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December 2011, Page 61
Hezbollah in the Wake of the Arab Uprisings
Seeking to better understand how Hezbollah will respond to the changing political landscape in the Middle East, the Middle East Institute (MEI) hosted an Oct. 11 discussion titled "Hezbollah in the Wake of the Arab Spring." Randa Slim, a Lebanese-American scholar at MEI, led the discussion.
Given that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah maintain a strong regional alliance, the potential overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad presents a major geopolitical challenge for the three. As Slim explained, "Syria is the crucial linchpin that connects Hezbollah and Iran, serves as a conduit for transfer of weapons into Lebanon, provides strategic depth for Hezbollah, and grants Iran a toehold on Israel's northern border." Thus, without the presence of a valuable ally in Assad, Hezbollah's ability to efficiently operate and project strength diminishes greatly.
Aside from potential damage to its alliances, Hezbollah also is concerned that the Syrian uprising will create instability within Lebanon. Slim noted that Hezbollah is now being forced to devote more resources to domestic causes in an effort to avoid a spill-over of violence into Lebanon.
The Arab uprisings are also threatening the relevance of Hezbollah's message, Slim said, noting that Hezbollah's "principal claim to leadership in the Arab region" is its "unwavering commitment to resisting Israeli occupation of Arab lands and standing up to U.S. policies in the Middle East." While this message was central to Arab unity before the revolts, Slim added, Arabs now are increasingly concerned with resisting domestic regimes. According to the MEI scholar, this recent regional shift toward domestic politics is increasingly making Hezbollah appear "out-of-sync with the passions and interests of the Arab public."
Slim explained that Hezbollah's growing image problem is only compounded by its relationship with the repressive Iranian and Syrian regimes. For instance, Slim said, "Hezbollah's Iranian ally will become more of a liability than an asset." Furthermore, she argued, Hezbollah's support of the Assad regime "puts them in the camp of countries opposed to the values and aspirations of the people for freedom and good governance."
Despite the many dilemmas Hezbollah is currently confronting, the group maintains that its future is stable, Slim pointed out. In fact, she explained, Hezbollah still believes that Assad will survive the Syrian uprising. Given this confidence that its Syrian ally will remain in power, Slim noted that, in terms of scenario building, there has been a "lack of real deliberation going on inside Hezbollah's ranks."
Slim concluded by giving her personal assessment regarding Hezbollah's future, saying she believes that Hezbollah will be "seriously weakened" by the ongoing regional events, but that it ultimately "won't collapse."