Key points in this Outlook:
- With Iranian support, Hezbollah—a predominantly Shi’ite group and a US-designated terrorist organization—has emerged as the most powerful military and political force in Lebanon.
- Through extensive soft-power efforts, Iran promotes its ideological and political agenda in Lebanon at the expense of American interests.
- To promote stability in Lebanon, the US must counter Iranian influence, strengthen Lebanese state institutions, and partner with moderate leaders from all Lebanese ethnic and religious groups, including the Shi’ites, to contain and marginalize Hezbollah.
Over the last half century, the Shi’ite community in Lebanon has emerged from obscurity to become the most influential political and military powerhouse in the country. With Iranian financial and military assistance, Hezbollah—a predominantly Shi’ite group and a US-designated terrorist organization—dominates Lebanese politics, maintains a militia force stronger than the Lebanese Armed Forces, runs an extensive social welfare program, and functions as a state within a state.
Recently, Hezbollah’s intervention in the Syrian civil war has inflamed long-standing Shi’ite-Sunni tension in Lebanon, radicalized the Sunni community, and paralyzed the political system, threatening to plunge the country into another civil war. Moreover, with Damascus grappling with its own internal conflict and Washington’s engagement in the Middle East
at its nadir, Iran has stepped up its hard- and soft-power efforts to fill the vacuum and has emerged as the most influential external force in Lebanese affairs at the expense of US geopolitical interests in the region.