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Hezbollah After Assad
Why the Fall of Damascus Might Compel Hezbollah to Turn Inward
MONA YACOUBIAN is Senior Adviser for the Middle East at the Henry L. Stimson Center. She also directs the project Pathways to Progress: Peace, Prosperity, and Change in the Middle East, a joint initiative between the George C. Marshall Foundation and the Stimson Center.See more by this author
Hezbollah faces a moment of reckoning. The increasingly likely demise of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus would deprive the militant Lebanese Shia organization of one of its main patrons and could constrain its ability to play an active role in regional politics. Moreover, by offering up unbridled support for Syria, Hezbollah has placed itself at odds with the popular revolts that are unseating autocratic rulers across the Arab world, undermining the narratives of resistance and justice for the oppressed that it has long espoused. Facing the loss of a key ally and with its credibility compromised, an off-balance Hezbollah could turn inward, deepening its involvement in Lebanese politics in order to consolidate its power.
Together with Iran, Hezbollah stands to lose the most from the fall of the Syrian regime. Over the years, the organization and the Assad regime have nurtured strong ties due to their often overlapping interests in Lebanon, a proxy arena for Western confrontation with Iran and Syria. The relationship deepened following Syria’s 2005 withdrawal from Lebanon, which forced Damascus to rely more heavily on Hezbollah to extend its influence in the country. Assad has reportedly supplied Hezbollah with training and access to sophisticated weapons systems, including long-range Scud missiles, on Syrian soil.
Beyond its bilateral ties to Hezbollah, Damascus has also served as an important conduit for Iranian arms and played a bridging role between the Persian power and its Lebanese acolytes. Bound together by their shared hostility toward Israel, these three allies, together with Hamas, have formed a so-called axis of resistance to serve as a counterweight to more moderate forces in the region. Although Hezbollah’s relationship with Iran would endure without Assad, the alliance would lose an important center of gravity.