Hezbollah bragged this week that it has 100,000 fighters. The figure is a major exaggeration, but it is symbolic of how Hezbollah no longer feels the need to even pretend to be a small “resistance” movement, rather it is bragging it has more forces than the Lebanese army and has in effect made Lebanon a colony within the greater Hezbollah empire.
Expert on Lebanon Hanin Ghaddar, who is at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had given the 100,000 figure. She noted on Twitter that it was an exaggeration, “even if you include the reservists. In addition, quantity is one thing, but the quality of their fighters has been shaken by long wars, budget shifts, and emergency recruiting during Syria [conflict]..”
The context here is important. Back in the 1970s, a Lebanese civil war broke out. It pitted Christian militias against Muslim and Druze militias, as well as Palestinian groups. At the time there was no Hezbollah. However, there were Shi’ite militias and the Amal movement. But the Shi’ites were a marginalized small minority group. Christians and Sunni Muslims dominated Lebanon.
After Israel’s invasion of 1982 and the Palestinian terror groups leaving Lebanon, the country’s civil war sputtered on. The Syrians had also invaded the country in the 1970s and eventually, an accord brokered by Saudi Arabia in 1989 helped end the war. The result was that the Christians were slightly reduced in their official power, a power cemented through demographics and the parliament election system that guaranteed Christians power in the presidency. A weakened presidency led to a stronger Sunni Muslim Prime Minister. The Shi’ites got the speaker of parliament.
Hezbollah doesn’t derive its power from the superannuated speaker of parliament Nabih Berri, who has held his position since 1992. Instead, Hezbollah has its power due to the fact that after the Sunni, Christian and Druze militias put down their weapons in the wake of the 1989 agreement, Hezbollah kept its weapons because it claimed to be “resisting Israel.”
Soleimani, Nasrallah and Imad Mughniyeh plotted, and a war broke out in 2006. When that was over Hezbollah used the destruction it wrought to increase power over construction, housing and its own phone and telecommunications network. When the parliament tried to take away the telecommunications network, Hezbollah invaded areas in Beirut in 2008 and showed off its new muscles.
Soon, Hezbollah was keeping a new president from being appointed, forcing Christians to make a choice: Lose their remaining power or ally with Hezbollah. Michael Aoun chose to work with Hezbollah and got the presidency. Other Christians like Samir Geagea did not agree and neither did Sunnis like Saad Hariri. Hezbollah systematically assassinated rivals and intellectuals like Lokman Slim. It also sent fighters to Syria during the civil war and expanded its arsenal from 13,000 rockets to 150,000 rockets, missiles and drones. It also sent forces to the Golan to prepare to expand the war against Israel.
All this is a long way of saying Hezbollah’s real power is now through strangling parliament and the presidency and running Lebanon’s foreign and military policy. It even imports gas now. But it doesn’t have 100,000 fighters. That is because the overall Shi’ite community Hezbollah draws on for support is divided, with many backing Hezbollah ally Amal.
To have 100,000 fighters you would need several million Shi’ite Hezbollah backers. Where are those people? Where are the trained fighters? How would you feed all those men? The fact is that Hezbollah is a powerful terror army, and it has precision-guided weapons and drones and bunkers and its own communications network and runs drugs all over the world and stockpiles ammonium nitrate and destroys cities and robs Lebanon of its future and bankrupts Lebanon, but its 100,000 figure is just in Nasrallah’s imagination.