Terrorism & Insurgency

Covid-19 infection impacts Hizbullah’s domestic reputation and regional operations

23 March 2020

A woman, wearing a face mask amid coronavirus fears, crosses a street with a portrait of Iran’s former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini hanging on the wall in Beirut’s southern suburb of Chiyah on 14 March 2020. Source: Getty Images

Key Points

  • Various sources, including within Hizbullah's military wing, have reported to Jane's that the group's hospitals in Beirut are overwhelmed by members infected with Covid-19. The virus has reportedly been spread extensively by fighters and leadership figures returning from Iran and Syria.
  • The impact of the health crisis on Hizbullah's regional operational capabilities remains unclear, yet sources in the group have claimed that containment of the virus is diverting operational focus away from the Syrian conflict and will likely decrease capacity to travel and project force across the broader region.
  • Although the emergency response to the pandemic could serve as an informal means of control, and cultivate a broader base of support within Lebanese society, wider political and socio-economic consequences are likely for Hizbullah in the coming 6-12 months.

As of 20 March, Lebanon had reported 163 Covid-19 cases, most of whom are receiving treatment at the private hospital of the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the public Rafiq Hariri Hospital in the capital. Although Lebanon has closed land, sea, and air transportation in and out of the country, intelligence sources and a member of Hizbullah's military wing have confirmed to Jane's that Hizbullah's political base in south Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley has been badly hit by the Covid-19 virus. Infections soared after fighters and clerics returning from religious studies and military training in Iran spread the deadly illness throughout the tight-knit community.

Health infrastructure

Hizbullah has an extensive health infrastructure network which should enable a comprehensive response to an outbreak such as Covid-19. Its Islamic Society for Health (ISH; al-Haya'a al-Suhiyya al-Islamiyya) was established in 1984 and is generally recognised as a major public health provider in Lebanon. The ISH regularly co-operates with Lebanese government bodies, including the Ministries of Public Health and Education, as well as international organisations, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), to run vaccination and health education campaigns, school health programmes and other initiatives.

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