Beirut clash: Hezbollah a victim of its own ‘resistance’ success - analysis

What was once a “resistance” movement popular among parts of the Shi’ite population has come to dominate Lebanon.

 Gunmen take position after gunfire erupted in Beirut, Lebanon October 14, 2021. (photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
Gunmen take position after gunfire erupted in Beirut, Lebanon October 14, 2021.
(photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

Gunfire targeted Hezbollah members in Beirut on Thursday, during their protest designed to prevent an investigation into last year’s Beirut Port disaster.

Hezbollah’s goal was to cement its control of Lebanon, where it already has secured allies in the presidency, and to create a parallel communications network and infiltrate other state structures. Hezbollah’s goal – 16 years after it murdered former prime minister Rafik Hariri in its first bid for control of the country – was to flex its muscles and get judge Tarek Bitar removed.

It appears that the gunman had other plans for today. Hezbollah is now a victim of its own success. What was once a “resistance” movement that was popular among a segment of the historically marginalized Shi’ite population has come to dominate Lebanon.

This is not because Hezbollah is so large – it has only a few seats in parliament. Instead, Hezbollah has an incredible mafia-like success because it maintains its own paramilitary state, its own phone network, its own financial system, it imports fuel, and has sent fighters abroad to wage war and conduct Lebanon’s foreign policy.

Hezbollah is so powerful and global that it is stronger than the state. As such, it occupies Lebanon, using classic Iranian tactics for building up parallel institutions, bankrupting the state and turning it into a branch of the Hezbollah militia terrorist movement.

But Hezbollah is also a victim of this “success,” because if you are too powerful, then you become the target of “resistance.”

 Gun shells are seen on the floor after gunfire erupted, in Beirut, Lebanon October 14, 2021.  (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR) Gun shells are seen on the floor after gunfire erupted, in Beirut, Lebanon October 14, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR)

It is no longer in Hezbollah’s interest to have destabilization and chaos in Lebanon, because now it is part of the – if not the – state structure. While Hezbollah wants to make the state a parasite and bankrupt it, it also does not want the kind of factionalism that dominated Lebanon during the civil war period, from 1975 to 1989. Now that it is close to power, Hezbollah wants to have a monopoly on that power, which means it does not want other militias operating in the country.

The gunmen who shot at Hezbollah and its Shi’ite allies among the Amal movement seem to be resisting Hezbollah’s machinations. This is not the first time these kinds of clashes have occurred. In 2008, Hezbollah defeated opponents in armed street battles and clashes so that Hezbollah could maintain its parallel communications network.

Each time a state structure has tried to challenge Hezbollah’s power and impunity, the organization takes advantage of the crisis. This time the judge had issued warrants for officials linked to Amal. Hezbollah could not allow that. Hezbollah had previously made sure that no warrants were issued for its members in the wake of the murder of Hariri. It assassinated writers, commentators, politicians, experts and officials.

Hezbollah members appeared to have brought arms to the protest as well, perhaps prepared in advance for this eventuality. Lebanon also has an army that has been deployed. By late afternoon, reports said five or six people had been killed.

This incident appears similar to another incident in August, when Hezbollah mourners also came under fire, and several Hezbollah members were killed. Those clashes were apparently between Hezbollah and a local Sunni tribe. Here again, Hezbollah was a victim of its own power because instead of it being the lawless group, it was now being targeted by an armed group.

Although the army was deployed in Beirut in the wake of the clashes, reports from the ground showed random shooting and even RPGs being fired at buildings. Both Hezbollah and Amal members were armed. This shows how Lebanon is a powder keg, and that many small arms are held by people in the country.

Many Hezbollah gunmen appeared to be mobilized in Beirut, according to videos. Members of parliament called for the army to be deployed to stop the “militia” violence. But it still remained unclear who started the violence. In the end, although it shows that Hezbollah has enemies who are willing to take potshots at it, the group’s overall drive for power in Lebanon is almost complete.

It has bankrupted the country. It killed a former prime minister. It has a parallel communications network. It has a huge arsenal of missiles, drones and other weapons. It has killed critics such as Lokman Slim. It likely killed author Samir Kassir, as well as Pierre Amine Gemayel, George Hawi, and Wissam Eid, the investigator of the 2005 killing of Hariri. Now Hezbollah seeks to remove a judge investigating last year’s Beirut explosion.

The violence on October 14 will be another small turning point in Lebanon’s descent into complete control by Hezbollah.