'Arab Spring' Leaves a Weakened Hezbollah

Polls show the resulting disappearance of the high regard in which Hezbollah was once held across the Arab world.

Of course, for as long as the Assad dictatorship survives, this has no immediate physical implications for Hezbollah. And despite the overenthusiastic predictions of some Westerners and Israelis, the Assad regime may well be around for some considerable time to come.

But in Lebanon, there are already signs that non-Shia communities, long chafing under the heel of Hezbollah, are beginning to grow restive. The governing coalition is no longer unified on Syria. The perennial political weathervane, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, now supports the Syrian dictator's departure.

More ominously, there are signs of growing Sunni restiveness on the ground. The sectarian nature of the conflict in Syria is spilling across the border. Hezbollah operatives have been engaged in the arrest of Syrian oppositionists seeking refuge in Lebanon and their despatch back to Assad. The Lebanese government is claiming that the border town of Arsal has become a haven for “al-Qaeda” elements. In the town of Tarshish in October, local residents physically prevented Hezbollah from extending its telecommunications networks into the town.

Hezbollah is also engaged in putting down opposition within its own community. Two Shia clerics are set to face charges of “conspiring with Israel” later this month. The two, Sheikh Hassan Mchaymech and Sayyed Mohammad Ali al-Hussein, were known for their independent and critical positions toward Hezbollah.

None of this portends the imminent demise of Hezbollah. What it does reveal is a nervous, diminished organization, which has shed most of the region-wide charisma it earned through its fight against Israel. The logic of the emerging post-2011 Middle East is one of Islamism and sectarianism. In this context, Hezbollah is now exposed as a gendarme in the Levant for Iran and the Shia Islamism it adheres to. The movement, like its friend Bashar Assad, increasingly holds power by force alone. This can be maintained while it is the stronger party. For as long as Bashar is in his seat, it will be so. If he falls, Hezbollah's enemies in Lebanon (and Syria) will be waiting.