Covid-19 infection impacts Hizbullah reputation and regional operations

by Janes Terrorism and Insurgency Centre

  • Various sources, including within Hizbullah’s military wing, have reported to Janes 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.

  • In line with information circulating on social media, on 26 March, Hizbullah announced a health emergency plan in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, including the deployment of 24,500 doctors, nurses, paramedics and field staff. Moreover, the group states they are dedicating their hospitals to provide free Covid-19 testing and treatment addition to manufacturing ventilators. In addition, Hizbullah declared it will make its resorts and hotels – non-profit sites usually used for summer and recreational activities for youth and scouts – available as quarantine sites.

Analysis

The Covid-19 outbreak therefore presents serious challenges for Hizbullah: much of the group’s attention has been diverted from an operational focus on Syria, where the group’s fighters play a critical role in defending the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, with its fighters falling victim to the virus, the effect on the group’s military capabilities remains to be seen.

The group is already under pressure: since its intervention in Syria, the group is facing a legitimacy and accountability crisis among its supporters and the wider Lebanese population. Dissent among supporters is increasingly reported, although difficult to verify due to a lack of transparency and physical access. 

The war in Syria continues to negatively impact Lebanon’s already precarious economic situation and result in refugee and host community tensions, food price hikes, and pressure on health and education systems, housing and employment opportunities.

Yet, the health crisis might also present an opportunity for Hizbullah. Given the (general) weakness of public institutions, the group once again has the chance to showcase the strength of its governance services and social welfare networks. Known to make access or quality of the services dependent on active political or military participation, or at least on compliance with the group’s policies, the emergency response to the pandemic could serve as an informal means of control and cultivate a broader base of support within Lebanese society.

In addition to a potential operational impact and a decreasing capacity to travel and project force across the broader region, there may consequently be wider political and socio-economic consequences for Hizbullah in the coming 6–12 months.

https://www.janes.com/defence-news/news-detail/covid-19-infection-impacts-hizbullah-reputation-and-regional-operations

Various sources, including within Hizbullah’s military wing, have reported to Janes that the group’s...

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