The Obama administration is heralding a conference later this month in Geneva where representatives of Bashar al-Assad’s regime will ostensibly sit down with the Syrian rebel forces opposing them. The effect will be to prop up Assad. Sen. John McCain, on the other hand, is committed to the Syrian people. We commend him for the courage he showed last week when he became the most senior American official to visit Syria since the shooting started, entering from the Turkish border.
After a week's worth of fighting in Syria, the Islamic resistance licks its wounds.3:16 PM, May 24, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
For over a week now, the Syrian town of Qusayr in Homs Province has seen some of the heaviest fighting in the two-year conflict. The struggle for Qusayr, says besieged President Bashar al-Assad, “is the main battle” in all of Syria.
8:25 AM, Mar 16, 2013 • By KEN JENSEN
Are we watching Hezbollah closely enough these days? Probably not. Given events in Syria and the Balkans, it appears that we’re in for a whole new set of problems to be presented by Iran’s favorite proxy.