Yesterday, members of Hizballah shot two Christian civilians dead in a Lebanese village after an automotive accident. On Sunday, the Israeli foreign minister—responding to the Iran-backed terrorist organization’s provocative behavior along the Israel-Lebanon border—told an Arabic language outlet that, if Hizballah doesn’t tread carefully, “Israel can send Lebanon back to the stone age.” The guerrilla group also plays a critical role in maintaining the systemic corruption that plagues Lebanon, and that has brought it to the brink of economic collapse. Matthew Levitt explains:
Let’s be clear, corruption is at the heart of Lebanon’s economic and political crises. This economic and political rot is deeply entrenched and is protected by powerful political bosses across the spectrum, and across Lebanon’s political and sectarian divide. All this threatens Lebanon’s near-, medium-, and long-term security and stability, and corruption is by no means limited to any one party in Lebanon. Yet, no Lebanese party presents a greater security threat to Lebanon domestically, and to its neighbors in the region, than Hizballah—in part because Hezbollah is the de-facto militant enforcer of the corrupt political system from which it and other sectarian political parties benefit.
Consider a few examples of the unique ways in which Hizballah undermines Lebanese security and stability and risks regional war. Hizballah has a dedicated element—Unit 121—whose sole purpose is to carry out assassinations in Lebanon of people that it doesn’t like. Think [of the former prime minister] Rafiq Hariri. Think [of the intelligence official] Wissam Eid. Think [of the activist] Lokman Slim, and a whole lot of other names that we don’t have time to go through.
Over the past few years, Hizballah has unilaterally declared parts of Lebanon to be its own independent military zones and denied the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) access to these areas, including areas near and along the Blue Line, the de-facto border. Hizballah regularly harasses UNIFIL forces, and in December, a Hizballah operative killed Private Sean Rooney, an Irish UNIFIL soldier.
Unlike many violent nonstate actors, which have only limited access to the formal economy and are heavily reliant on shadow economies, Hizballah is able to benefit from the formal, regulated economy and simultaneously run its own parallel, shadow economy, which sucks from and undermines the formal economy. Taken together, Hizballah’s shadow economy and parallel government structure undermine both political and economic stability in Lebanon and regional security across the Eastern Mediterranean.