Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah recently angered Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi after he organized the deportation of hundreds of ISIS fighters from Syria and Lebanon to border areas between Syria and Iraq.
It was all part of a deal that raised plenty of suspicions about Hezbollah’s “credibility.” Abadi said the deal was unacceptable especially considering there are battles against ISIS in Iraq. However, this is not the first time Nasrallah has undermined Abadi’s activity.
The US is preoccupied especially as tensions with North Korea are escalating. Europe is busy with pursuing ISIS while the Gulf is trying to shield itself from threats. Nasrallah thus feels that Lebanon is its open arena away from the eyes of superpowers and it’s about to carry out its plan to bring hundreds of Iraqi Shiite militiamen to Lebanon. According to Iraq’s law, these militias are under Abadi’s power.
Recent reports showed that Iraqi militiamen have begun to arrive in Lebanon to train in Hezbollah’s camps in Beqaa and the South. The plan is for these militiamen to settle in the country and work with Hezbollah permanently.
Trained by Hezbollah
In the past two years, there have been several media reports claiming that Shiite fighters went to Lebanon to be trained by Hezbollah under the sponsorship of the Iranian Quds Brigade, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards. After training, these groups were sent to battlefields in Syria and Yemen and they did not stay in Lebanon. It seems the plan for 2017 and 2018 is to integrate these fighters in Hezbollah’s units in Lebanon for good.
This development is the product of 6 months of meetings between Hezbollah officials, primarily the man in charge of the party’s branch in Iraq, Quds Brigade commanders and Iraqi Shiite militia leaders. The battles in Syria, which improved Hezbollah’s relations with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Iraqi Shiite militias including the League of the Righteous and the Popular Mobilization, led to this tripartite cooperation.
Hezbollah has now decided to bring in more groups that have a different mentality and culture and impose them on the Lebanese peopleHuda al-Husseini
Some militiamen who came to Lebanon belong to the Popular Mobilization. They represent an official military power that is under the command of the Iraqi prime minister. However, these militiamen’s activity in Lebanon contradicts with Abadi’s policy in Baghdad.
It’s of course not Abadi behind this move but Iran which controls all Iraqi Shiite militias and Afghan and Pakistani mercenaries and deploys them in battlefields in Arab countries.
Iran has not excluded Hezbollah as it sent its units to fight in Syria. They’ve been fighting there since 2012. According to some estimates, Hezbollah has, during the past three months when the fighting raged, sent more than 6,000 fighters to the Syrian swamp, i.e. around one third of its fighting troops. Hezbollah has paid a hefty price for its participation in the war as it lost around 1,500 fighters.
Some internal sources said around 1,000 others were severely wounded and they will not be able to fight again. It’s also possible that their injuries will affect their daily living activities. This is in addition to the negative economic consequences the party has suffered.
When it began fighting in Syria, Hezbollah was doing well financially. However Iran pressured it to send more troops to save the Assad regime. As a result, they used their funds and they had to look for other funding resources.
Hezbollah’s secretary general is still losing fighters and money as a result of Iran’s war in Syria. However, and as he always says, he can always rely on his Iranian sponsor.
In a speech delivered on Jerusalem Day in June, Nasrallah said that during times of war, hundreds of thousands of Shiite fighters from across the world will help his party. He meant Iran and he meant that the latter is willing to do what it takes to strengthen its control over the Middle East all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
The arrival of Shiite fighters to Lebanon will be a blessing and a curse for Nasrallah. Hezbollah is working hard on a plan to explain these fighters’ deployment as it will not be easy for Nasrallah to explain to his supporters why he is sending their children to fight in Syria while he brings thousands of Iraqis to settle in South Lebanon.
Lebanese officials criticized this speech and many Lebanese people also voiced their rejection as they felt these fighters who are in Lebanon will stay here. Hezbollah quickly calmed down the situation and said Nasrallah’s statements fall within the context of anti-Israel propaganda. Truth is Nasrallah does not make empty threats. He first tests the circumstances, and he also does not quit what he’s doing as he counts on others to eventually give up and submit.
Undermining Lebanese sovereignty
He’s begun to take measures to implement his plan and further undermine Lebanese sovereignty. According to some estimates, hundreds of fighters arrived in the first batch, and they will be followed by thousands others.
To confirm the gravity of the threat, we can review what happened when the Syrian regime was restrained as the number of Shiite fighters in Syria increased to 12,000 – none of them was born in the country they were fighting for. When Iraqi fighters come to Lebanon under Hezbollah’s sponsorship, who will prevent them from bringing their wives and children later?
Some of them may marry Lebanese women but their children will not get the Lebanese nationality, and that is according to the current civil status law. This scenario means that a huge Shiite community will arrive in Lebanon and it will not enjoy any rights.
The burden will entirely fall on Hezbollah as it will be responsible for the needs of other Shiite citizens. Hezbollah has little money left as the war in Syria rages and there are also international sanctions imposed on it. It will have to save money by cutting funds from Lebanese Shiites affiliated with it and who actually need this money the most. The biggest burden however will fall on Lebanon and the Lebanese people.
The Lebanese people have been suffering for 70 years now, ever since Palestinian refugees arrived in the country. Their numbers increased over the years and reached around half a million. They still lack proper legal rights and their camps now harbor terrorism. Take the threat of the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp as an example. Then more than 1.5 million Syrian Sunni refugees came to Lebanon.
These increasing numbers led to economic burdens as the refugees competed with the Lebanese people over jobs. This worsened unemployment and the infrastructure further deteriorated. This influx of refugees also pose a threat to security and stability.
Hezbollah has now – due to Iranian ambitions – decided to bring in more groups that have a different mentality and culture and impose them on the Lebanese people in hopes they will just be contained. Nasrallah certainly remembers the 2010 events when a dispute erupted during an event commemorating Ashura in Nabatiyeh, a Hezbollah stronghold.
Back then, clashes erupted between rival Iraqi factions - between members from the Sadrist Movement who were in Lebanon to train on fighting and members affiliated with Ayad Allawi’s movement who were looking for jobs. The clash escalated and Lebanese security forces had to intervene. What guarantees that Iraqi Shiite and Lebanese Shiite clashes will not erupt later?
The Lebanese people complain that their country’s character is gradually changing. Lebanon is no longer for the Lebanese but for the Palestinians and Syrians, and, soon, for the Iraqis. The arrival of Iraqi Shiite fighters will certainly have long-term economic repercussions and, even worse, it will have major demographic consequences.
Nasrallah said his party joined the fighting in Syria to defend Lebanon. Does bringing Shiites from the Iraqi Popular Mobilization to Lebanon also aim to defend Lebanon or is it happening in compliance with Iran?
This article is also available in Arabic.
Huda al-Husseini is a political writer who focuses on Middle East geopolitics.