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Opinion

With Syria imploding, is Hezbollah next?

Hezbollah’s loyalty to the brutal regime in Syria is costing it support and exacerbating divisions in Lebanon. Its message runs contrary to the Arab Spring. If a link is found between the militant group and the bus bombing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, that makes it look even weaker.

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The May kidnapping of a group of Lebanese Shiites in Syria by an anti-Assad opposition group is a perfect example of this enmity. The kidnappers initially requested Nasrallah’s apology to them as a condition for releasing the captives.

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Regime change in Syria could also give a powerful second wind to the backers of Lebanon’s 2005 “Cedar Revolution” who rebelled against Syria’s military presence and outsized influence in their country. This would undermine Hezbollah’s political position.  

Hezbollah therefore finds itself in a weaker position – ideologically, politically, and strategically.

The picture looks more bleak if it is found that Hezbollah, in partnership with Iran, is involved in the July 18 suicide bombing of Israeli tourists on a bus in Bulgaria. Hezbollah denies any role. Still, it’s plausible they were involved. If that’s the case, the group’s decision to project power through attacking soft Israeli targets – after repeatedly failing to hit “official” ones like Israeli embassies – reflects declining strength.

It’s true that the sophistication and magnitude of Hezbollah’s military apparatus and its partnership with Iran probably mean the fall of the Assad government would not be enough to bring down the group. Also, within Lebanon, the vast majority of the Lebanese-Shiite community continues to support Hezbollah, partly as a result of the lack of serious political alternatives.

But with the Assad regime entering a stage of even more brutal violence and instability, Nasrallah’s group faces a particularly complex challenge. Unless it changes course, it will become increasingly marginalized.

[Editor's note: An earlier version referred to the status of Lebanese Shiites kidnapped in Syria. That reference has been removed because their status is not clear.]

Benedetta Berti is a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, a member of the Atlantic Council’s Young Atlanticist working group, and coauthor of the book, “Hamas and Hezbollah: A Comparative Study” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). Follow her on Twitter at @benedettabertiw.

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