Security incidents that Hezbollah has suffered from in recent weeks in Lebanon and Syria are the result of the group’s reduced intelligence operations in Lebanon, members of the group say.
Forced to up its presence across the region and spread thin, Hezbollah has scaled back its operations on home soil and close-knit internal cohesion is eroding as a result.
In early April, a Hezbollah fighter was found shot dead and stabbed in a car in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah hailed Mohammed Ali Younes, who was responsible for tracking collaborators with Israel, as a “martyr,” alleging that he was killed in the line of duty. On April 15, a civilian vehicle belonging to Hezbollah fighters was destroyed by an Israeli drone just inside Syria across the country’s border with Lebanon.
That these breaches occurred is no coincidence, as members of the organization say that the party has reduced its intelligence footprint within Lebanon, due to operational and financial constraints.
“Hezbollah has shut many of its secret outposts it had across Lebanon. Some of these were mainly tasked with intelligence gathering operations,” says Hassan, a Hezbollah fighter who spoke on condition of anonymity. Hassan joined the organization in his teens, during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon.
While Hezbollah fighters emphasize that the latest attack is part of the tit-for-tat conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, they admit that the party’s internal intelligence capabilities have been affected by the financial crisis the organization is facing.
Read more: Israel and Hezbollah's tug of war
Hezbollah’s sources of funding have dried up with growing US sanctions targeting its front companies and middlemen. A couple Lebanese banks have closed, including Jammal Trust Bank in 2019, after they were accused of facilitating financial transactions for the Iran-backed group. Resources funneled to Hezbollah via Iran have also been on the decline due to US sanctions on the Islamic Republic that is subsequently facing one of its worst economic crises in decades.
Already last year Hezbollah had merged many of its institutions, froze hiring, and closed around 1,000 offices and apartments throughout Lebanon, expert Hanin Ghaddar reported.
Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah ride in a vehicle decorated with Hezbollah and Lebanese flags and a picture of him, as part of a convoy in Lebanon. (Reuters)
Additionally, sources close to Hezbollah say that many of the highly trained commanders are deployed regionally, away from Lebanon, making security breaches on home soil more likely.
“Some are in Syria, others are in Iraq, some are in Yemen. This is effecting deployment on the Lebanese front,” says one source close to Hezbollah.
The turning point for Hezbollah was the US killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps top commander Qassem Soleimani who was in charge of extraterritorial and clandestine operations, said Hezbollah expert Lokman Slim.
This forced the organization to send dozens of cadres to Iraq to shore up the Iranian faction within the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units.
“With so many cadres deployed on so many different fronts, the organization’s command and control is now divided, which will have repercussions on its internal cohesion,” he adds.
The party, built to provide resistance against the Israeli occupation in Lebanon was respected across Lebanon, specifically within its popular sectarian base. But Hezbollah is plagued with corruption, which fighters say leaves the organization more exposed to security breaches.
“There are competing groups within the party, each has its own followers and side dealings,” says Hassan. “This is affecting the cohesion of the group within Lebanon. Because of its superior military power, Hezbollah has grown so much regionally that it has stretched itself thin.”