An Increasingly Isolated Hezbollah Needs To Rethink Its Policies – Analysis


By Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

Lisa Johnson, the US ambassador to Lebanon, has asked Lebanon’s former president, Michel Aoun, considered to be an ally of Hezbollah, to pass a warning to the group regarding its recent attacks on Israel.

Relations were already tense between Aoun and Hezbollah and the warning from Washington was designed to make sure he keeps his distance from the group. Aoun responded that he is no longer an ally of Hezbollah and so cannot pass on a message.

The US wants to isolate Hezbollah but the group is already isolating itself with its uncompromising attitudes. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has said it will face Israel alone and will not involve Iran. This was to protect Iran from any repercussions for the group’s actions.

However, Hezbollah’s precision-guided missiles cannot protect Lebanon. The country needs Arab diplomatic support and Hezbollah needs domestic support in these difficult times. None of this will happen unless the group changes its uncompromising attitude.

Hezbollah is banking on a ceasefire agreement with Israel, after which it believes it could announce a victory, emerge stronger, and would be able to impose its candidate for presidency, Sulaiman Frangieh, on other political factions.

However, this is not a realistic scenario. The cross-border conflict between Israel and Lebanon is different from the war in Gaza, and the end of hostilities in the latter does not mean that peace will return to Lebanon.

Hezbollah is facing strong internal resistance, as well as isolation in the Arab world. Domestically, the group is accused of blocking the election of a new president. The office has been vacant since Aoun’s term ended in October 2022.

The Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian ally that provided Hezbollah with some degree of legitimacy and cachet as a national party, and not only a Shiite group serving the goals of Iran, has been drifting away from the group.

Hezbollah is viewed as being the main hurdle to the election of a president and the subsequent formation of a government, through its adamant demands that Frangieh be selected. The so-called “national dialogue” the group and the speaker of the parliament, Nabih Berri, have called for on the choice of president is simply a call for the election of Frangieh. As a result, no opposing party has heeded the call.

Domestic critics and opponents accuse Hezbollah of arrogance. Hossam Mattar, from the Consultative Center for Studies and Documentation, reportedly the Hezbollah affiliated think tank, compared the Lebanese right, which are opposition to the group, to a league of juniors. He said we have two field for soccer, one for the adults and one to keep the children busy. This is what the Lebanese right is doing. They are children playing in the small field. However, this will drive the ire of the rest of the Lebanese factions while the country is approaching a very dangerous phase in its confrontation with Israel. The group still does not feel it needs to compromise to garner national cohesion and to get some Arab support in case of an Israeli strike, which is looking more and more probable.

If Hezbollah wants to receive some cover from the wider Arab world, along with national support, it will have to show some flexibility. To start with, it needs to reach a consensus with other political factions on an acceptable choice for president. It also needs to show some sign of goodwill to the Lebanese people by playing its part in assembling a government capable of implementing the economic and political reforms needed to rescue the country from its long-running economic crisis. This would also send a signal to Arab countries that the group can play a positive role Lebanese politics.

Hezbollah, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the Arab league, requires major rehabilitation in the eyes of the Arab world. To remove the stigma, the group must show Arab states it can be a force for regional stability, not a harbinger of chaos as a tool of Iranian hegemony.

The first thing it can do is to help facilitate the return of refugees to their homes in Syria. There is a large number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon who come from areas  under Hezbollah’s control in Syria. In order for them to return home, Hezbollah needs to withdraw from residential areas, even if it maintains its military outposts.

The group must also ensure international observers are able to monitor the situation and check that people returning to Syria are safe and do not face any repercussions.

Arab states will also expect cooperation from Hezbollah on efforts to crack down on the illegal production of Captagon pills in Syria, which represents a major health and security issue for the region.

Hezbollah also has relationships, and leverage, with most Iranian proxies in the region, such as Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen. It could cleverly use these relationships to create a kind of entente between those groups and Arab states.

The entire region is experiencing a period of turmoil, and collaboration is needed now more than ever to face the unbridled criminal behavior of Israeli authorities. This is the time for Hezbollah to step up as a mediator between Iran-linked organizations and Arab countries.

Yet the group continues to maintain its maximalist stance in the hope that when the war in Gaza ends, it will be able to impose its will on the Lebanese people and Arab states will accept its control over the country as a fait accompli.

However, it needs to think twice about this, remember the events of 2006 and draw some comparisons. Now, attitudes on the domestic and regional levels are very different from how they were 18 years ago. The Lebanese no longer tolerate Hezbollah. Even if the party survives the present military conflict, its long-term political survival will be difficult.

The party could survive a significant military strike. It is an institutionalized organization capable of reconstituting itself even if hit hard. However, it is likely that domestic opposition would grow more intense after such a strike. Meanwhile, Arab states would be reluctant to use their diplomatic clout to protect Lebanon, and unlikely to provide the financial means to help rebuild the country.

Lebanon would be destroyed and everyone would blame Hezbollah. Now is the time, therefore, for the group to review its policies and adopt some degree of flexibility and pragmatism, otherwise they will face Israel all alone.

  • Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization focused on Track II.

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