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Alex Rowell

Hezbollah unlikely to drop ‘Resistance Brigades’

Future Movement’s demands for Hezbollah to dissolve its perennially controversial paramilitary subsidiary will go unmet, say analysts

The Brigades have been implicated in a laundry list of security incidents, particularly in the southern city of Sidon (Source: imlebanon.org)

The controversial speech given by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah last Friday, during which he declared his party’s militants “no longer recognize the ‘rules of engagement’” with Israel and shall retaliate against further Israeli attacks on the party “whenever, however and wherever” they choose, has put the recently launched dialogue initiative between Hezbollah and its main domestic rival, the Future Movement, under strain, according to officials from the latter party.

 

Future member Interior Minister Nohad al-Mashnouq remarked that the dialogue would be made more “difficult” by Nasrallah’s comments, while in an official statement the Movement also denounced the heavy celebratory gun and rocket-propelled-grenade (RPG) fire launched by Hezbollah supporters during the speech, which it described as an intimidating “display of force” that turned Beirut into a “city of fear.”

 

Despite this, a dialogue session scheduled for Tuesday went ahead as planned, and one key item on the agenda was reported to be the Hezbollah-affiliated Resistance Brigades, or Saraya al-Muqawama, an irregular paramilitary force loyal to the Party that has been implicated in a number of security incidents in recent years. A Future official called last month for the Brigades to be disbanded.

 

Formed in 1997 by Hezbollah as the ‘Lebanese Brigades to Resist the Israeli Occupation,’ the group’s ostensible purpose was to enable those who didn’t meet Hezbollah’s religious and ideological entrance requirements — particularly Sunni Muslims, Christians and Druze — to participate in attacks in coordination with the Party of God against the Israeli Army, then occupying South Lebanon. In its initial years, it did in fact engage in such attacks, though this ceased with the Israeli withdrawal in 2000. Since then, critics say the Brigades have transformed into little more than a corrupt mercenary force with duties limited to providing Hezbollah with apparent non-Shiite Muslim legitimacy and serving as informants and strongmen in neighborhoods where the Party would otherwise have limited reach. In remarks to a pro-Hezbollah newspaper in 2013, a founder of the Brigades characterized their current role as “protecting” the “resistance” from “internal enemies.” A Hezbollah commander quoted in the same article boasted the Brigades were “no less dangerous to the enemies of Hezbollah than the party itself.”

 

Critics of the Brigades may be inclined to agree. Certainly, Hezbollah’s opponents, including Future Bloc leader and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, denounce the Brigades as a menace to Lebanese society, pointing to a laundry list of violent incidents blamed on their members.

 

Two months ago, for instance, the Brigades were involved in a shootout with police in the southern city of Sidon following the attempted arrest of a wanted Brigade militant. Though the culprit was later handed over, more than a dozen other members with arrest warrants to their names reportedly remain at large in the city.

 

Indeed, Sidon has been the primary locale for Brigades-related troubles. In the months leading up to the major June 2013 battle between the local Salafist cleric-turned-militant Ahmad al-Assir and the Lebanese Army, Assir’s partisans would regularly clash with Brigades members, and in fact just days before the final eruption a smaller, but still heavy, round of fighting involving machine guns and RPGs took place between the two militias. In the same week, the Sidon home of Future MP Bahia Hariri was targeted by sniper fire; an act she blamed in comments to NOW on the Brigades. A year later, the editor of local publication Saida Gate, Abd al-Basit Turjuman, was assaulted by what he said were Brigades members after publishing articles critical of the group.

 

“They told me, ‘We will cut off your tongue,’ and started beating me,” Turjuman told NOW, adding that it wasn’t the first time he’d been physically attacked by the Brigades, who he believes are able to operate with impunity in the city thanks to Hezbollah’s protection.

 

“I went and filed a lawsuit but nothing happened. Unfortunately, one of the Internal Security Forces members told me that everything related to Hezbollah in Sidon, we cannot open a record on it […] One [Brigades member] stated to me that we even have the permission to kill without being prosecuted.”

 

Despite the Brigades’ unpopularity with Hezbollah’s opponents, however, analysts and officials with whom NOW spoke said the Party was highly unlikely to agree to Future’s demands to dissolve them, and will instead continue to argue, as it has in the past, that the Brigades are a necessary auxiliary force in the fight against Israel.

 

“I don’t think Hezbollah is prepared to dismantle the Resistance Brigades, as they say this apparatus is not a problem as much as it is needed to face Israel,” said Qassem Kassir, a Lebanese analyst who previously worked for the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar TV channel. “I completely rule out [the idea of them] shutting down the Resistance Brigades,” he told NOW.

 

Similarly, Talal Karkadan, the press spokesman for the Popular Nasserite Organization, a Sidon-based party that is allied with Hezbollah but has occasionally been on uneasy terms with the Resistance Brigades (a gunfight between the two in 2013 left one Brigades member dead) told NOW the dismantling of the Brigades was “not going to happen at all.” Asked if he supported Future’s demands to have the group dissolved, Karkadan said his party would not “interfere” in the bilateral dialogue.

 

While the outright elimination of the group looks improbable, then, analysts said a possible outcome would be an agreement by Hezbollah to rein in the Brigades’ activities to some extent, as it was reported to have done in 2013 following the Assir battles.

 

Yet others, including Turjuman, told NOW they were skeptical things would even go that far.

 

“This is all empty talk.”

 

Amin Nasr contributed reporting.

 

Alex Rowell tweets @disgraceofgod

The Brigades have been implicated in a laundry list of security incidents, particularly in the southern city of Sidon (Source: imlebanon.org)

I don’t think Hezbollah is prepared to dismantle the Resistance Brigades, as they say this apparatus is not a problem as much as it is needed to face Israel,” said Qassem Kassir, a Lebanese analyst who previously worked for the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar TV channel.

  • W Fairhart

    Hezbollah and his ali baba with all their associate gangs should move to Iran or be wiped off the face of the earth... Period!

    February 7, 2015

  • manjarola

    Hezboola must be a Lebanese army, and not persian army. Hezboolla must defense Lebanon, but not atack Israel if Irãn order. Israel dont whant start a war against Lebanon. Lebanon dont whant also. But Nashalla must enjoy LAF and drop out Iran . Hezboolla is persian or lebanese ???????????????????????????????????????

    February 5, 2015

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    And yoo, manjaroola? Yoo Israeli? or yoo illiterate hillbilly?

    February 5, 2015

  • W Fairhart

    He is a Lebanese patriot and not a traitor and persian pet...

    February 7, 2015