It was a late October morning in 1983 when two suicide trucks driven by members of a then little-known terror group named Hezbollah crashed into a US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, killing 241 American and 58 French military personnel and six civilians.

Armed, funded and indoctrinated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah was created to forge ahead with the Islamic Republic’s regional ambitions, expand its influence, and export its ideology.

In the years since the attack, Hezbollah has spread its tentacles into every aspect of social, economic and political life in Lebanon. Its influence and power have also spread abroad via a special unit known as the Islamic Jihad Organization.

More recently, Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters into Syria to help prop up the regime of Bashar Assad, where it is accused of ethnic cleansing and other war crimes against Syrian civilians.

In October 2019, when mass protests erupted against Lebanon’s ruling elite, Hezbollah militants attacked peaceful demonstrators. Similar scenes of violence played out in the streets of Beirut in October this year when Hezbollah militants clashed with unidentified gunmen.

Hezbollah supporters were protesting outside the Palace of Justice to demand the dismissal of the judge leading the independent criminal inquiry into the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port blast when they came under fire, sparking running street battles.

Given its suspected hand in previous terror attacks, Hezbollah could well have a connection to the massive cache of ammonium nitrate that caused the blast. Investigators want to question former government officials known to have close ties with the group — a prospect it views as a direct threat to its interests.

In most instances of Hezbollah violence, the Lebanese Armed Forces have either stood idly by or were simply no match for the group’s heavily armed and well-trained militants.

With its formidable war arsenal, including hundreds of precision-guided munitions and thousands of short to medium-range ground-to-ground rockets, Hezbollah is by far the best-armed faction in Lebanon — and the most dangerous.

A recent UN secretary-general report on Hezbollah reiterated the long-standing call for the group’s disarmament, as enshrined by UN Security Council Resolution 1559.

“The maintenance by Hezbollah of a military arsenal outside of a legal framework and its involvement in the Syrian Arab Republic continued to be denounced by a number of voices in Lebanon, who consider those issues to be destabilizing factors in the country and ones that undermine democracy,” the report stated.

“Many Lebanese see the continued presence of such arms as an implicit threat that the weapons could be used within Lebanon for political reasons.”

Those fears are well founded. In a recent speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed to have amassed 100,000 fighters. In the same speech, he railed against the Beirut port blast inquiry.

Hezbollah’s creation of a “state within a state” is having a detrimental effect on Lebanon’s political economy and diplomatic standing, leaving the country impoverished and isolated. But experts are torn over whether the group can be disarmed, especially given Iran’s patronage and the West’s failure to establish a cohesive policy.

“Even though the UN has adopted resolutions requiring the disarmament of Hezbollah, none of the instruments, into which the US, primarily, has sunk billions of dollars of taxpayer money, were ever going to disarm the group. By that I mean the LAF and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon,” Tony Badran, a Lebanese expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Arab News.

“The LAF would never act against Hezbollah, regardless of how much the US builds its ‘capacity’ and ‘professionalism.’ These are irrelevant issues, as the problem is one of political order.

“For example, Hezbollah is the government. The LAF answers to the government. No government, even one in which Hezbollah does not sit, will approve action against the group. That’s a structural feature of the Lebanese system. It will not change regardless of how many billions the US throws at it.”

Indeed, analysts point to the parasitic relationship Hezbollah has established within key military and financial institutions. The US Treasury Department recently sanctioned a former finance minister for granting the group access to the ministry and Lebanon’s financial sector.

Source » arabnews