Hezbollah losing its luster under Iran’s IRGC-Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani

A poster which appeared during the elections in Syria to show that al-Assad himself is a mere puppet of the Iranian regime. According to military experts Qassem Soleimani is the real power behind the Syrian regime and is supervising its army and the Shiite militias including the Iranian backed Lebanese Hezbollah militant group.
A poster which appeared during the elections in Syria to show that al-Assad himself is a mere puppet of the Iranian regime. According to military experts Qassem Soleimani is the real power behind the Syrian regime and is supervising its army and the Shiite militias including the Iranian backed Lebanese Hezbollah militant group. Hezbollah fighters blame Soleimani for the deteriorating relations with the Iranians

Many Hezbollah fighters believe their Iranian supervisor in Syria views them as easily replaceable Arab cannon fodder, and the resultant tension is generating disillusionment about Tehran’s claims of pan-Shiite unity.

The deteriorating relations between Hezbollah and Syrian regime fighters are no longer secret. Lebanese social media platforms affiliated with Shiite supporters of Hezbollah are replete with mockery of the Syrian army’s incompetence, corruption, clumsiness, cowardice, and lack of resources. Bashar al-Assad’s forces are often blamed for causing Hezbollah losses or hampering operations against the rebels. While this trend has seemingly inflated egos among the group’s core supporters back home, it also suggests that political and military alliances are more complicated on the ground in Syria.

Relations between Hezbollah fighters and their commanders in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are similarly complicated, but much more problematic to discuss publicly. Hezbollah remains Iran’s most skilled militia, but anecdotal accounts indicate that it may no longer enjoy its privileged status with Tehran, at least in terms of how its forces are treated on the battlefield. The war in Syria has uncovered Iran’s true expansionist intentions, along with a Persian arrogance toward Arab Shiites that Hezbollah fighters are not used to.

To get a better sense of how the group’s members perceive these dynamics, this article draws on author interviews with a large number of Hezbollah fighters and commanders. Although there is no way to tell how representative their views are, the high level of agreement they express on certain issues is telling. In particular, they tend to blame IRGC-Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani for the deteriorating relations.

THE SOLEIMANI EFFECT

Hezbollah chief hassan Nasrallah ( L) and IRGC-Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani. Hezbollah was created by the Qods Force in 1982 and continues to operate as one of its divisions
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah ( L) and IRGC-Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani. Hezbollah was created by the Qods Force in 1982 and continues to operate as one of its divisions

After Soleimani was dispatched to Syria in the early days of the war, the Hezbollah-Iran dynamic changed quickly. The group’s commanders had already been working under the IRGC’s supervision for years, but Soleimani reportedly began micromanaging their military operations to an unprecedented degree. This shift, coupled with Soleimani’s strict command over the consolidated Iraqi, Afghani, and Pakistani Shiite militias fighting in Syria, highlighted the complex relations between Persian and Arab Shiites. Frequent appeals to sectarian identity had brought all Shiite militias under the IRGC flag during the course of the war, but this unity has since been challenged by deep-rooted Persian-Arab tensions. Those who have fought under Soleimani tend to remark on this tension; as one Hezbollah fighter told the author in December, “It was clear to many of us that [Soleimani’s] priority was to protect the Iranians, and that [Hezbollah fighters] and all non-Iranian Shiites could be sacrificed.”

Similarly, a number of other fighters have complained of being abandoned by their Iranian and Iraqi Shiite allies on the battlefield. Such incidents apparently led to many losses among Hezbollah’s ranks, and some fighters subsequently refused to fight under Iranian commanders. Likewise, many interviewees complained about the “stingy” and “arrogant” manner in which Iranians treat Arab fighters. As one fighter put it, “Sometimes I feel I’m fighting alongside strangers who do not care if I am dead…We should ask ourselves why we couldn’t accomplish anything in Syria, although we have advanced weapons, while the old Hezbollah generation achieved so much with more traditional weapons. We are fighting in the wrong land.”

Soleimani seems to have little tolerance for such criticism. According to one commander, “When complaints increased and the Hezbollah leadership stalled Soleimani’s requests to send more fighters to Aleppo, he cut salaries for three months, or until Hezbollah did what he asked.” Yet while most of the interviewees dislike him and his apparent disdain toward Arabs, they do respect and fear him, with the understanding that the relationship is now a boss-employee situation rather than a partnership. As a result, many veteran fighters have come to believe that the notion of a “unified Shiite identity” is a fiction, and they are returning home as disillusioned Lebanese Arabs rather than victorious pan-Shiite warriors.

THE NEW HEZBOLLAH FIGHTER?

Although Hezbollah’s leadership has sought to link the Syria war to grander goals — namely, the longstanding posture of “resistance” toward Israel, and the more recent call to defeat takfiri (heretical) Sunni Islamist groups such as the Islamic State — many fighters are unconvinced. They are cynical about this rhetoric because most of their battles have been aimed at propping up the Assad regime, not fighting the Islamic State. Many fighters also believe that they are paying all the costs while Iranians are reaping the benefits. As a result, significant numbers of veterans have been leaving Hezbollah, making room for a new and rather different crop of younger fighters.

According to some members who have taken leave from the war or quit entirely, the newcomers are not joining the fight for reasons of ideology or self-realization. They are there to collect a salary or secure their future — they are not particularly concerned about Hezbollah’s broader mission, and they tend to follow Iranian orders without complaining.

At the same time, however, the newcomers are apparently less loyal than their predecessors, and less well trained. According to Lebanese media reports, new fighters do not get more than a month or two of training before being thrown into battle. Previously, Hezbollah spent decades screening and preparing its fighters. The group’s leaders picked the creme-de-la-creme of young Shiites to join their ranks because they wanted loyal and trustworthy men. Today, Hezbollah’s army in Syria is full of unreliable young fighters who have no real moral compass.

REPERCUSSIONS IN LEBANON

The changes within Hezbollah’s fighting force are reflecting gravely on the Shiite community back home. Given the war’s general unpopularity and severe economic effects, Lebanese Shiites have become more isolated. They are also struggling to deal with returning fighters who often have a deleterious effect on their hometowns, whether by behaving aggressively, attempting to dictate local lifestyles, or generally instilling chaos. Government statistics are showing historically high rates of drug use, small crime, and unemployment, especially in the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiya, a Hezbollah stronghold. Even more disturbing is the absence of serious measures to counter these social problems. Lebanese authorities are not allowed to do anything in Dahiya without Hezbollah’s cooperation, but the group has seemingly done little to address the problems itself. In short, while many Shiites still view Hezbollah as their only protector and provider, they have not felt well protected or provided for in quite some time.

Hezbollah cannot keep absorbing these blows to its image for long, but Iran and Soleimani do not seem bothered by the situation, regarding it as Hezbollah’s problem. Whenever the group’s fighters leave Syria, they are immediately replaced by Iraqi Shiites who do not have the same domestic concerns about preserving the “resistance” against Israel. The fact that Tehran and Hezbollah sometimes differ in priorities and methods is hardly breaking news; among other past instances, Iranian leaders were less than thrilled about Hezbollah’s decision to launch a war with Israel in 2006. Likewise, Hezbollah fighters are not the only proxies that have chafed at Iranian arrogance; for example, captured Iraqi militants interrogated by U.S. authorities reportedly criticized their condescending Iranian trainers and advisors. Yet Iran’s Iraqi allies continue to soldier on in Syria even as Hezbollah veterans increasingly quit the field, so the current tensions should not be downplayed.

Several factors may help explain this trend — Hezbollah’s drastic rhetorical shift from “resisting Israel” to “fighting Sunnis,” the ever-worsening shortage of social services in Lebanon, the failure to achieve the promised “divine victory,” and the “bossy” attitude of the group’s supposed Iranian partners. Whatever the case, Hezbollah has lost some of its “sacredness” in Lebanon — for many Shiites, pursuing an alternative identity, narrative, or way of life is no longer viewed as futile.

One thing that could revive Shiite public support for Hezbollah at home is a confrontation with Israel. Although open war is not in the cards at the moment, post-Aleppo military operations in Syria have brought Hezbollah forces back to Lebanon’s borders, creating an opportunity for renewed anti-Israel rhetoric and provocations.

Alternatively, if Washington turns up the heat on Hezbollah amid increasing U.S.-Iranian tensions, the group may try to cast itself as a victim in order to regain public support. America’s interests would therefore be better served if its future actions against Hezbollah include a plan for exploiting the fissures and contradictions within the Shiite community (e.g., by creating economic and employment alternatives for potential recruits). Otherwise, Hezbollah will no doubt use any confrontation to bring the Shiites back to their sectarian base.

Hanin Ghaddar, a veteran Lebanese journalist and researcher, is the Friedmann Visiting Fellow at The Washington Institute.

 The Washington Institute.

  • Arzna

    According to this article It has taken Hezbollah 35 years to figure out the Iranians . Too bad there was no internet back then , but if they asked any Ahwazi Arabs , he or she would have told them about how they were being mistreated by the Iranians during the Shah and the Islamic Republic . The Ahwazi Arabs are named after Ahwaz, a city in the southwest of Iran and the capital of the oil and natural gas wealthy Khuzestan province . Despite the wealth of their province they are considered the poorest ethnic group in Iran .
    It is never too late , but will Hezbollah leaders start thinking Lebanon instead of Iran? only time will tell

    • Danny Farah

      Yes and Nassrallah been babbling about hitting the Israelis Chemical plants. all these tough talk will lead Israel to nuke them for sure. Hezbollah accusing the Saudis of extremism yet they forgot they were the ones who sent suicide bombers against the Marines barracks and the american embassy. I still cannot figure out why they did that after the Marines were defending them in Beirut against the Israelis. I still remember the one marine jumped on israeli tank in trying to stop it and was hailed as a hero. When Khomeini was in POwer he changed their minds around. Since then Iran took over the Shiite community to further it’s goals in the middle east. Yes Daesh is very bad but hezbollah and Iran are no different. they are bully’s and Hezbollah better shape up on Lebanese side. Cause if Israel weakens them, guess who is going to eat them alive.. the Sunnis are waiting with sharp swords and teeth. they will beg for Mercy and Shiite communities need to rise in Lebanon about this stupidity of hezbollah being controlled by Iran. How many thousands have to die in order to defend Assad and Zeinab. if she was alive they would enslave her and would not have any respect for her. suddenly thousands of fighters are descending into Syria to protect the shrine. Iran is planting Syria with Shiites from all over Middle East, Afghans and even Iranians. all to further control Syria as they are doing in Lebanon. Eventually the Christians will have to follow the Iranians rules. Right now Iran is still toying with them and choking them as they just did to Aoun. just as he enjoyed his Trip to the Gulf and Nassrallah stopped him in his track. When Aoun was fighting Syrian Army and hezbollah then whom the LAF were much weaker than now. how was it then the LAF was not weak in his mind to fight the Syrian Army who was at full capacity then and same for hezbollah. Now suddenly he capitulated to Nassrallah and the LAF became weak.. if Iran, Syria and Hezbollah thought of the Army being weak and since it was under its control for decades, why wasn’t the Army trained by Iran and Syria to become a powerful force instead of hezbollah? now they get jealous of the Saudi trying to get sophisticated arms for the LAF?
      the Army if was armed and trained like they did for hezbollah then the LAF would not be weak as they claim would it? Any asshole want to dispute my point is a traitor to Lebanon plain and simple.

      • Omega

        I dont’ know if you’re a Christian or a Sunni in disguise but there is a lot of sugar coating in your comments. When the Wahhabi vermin show up at the border, Hezbollah is there with the Lebanese Army. And unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran also doesn’t want to make of Lebanon an Islamic State. Hezbollah disarming or leaving Lebanon will not change anything as someone else will use Lebanon as a launch platform to further their agenda. The problem with Lebanon is that its power is divided between five groups (that’s the 1943 French Pact National) – each obeying a different, more powerful group.

        The narrative of Hezbollah (formed in 1985) being the culprit of the 1983 barracks and US Embassy bombings in Beirut was/is imposed – not factual. The CIA team in charge of the Embassy bombing concluded that: there was not enough reliable evidence to support the theory that the Party of God was responsible. (http://bit.ly/2l07Rku). The aforementioned article also states a most forgotten fact: the shelling of Beirut that killed hundreds of civilians by the New Jersey. In regards to the barracks bombing, ex-Mossad Victor Ostrovsky attests in his book ‘By Way of Deception’ that the Israeli Army had foreknowledge of the bombing but failed to notify the US Army. The whole thing was wrapped up and blamed later on Hezbollah.

        • Danny Farah

          Yes the Culprit were Iranian not hezbollah and that was my mistake.

          • Omega

            Are you sure you’re Lebanese? You don’t seem to know much outside the imposed/mainstream narrative (aka propaganda). I am asking because I find it odd that a Lebanese doesn’t know the USA shelled the Lebanese coast a month before the barracks bombing.

            On September 19 1983, the New Jersey and other US warships began shelling Druze, Syrian and Palestinian positions in the Chouf Mountains outside Beirut. The battleship New Jersey with its 2,700 pound shells (“flying Volkswagens”) participated led the action.

            The accuracy of New Jersey‘s guns was a scandal in US government circles and was consistently called into question. An investigation into New Jersey’s gunfire effectiveness in Lebanon, led Marine colonel Don Price, found that many of the ship’s shells had missed their targets by as much as 10,000 yards (9,140 m) and therefore may have inadvertently killed civilians. Records and oral hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could not be clearer and Secretary Kerrey and Ambassador Connelly know this. Tim McNulty, a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune based in Lebanon at the time wrote: “Everybody loved the New Jersey until she fired her guns. Once she fired, it was obvious she couldn’t hit anything,” Well, as the citizens of Lebanon know well it did hit things. Mainly it bombed innocent civilians and their property and Lebanon’s infrastructure.

            http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/04/19/thirty-years-after-the-bombing-at-the-us-embassy-in-lebanon/

          • vs

            +Are you sure you’re Lebanese?+ Can you write Phoenician? 𐤃‏𐤁‏𐤓‏𐤉‏𐤌‏ 𐤊‏𐤍‏𐤏‏𐤍‏𐤉‏𐤌‏

          • HebAlba

            Ask Danny Farah

          • HebAlba

            In Arabic- ISIS crying out to Hezbollah Axis Forces

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmrzMEPgk5U&t=0s

          • Omega

            Damn. I’ve seen wimps but they take the cake. There again, one can’t expect much from Wahhabi vermin who kill at will, rape and chop heads.

          • Rudy1947

            And the Oscar for best crying in a dramatic role goes to crier number 1. Presenting the Oscar will be Shirley Temper.

          • HebAlba
          • Rudy1947

            Subtitles, Heb, subtitles. Also, I prefer Will Rogers quotes.

          • HebAlba

            Sorry it’s an Arabic site.

          • Rudy1947

            Will Rogers?

          • HebAlba

            I don’t know your rogers

          • HebAlba
          • HebAlba

            If they use the name of Allah to mock it would be Blasphemy.

          • Rudy1947

            Is Oscar or Shirley Temper to now be construed as Allah?

          • Barry

            Jesus, I hope HA killed these dogs. The crying alone is as bad as the mass murder and rapine.

          • vs

            Hi Danny, Can you write Phoenician? 𐤃‏𐤁‏𐤓‏𐤉‏𐤌‏ 𐤊‏𐤍‏𐤏‏𐤍‏𐤉‏𐤌‏ HebAlba asked. Have You support to Phoenician font?

    • PatienceTew

      The Hizboobs ARE the Iranians.

  • vs
  • vs

    (offtopic) Beirut hosted final of “Arab Idol” – the most popular reality show in the Middle East. The winner is a resident of Bethlehem Yaqub Shahin, belonging to the Assyrian community. The finalist also Israeli Amir Dandan from Majd al-Krum

  • William Petro

    The Hezbollah went from a hit and run Guerrilla Warfare, outfit, to a highly trained, and war hardened and war experienced military unit! And this scares the h3ll out of the Israelis.

    • Rudy1947

      But without Russian air power they and others were battling to a stalemate, a victory here a defeat there.

      • Rascal

        The Assad/Hezb/Iran plus various foreign shiite fighters paid by Iran where in fact on the verge of defeat, being pushed back on every front…..until Russian air-power. This is when Russia openly committed to the war with men and material. I’m too lazy to attach old news links so if the Hezbo supporters have a bad memory or this doesn’t fit in with Iranian alternate realities, keep making up your own histories.
        Regarding the article, it has always been known that the Persians look down at Arabs in general, not just other religions.
        Hezbullah is cannon fodder and a tool, nothing more. Disposable heroes.

        • Jack

          when it is an article about the Hezbullah………. suddenly Omega is LOW active.
          a good Lebanese patriot !!!

          • HebAlba

            “a good Lebanese patriot !!!”
            Ahh..that gives up your ID. You’re unemployed..er…uh Israeli triple ID out of control here, very trendy..

          • Jack

            HebAlba – Are you employed to rescue Omega.
            As who asked you any question Bozo.

          • HebAlba

            Omega the only Lebanese here.. need rescuing?
            Can’t stop laughing..
            Who ask anyone..It’s a public blog.

    • Barry

      a unit that has lost at least 1200 men, including top and middle rank field commanders. No military ever “gains” from war experience. The US Army came back from Vietnam full of experience and they needed decades to get over it.

  • Devoted Protagonist

    This article is nothing but a desperate propaganda. The author refers to various government statistics and interviewing of many Hezbollah fighters, but does not offer a single reference or source to back up this wild claim. The only aim of this article (which is not the first of its kind) is to divide the alliance against Wahhabi funded terrorist groups in the region. Similar failed attempts were made to divide the Iranian and Russian alliance. Nobody is fooled by this.

  • Barry

    Interesting piece.