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Will Hezbollah’s Rise Be Its Downfall?

The Group Is Stronger Than Ever—Israel Could Drag It Back Down

Hezbollah fighters in Western Qalamoun, Syria, August 2017  Omar Sanadiki/REUTERS

It’s not often that Hezbollah finds common ground with U.S. leaders. But in February, Hassan Nasrallah, the Lebanese party and paramilitary group’s top official, made an exception. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned that Hezbollah was growing “more powerful.” Nasrallah agreed, and for good reason. Fresh off victories on the battlefield in Syria, with a vast weapons arsenal in Lebanon, a political ally in power, and committed allies across the region, Hezbollah has more military and political power today than at any point since its founding in 1985.

Yet this new strength has brought with it new troubles. Hezbollah’s unchecked expansion in the Levant has not only brightened the U.S. spotlight on the group’s activities but set off alarm bells in Israel. Major Israeli military strikes inside Lebanon—a first since Israel went to war against Hezbollah in 2006—are now a distinct possibility.

Hezbollah, already balancing a number of domestic and regional obligations, is not keen on another major conflict. Yet the group is in a bind: with every step it takes to brace for a possible Israeli attack, such a confrontation becomes more likely. Hezbollah’s actions in the months ahead will show whether it can walk this thin line. Failure could spell disaster—for the group, for Lebanon, and for the region.

THE SPOILS OF WAR

Hezbollah is just emerging from a years-long campaign of military adventurism in the region. In 2013, the group began sending thousands of fighters into Syria, where they defended the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime against opposition forces as well as the Islamic State (ISIS), the al-Nusra Front, and other terrorist groups. Because Syria—the linchpin of the anti-Western, anti-Israel “axis of resistance” formed by Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria—acts as a thoroughfare for Iranian weapons for Hezbollah, the war was an existential matter for the group. In 2017, Hezbollah fighters helped the Assad regime retake Aleppo. Later, they pushed east toward the Iraq border and the Euphrates River valley,

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