Thursday evening, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah phoned six fighters in his paramilitary political party recalling them to Lebanon following months of support in Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s defense against Syrian rebel fighters. “You accomplished the greatest [accomplishment] of steadfastness, triumph, and fortitude in the history of Hezbollah,” said the incumbent who has held leadership over Hezbollah, a terrorist group according to the United States among others, since 1992.
The praised fighters were assisting in the defense of two Shia-majority towns from rebel siege in Northern Syria. On Tuesday, a deal was struck between Syrian government backers, Russia, and rebel backers, Turkey, wherein several thousand civilians are to be evacuated, thus ending the siege and allowing the Hezbollah fighters to return home.
In the last five years, this is not an unfamiliar story. This update regarding Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War is part of a spiking-trend involving the organization and its growing influence. This is the case politically in Lebanon as well as worldwide.
Hezbollah is the quintessential political paramilitary organization success story: highly trained, heavily armed, and politically and economically influential. Their influence and highly efficient communication present an even more dangerous situation.
Foreign extremists traveling to train in Lebanon, and vice-versa, hinder the fight to end extremism and strengthens such groups. But how does Lebanon secure an end to such training without drawing the ire of Hezbollah and its patron, Iran?
Beyond Syria, eight Hezbollah fighters were killed less than a month ago by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. The fighters were providing military support to the Iran-aligned Houthi (Ansar Allah) group. Hezbollah denied the deaths, but are yet to rule out their involvement in the Yemeni proxy war. Saudi-backed Yemeni government officials have accused Iran, for years, of backing the Houthis in an effort to transform them into a carbon copy of Hezbollah.
Such reports coupled with ones highlighting Hezbollah’s training of Boko Haram fighters in Nigeria to legitimize the idea that Hezbollah has established itself as the manifestation of what terrorist-backers want such groups to become.
Furthermore, the continued development of these organizations’ communication methods reinforces one’s sense that the best way to cripple Hezbollah’s training and scope is to break its communication apparatus. Easier said than done, especially in Lebanon. The Lebanese military can barely secure its frontier. And due to Hezbollah’s Parliamentary presence, any military intervention against it would instantly unravel the country.
Ethical hacking methods exist, and while their implementation is difficult, and therefore improbable, a reduction in the flood of foreign financial support, and increased border security technologies could go away toward limiting extremist trainees’ movement to and from Lebanon. These considerations also come with consequences, so the question lingers, can Lebanon solve its problems without creating new ones?