Quick takes // By Ben FrankelThe worse, the better: Assad’s troubles may hasten Hezbollah’s take-over of Lebanon

Published 20 August 2012

Lebanon is divided into two: the south and east of the country where Hezbollah is the sole ruler, and the rest of the country, which is under the nominal control of the central government – in which Hezbollah is the main actor; the weakening of the Assad regime in Syria has emboldened Hezbollah’s Lebanese opponents to renew their demands that Hezbollah disarm; with the Assad regime’s continuing problems, Hezbollah’s position will become only more difficult; in response, the organization may try to use its still-considerable military capabilities for a provocation against Israel, and attacks on its political opponents at home, or both, exploiting the ensuing turmoil to complete its take-over of Lebanon

The 40-year rule of Syria by the Assad family is coming to an end, and the end is within site. This does not mean that the Assads will be completely out of power: Syria may well disintegrate into several constituent parts, and the Assad family may continue to rule a rump Alawite province in north-west Syria, but the Assad clan’s rule of a unified, cohesive Syria has already ended. This Syria no longer exists, and even if it could be unified again, it would not be under the Assads.

The inexorable demise of the Assad regime has created several losers. Iran is losing its only Arab ally, and Russia is losing its last reliable regional ally. Once the Assads are out of power in Damascus, Russia may lose access to the strategically important port facilities in Latakia.

The biggest loser, though, is Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’a organization. The immediate setbacks for Hezbollah as a result of the fall of the Assad regime will be important in the military domain: Syria is an important arms supplier to Hezbollah, and it serves as a land-bridge for Hezbollah’s main arms supplier, Iran. Beyond the cut-off of arms supplies, Hezbollah will see its training facilities in Syria shut down, and will no longer have access to Syria’s intelligence information.

Hezbollah’s setbacks as a result of Assad’s fall are not limited to the operational realm – they are strategic in nature. The weaker Assad is in Syria, the weaker Hezbollah is in Lebanon. When Assad finally falls, Hezobollah’s position in Lebanon will become untenable.    

With the help of Iran and Syria, Hezbollah has become the strongest military force in Lebanon. It is not so much that Hezbollah is a state within a state: it is more accurate to describe Lebanon and Hezbollah as two states existing next to each other, but with one big difference between them. Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government, and its representatives sit in the Lebanese parliament. Hezbollah thus has a major say – indeed, a veto power — over anything that goes on in Lebanon.

The Lebanese government, on the other hand, has no say with regard to the areas in south and east Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah.

The majority of Lebanese are not Shi’a. They are Sunni Muslims, Druze, and Christians. One reason for Hezbollah’s dominance of Lebanese affairs is that militarily it is the strongest force in Lebanon. The other contribution to its