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Where does Hezbollah go from here?

Analysis: The Party of God's loss in the recent election has it rethinking its political strategy, though not its commitment to armed struggle.

Lebanon's Hezbollah supporters beat themselves as they mourn Imam Hussein during the Ashura ceremony held in Beirut's suburbs Jan. 7, 2009. (Jamal Saidi/Reuters)

TAIBE, Lebanon — What’s next for the Party of God?

We might expect a period of cooler rhetoric, but barring a tectonic shift in regional power, Hezbollah will probably keep its formidable arsenal cocked and ready to fight Israel and anyone who threatens to disarm its very powerful militia.

And though American and Israeli boosters of Lebanon’s governing coalition saw a victory for the West in the recent Lebanese election results, they ought to remember that Hezbollah’s power and legitimacy remain undiminished. Even Hezbollah’s most staunchly pro-American rivals have publicly disavowed any further efforts to disarm Hezbollah.

That’s not to say that Hezbollah doesn’t face major challenges. Hezbollah had predicted victory for its coalition in Lebanon’s elections. It dismissed President Barack Obama’s address to the Muslim world as mere words. Its powerful militia depends almost entirely on Iranian largesse. Despite Iran’s own presidential elections, Tehran could bargain away its support for Hezbollah in talks with the West, and Lebanon’s election left Hezbollah and its rivals with essentially the same share of power they had in the previous parliament.

So it’s no surprise that Hassan Nasrallah’s militant Shiite party assumed a conciliatory tone after Lebanon voted for a new parliament on June 7. Nasrallah urged his supporters to accept the results of the vote, even as he pointed to its flaws, including a vote-buying and a historically skewed system built on sectarian gerrymandering.

Lost in the declarations of victory and the political maneuvers of the defeated are some important realities that should interest anyone paying close attention to the “Resistance Axis” that includes Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas:

  • Hezbollah and its allies ended up with almost the same number of seats in parliament as they did in 2005 and are likely to win control of the same number of government ministries, belying any claims that the tide of support has turned against the Lebanese Resistance.
  • In the popular vote Hezbollah and its allies unequivocally won, with more than 50 percent of the total ballots. Only about 46 percent cast their votes for the pro-Western March 14 group. It is only Lebanon’s anachronistic sectarian electoral rules that gave America’s preferred coalition a parliamentary majority.
  • Finally, Hezbollah draws its veto power over Lebanon from its autonomous militia, which appears far stronger than the Lebanese state’s official military, and from the vast secret budget it gets from Iran. Sure Hezbollah wanted an electoral victory, but its stranglehold over Lebanese politics never depended on the size of its parliamentary delegation, and it doesn’t now.