Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 02:52 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 02:52 | SYDNEY

Hizbullah hits some speed bumps


Rodger Shanahan


29 June 2011 14:49

Hizbullah in many ways represents the ultimate challenge for Western intelligence agencies — a high payoff target with information of direct security interest to Washington and some of its closest allies, and the opportunity to shine a light on the links between the organisation and its Syrian and Iranian allies.

But Hizbullah has over the years built a reputation for strict security and iron discipline, and its counter-intelligence capability has proved a significant hurdle. That's why this week's admission by its Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah that three of its members had been found to be working for Western intelligence agencies was so interesting. If true, it shows that Hizbullah is not impervious to the normal entreaties of Western intelligence agencies.

Things are not going to get any easier for Hizbullah if rumours that five of its members are going to be indicted for the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri are also true. These rumours have been given added strength as a consequence of the announcement of the 'spy ring'.

Hizbullah has long sought to portray the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) as a tool of Western intelligence agencies designed to sully the reputation of Hizbullah. A CIA penetration of Hizbullah prior to an indictment is an excellent way of reinforcing Hizbullah's claims that any indictments are the result of CIA/Mossad connivance to taint evidence.

But espionage is only one of Hizbullah's problems at the moment. Another challenge is the troubles being experienced next door by the Assad regime, a close ally of the Party. And domestically, after five months without a government, Hizbullah's march 8 coalition is bunkered down in negotiations with the Prime Minister over what the cabinet statement is (or isn't) going to say about Beirut's commitment to sundry international obligations that adversely impact on Hizbullah.

In most other countries, this would be enough to sink the political aspirations of any political party. But Lebanon is not any country and Hizbullah is not any political party. With a weak state and powerful external backers, Hizbullah has not only ridden out the challenges it faced in the past, but it has grown stronger as the unity of its Lebanese political opponents has weakened. 

Hizbullah doesn't fear any of the internal threats it faces — it will undertake damage control and increase its counter-intelligence capabilities to stop a repeat of the intelligence penetration, the STL has been more or less neutered internally as a political issue, and a cabinet statement will likely be adopted that allows Prime Minister Mikati to assert some semblance of independence but doesn't cause any problems for Hizbullah.

But Hizbullah does fear the ramifications of a collapse, or even partial collapse, of the Assad regime. Without a powerful external supporter, Hizbullah becomes vulnerable. And while Iran remains steadfast, the loss of logistical support from Damascus would seriously cramp Nasrallah's style. The Arab Spring may have passed Beirut by, but its second order impact may yet be felt.

Photo by Flickr user ninjawil.