Since 2012, Lebanese Hizb Allah has actively supported Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s embattled Ba’athist government.[1] Hizb Allah’s function as a forward combat force operating alongside the regular Syrian military and other irregular formations in Syria has drawn the most attention.[2] Hizb Allah has distinguished itself in strategically important theaters such as Syria’s wider Qalamoun region in the southwestern Rif Damashq Governorate that sits adjacent to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley along the Lebanese-Syrian border.[3] Meanwhile, its function as both an enabler and facilitator of irregular paramilitary detachments loyal to the government in Damascus, including the Popular Committees[4] that preceded the National Defense Force and members of informal village defense groups made up of resident volunteers (essentially proxy militias with no formal partisan association with Hizb Allah), tends to be overlooked.[5]

Hizb Allah appears to have resorted to a similar strategy in Lebanon. There is evidence that Hizb Allah has provided military and other forms of support to irregular militias in Lebanon composed of non-party members, including non-Shi’a Lebanese and units associated with its guerilla auxiliary Saraya al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniya (Lebanese Resistance Brigades).[6] Hizb Allah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict has drawn the ire of its enemies in Lebanon. In particular, the emergence of al-Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (Support Front) and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has raised concerns about their plans for Lebanon. Radical Sunni Islamists have already used Hizb Allah’s foray into Syria as a pretext to launch terrorist attacks in Lebanon against locations where Hizb Allah draws significant support, including Beirut’s southern suburbs of Dahiyeh.[7] Parts of northern Lebanon such as Tripoli and Arsal have also become the scenes of regular clashes between radical Sunni Islamists and Lebanese military forces.[8] Moreover, Hizb Allah positions in Lebanon draw fire from Syria-based militants.[9] A recent threat issued by Jabhat al-Nusra commander Abu Muhammed al-Julani against Hizb Allah further crystalizes Lebanese anxieties.[10] Consequently, Lebanese Shi’a and Christians who have watched their co-religionists be targeted with increasing ferocity in Syria are reportedly stockpiling arms with Hizb Allah’s assistance.[11] In this context, a sense of growing insecurity in Lebanon has, for many Lebanese – irrespective of their confessional affiliation – vindicated Hizb Allah’s claim that it acts to protect Lebanon.[12]

This article will examine the role of Hizb Allah’s Lebanese Resistance Brigades – commonly referred to as the Saraya (Brigades) – in Lebanon. It finds that Hizb Allah’s participation in the conflict in Syria coupled with the deteriorating security climate in Lebanon has compelled it to expand its mobilization of auxiliary paramilitary elements such as the Saraya. It also shows that, in addition to bolstering the Saraya, Hizb Allah appears to be devoting similar efforts to mobilize other paramilitary forces ranging from independent, loosely organized formations to self-defense detachments affiliated with its political coalition allies within the March 8 bloc.


Founded in November 1997, the Lebanese Brigades of Resistance to the [Israeli] Occupation, as the Saraya was originally known, were emblematic of Hizb Allah’s attempt to broaden its demographic appeal among a wider spectrum of the Lebanese body politic.[13] The Saraya, in essence, sought to enlist non-party members, particularly non-Shi’a Lebanese, to the cause of resisting Israel’s occupation of Lebanon through armed resistance against Israeli forces and their South Lebanon Army (SLA) proxy. The Saraya disavowed religious, political, ethnic, class, and tribal affiliations in favor of a shared commitment to Lebanon and its unity and national defense. The Saraya’s ambitious goals are notable in light of the inherent fissures that characterize Lebanese society. The timing of the Saraya’s establishment is also notable. Hizb Allah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah proclaimed its formation one week after the death of his eighteen year-old son, Hadi, who died along with two fellow Hizb Allah members in a clash with Israeli forces. The impetus behind the Saraya’s founding, according to Nasrallah, was to respond to the growing demands among Lebanese of all backgrounds to contribute to the resistance to Israeli occupation.[14]

A promotional video produced by Hizb Allah’s Al-Manar (The Beacon) media outlet that contains footage of purported Saraya members engaged in training exercises and military operations highlights its appeal.[15] Interviews with purported Saraya members, including self-identifying Christians, Sunnis, Shi’a, and Druze (along with self-identifying “Lebanese”) underline the group’s multi-confessional nature and its unifying ethos derived from a sense of Lebanese nationalism and the determination to protect Lebanon from Israeli aggression.[16] Ostensibly acting as a paramilitary auxiliary of Hizb Allah, the Saraya’s existence helped Hizb Allah display its Lebanese nationalist and patriotic credentials to go along with its prevailing religious and Shi’a Islamist pedigree from which it originated. The creation of the Saraya also reflected another example of Hizb Allah’s progression toward political expediency and pragmatism after its formal entry into Lebanese politics.[17] At the same time, the Saraya’s capacity to organize and deploy independently has also allowed Hizb Allah to preserve the ideals it embodies through its Islamic Resistance military arm.[18] This reassures ideological purists among its constituency who may be wary of the potential influence of non-Shi’a and non-Islamist actors on Hizb Allah’s purpose as an Islamic resistance movement.

As an operational auxiliary of Hizb Allah, Saraya cadres were provided paramilitary training and other forms of operationally relevant support. The Saraya initiated military operations on March 14, 1998,[19] and were credited with scores of operations, including small unit ambushes, mortar attacks, and the deployment of landmines.[20] Saraya units also engaged in surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence operations. The Saraya boasts its own flag and emblem. Saraya members also participate in and are otherwise acknowledged in military parades and other public events hosted by Hizb Allah in locations such as Dahiyeh and elsewhere,[21] and are publicly recognized for their contributions to the resistance.[22]

To be eligible for consideration for membership, aspiring Saraya volunteers were required to meet two requirements: first, they had to satisfy the physical and psychological qualifications required for mobilization; and second, they had to be free of any links – direct or tangential – to Israel and its allies.[23] While the second requirement may seem like an obvious prerequisite to gaining membership in the Saraya, it is nevertheless illustrative of Hizb Allah’s observance of rigorous operational security protocols in light of the legacy of the Israeli occupation and the locally-born SLA and other factions that acted as Israeli proxies. To connect with prospective recruits, a telephone number was established to field inquiries about how Lebanese can, according to Hizb Allah, fulfill their “national obligation to resist foreign occupation.”[24] Hizb Allah’s phones, according to some accounts, “rang off the hook” with calls from prospective recruits.[25]

Hizb Allah’s operational relationship with the Saraya is illustrative of its tendency to forge operational ties with non-Islamist militias that subscribe to a host of different ideologies but nevertheless act under the rubric of resistance. This includes militants that promulgate secular, nationalist, socialist, and leftist ideologies such as the armed wings of the Lebanon-based Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP),[26] Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC),[27] and Lebanese Communist Party (LCP),[28] along with those deployed by fellow Islamist movements such as the Amal Movement and Palestinian Hamas, as well as Palestinian Islamist groups indigenous to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.[29]

Sidon Flashpoint

A chain of events in Lebanon’s southern city of Sidon in 2012 and 2013 brings the current role of the Saraya into sharper relief. An important center of Sunni cultural and political life in southern Lebanon, the port city has emerged as a center of incendiary sectarianism exacerbated by the conflict in Syria. The 2012 call by hardline Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir for Lebanese Sunnis to join the armed insurrection against the Ba’athist regime under his Kataib al-Muqawama al-Hurr (Free Resistance Brigades), in response to Hizb Allah’s entry into the conflict, would further escalate tensions.[30] Drawing from an extremist Salafist tradition that views Shi’ism as a form of heresy and apostasy, al-Assir’s sermons lambasted Hizb Allah and Iran over their influence in Lebanon and events in Syria. Followers of al-Assir and Lebanese military forces engaged in armed clashes in and around Sidon in 2012 and 2013. The clashes in 2013 followed calls made by al-Assir demanding that Hizb Allah supporters, including active Saraya members, vacate two apartment buildings in Sidon.[31] There is evidence that a Sidon-based Saraya detachment, possibly supported by regular Hizb Allah fighters, fought al-Assir’s followers.[32]

The events in Sidon are best understood within a broader context, particularly Hizb Allah’s consistent efforts to demonstrate its self-proclaimed stance as a bulwark against violent Islamist extremism and sectarianism in Lebanon. For example, Nasrallah frequently addresses the danger of sectarianism that has sowed dissention between Sunnis and Shi’a across the Islamic world and threatened religious minorities.[33] In doing so, Hizb Allah is able to position itself as a unifying and even moderate stabilizing force in light of what is a catastrophic alternative promoted, according to Nasrallah, by the likes of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab monarchies.[34] Hizb Allah’s support for the Saraya and analogous militias, especially those made up of non-party members, is a further case in point. As evidenced by the expansion of informal militia networks made up of Christians and Muslims – Sunni, Shi’a, and Druze – and others situated in vulnerable locations in the Bekaa Valley along the Lebanese-Syrian frontier and elsewhere in Lebanon, Hizb Allah’s message appears to be resonating widely.[35] Equally important, there are indications that many of the Christian militias that have received Hizb Allah support are composed of supporters of the Michel Aoun’s al-Tayyar al-Watani al-Hurr (Free Patriotic Movement), Lebanon’s largest Christian party and Hizb Allah’s chief ally in the March 8 coalition.[36]


There are indications that organized Saraya factions are currently mobilizing their own militia sub-networks, particularly ones operating on the village level in volatile areas in the Bekaa Valley that lie on the front lines of the conflict. The Saraya has reportedly established one such sub-network in the predominantly Christian village of Ras Baalbek, an area located in the northeast Bekaa Valley not far from the Syrian town of Qusair that bore witness to one of Hizb Allah’s initial forays in Syria and only a few miles south of the flashpoint Lebanese town of Arsal. Ras Baalbek has come under attack by Jabhat al-Nusra and analogous elements. This prompted a regional Saraya representative to organize what they call a “self-defense committee” made up of local Christians. The “self-defense committee” is armed and conducts regular patrols of the area, often acting on intelligence information provided by Hizb Allah.[37]

“For many Lebanese, the inherent weakness of the military and the wider security apparatus leaves Hizb Allah as the only credible deterrent to the brand of violence being wrought in Syria.”

In light of the multitude of threats that confront Lebanon, Hizb Allah’s employment of the Saraya and similar militia formations is likely to expand. Hizb Allah’s preoccupation with developments in Syria coupled with growing fears of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIL will continue to compel Lebanese of various backgrounds to seek a security guarantor in the absence of other viable alternatives. For many Lebanese, the inherent weakness of Lebanese institutions, particularly the military and wider security apparatus, leaves Hizb Allah as the only credible deterrent to the brand of violence being wrought in Syria.

Chris Zambelis is a senior analyst specializing in Middle East affairs with Helios Global, Inc., a risk management consultancy based in the Washington, D.C. area. The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of Helios Global, Inc.

[1] For an earlier assessment of Hizb Allah’s role in the Syrian conflict, see Chris Zambelis, “Hizb Allah’s Role in the Syrian Uprising,” CTC Sentinel, 5:11-12 (2012): pp. 14-17. For an estimate of Hizb Allah’s military activities in Syria, see Jeffrey White, “Hizb Allah at War in Syria: Forces, Operations, Effects and Implications,” CTC Sentinel, 7:1 (2014): pp. 14-18.

[2] In addition to Hizb Allah, foreign actors such as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and a constellation of Iraqi-based Shi’a militias and volunteers, among others, have likewise proven their mettle as allies to the Ba’athist regime. At the same time, the factors that have contributed to the Ba’athist regime’s staying power in the face of an increasingly muddled insurgency led by radical Sunni Islamist currents such as al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (Support Front) and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant continue to be underestimated or disregarded outright. Indeed, the Ba’athist regime continues to count on a largely unified and loyal military and security apparatus that managed to weather an initial purge of defectors in the early stages of the conflict. For a discussion of the many reasons behind the Ba’athist regime’s resilience, see Bassam Haddad, “Syria’s Stalemate: The Limits of Regime Resilience,” Middle East Policy Council, Volume 19, No. 1, Spring 2012. Also see Barbara Slavin, “CIA Director Brennan says Syria Army Remains Resilient,” Al-Monitor, March 11, 2014; Joshua Landis, “Why Syria’s Assad Enters Geneva Talks in a Position of Strength,” Al-Jazeera, January 23, 2014; Zoltan Barany, “Why Most Syrian Officers Remain Loyal to Assad,” Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies [Doha], June 17, 2013; and Barah Mikail, “Who Supports Assad?,” FRIDE [Madrid], May 9, 2014.

[3] Racha Abi Haidar, “Heavy Casualties in Qalamoun,” Al-Safir [Beirut], October 14, 2014.

[4] Nicholas A. Heras, “The Counter-Insurgency Role of Syria’s ‘Popular Committees’,” Terrorism Monitor (Jamestown Foundation), Volume 11, Issue 9, May 2, 2013.

[5] Bassam Mroue, “Hezbollah-backed Lebanese Shiites Fight in Syria,” Associated Press, April 14, 2013.

[6] Hugh Macleod, “Lebanon’s Militant Hizballah Forging New Ties,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 1, 2007.

[7] Laila Bassam, “Suicide bombing kills four in Hizballah area of south Beirut,” Reuters, January 21, 2014.

[8]Hugh Naylor, “Fighting in Lebanon rages for 3rd day between military, Sunni militants,” Washington Post, October 26, 2014.

[9] BBC, “Hizballah repel al-Nusra attack on border,” October 5, 2014.

[10] Maruam Karouny, “Leader of Syria Qaeda Wing Threatens Strikes Against Hizballah in Lebanon,” Reuters, November 4, 2014. Al-Golani is quoted as saying: “The real war in Lebanon is yet to begin and what is coming is (so) bitter that Hassan Nasrallah will bite his fingers in remorse for what he has done to Sunnis.”

[11] Bassem Mroue and Zeina Karam, “Some Christians arm as Mideast peril mounts,” Associated Press, September 5, 2014. Also see Nadine Elali, “Christian resistance brigades?,” NOW Lebanon [Beirut], September 25, 2014.

[12]Al-Akhbar [Beirut], “Hizballah leader claims battles would have reached Beirut if party had not intervened in Syria,” August 15, 2014. A recent poll conducted by the Beirut Center for Research and Information found that two-thirds of Christians surveyed believe that Hizb Allah is defending Lebanon from the radical Islamist currents that have by now become ubiquitous within the various Syrian opposition insurgent fronts. See Beirut Center for Research and Information, “Two-Thirds of Christians: Hizballah Protects Lebanon,” October 2014, available at: (accessed November 2014).

On the other hand, Hizb Allah’s detractors led by members of the March 14 coalition such as Future Movement leader Saad al-Hariri and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Gaegea see its active participation in the Syrian conflict as imperiling Lebanon’s delicate stability and exacerbating an already disastrous situation in the Levant. See Hussein Dakroub, “Hariri Slams Hizballah’s Explosive Message,” Daily Star [Beirut], October 9, 2014. Also see Daily Star [Beirut], “Hizballah MP boasts victory over Nusra Front,” October 6, 2014.

[13] Amal Saad-Ghorayeb. Hizballah: Politics and Religion. London: Pluto Press, 2002. 84.

[14] Blanford, Nicholas. Warriors of God: Inside Hizballah’s Thirty-Tear Struggle Against Israel. New York: Random House, 2011, p. 196-97.

[15] Al-Manar’s feature on the Saraya, Saraya al-Watan (Homeland Brigades), is available in three parts at the following links, Part 1: (accessed November 2014); Part 2: (accessed November 2014); and Part 3: (accessed November 2014).

[16] According to a 1999 study that examined the Saraya’s demographic composition, 38 percent of its cadres were Sunnis; 25 percent were Shi’a; 20 percent were Druze; and 17 percent were Christians. See Naim Qassem. Hizballah: The Story from Within. London: Saqi, 2005. 123

[17] There is a wealth of literature that documents the progression of Hizb Allah’s ideology and discourse over the years from various perspectives. This process, commonly referred to as its ‘Lebanonization’ or infitah (opening), is reflective of Hizb Allah’s formal entry into participatory and electoral politics and its concomitant departure from a strict emphasis on Shi’a Islamist-centric narratives and objectives for Lebanon in favor of broader themes that embody Lebanese and Arab nationalist discourses, as well as social justice and anti-imperialism. For example, see Joseph Elie Alagha. “Primacy to Political Program.” The Shifts in Hizballah’s Ideology: Religious Ideology, Political Ideology, and Political Program. Leiden: Amsterdam University Press, 2006. 149-189. Also see Amal Saad-Ghorayeb. Hizballah: Politics and Religion. London: Pluto Press, 2002. 78-87. Also see Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh. In the Path of Hizballah. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2004. 108-135. Also see Naim Qassem. Hizballah: The Story from Within. London: Saqi, 2005. 187-205.

[18] Amal Khalil, “Lebanese Resistance Leader: The Saraya is Here to Stay,” Al-Akhbar [Beirut], October 19, 2013.

[19] Naim Qassem. Hizballah: The Story from Within. London: Saqi, 2005. 122

[20] Nizar Hamzeh. In the Path of Hizballah. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2004. 91.

[21] Wael Taqi al-Din, “Lebanese Resistance Brigades…Remains and Expands,” [Beirut], September 1, 2014. For video footage of Saraya cadres honoring the late Hizb Allah commander Imad Mughniyeh, see “Radwan ya Radwan … Lebanese Brigades” is available at (accessed November 2014).

[22] Al-Ahd [Beirut], “13th Anniversary of the Launch of the Lebanese Brigades for Resisting ‘Israeli’ Occupation,” November 4, 2009.

[23] E. Al-Rihani, “Long Live Saraya,” Al-Manar, March 15, 2011.

[24] E. Al-Rihani, “Long Live Saraya,” Al-Manar, March 15, 2011.

[25] Naim Qassem. Hizballah: The Story from Within. London: Saqi, 2005. 122

[26] Chris Zambelis, “Assad’s Hurricane: A Profile of the Paramilitary Wing of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party,” Terrorism Monitor (Jamestown Foundation), Volume 12, Issue 6, March 20, 2014.

[27] Antoine Ghattas Saab, “PFLP-GC Steps Up Lebanese Border Presence,” Daily Star [Beirut], October 30, 2014. Also see Daily Star [Beirut], “PFLP-GC Military Buildup Stokes Fears of Clashes,” November 25, 2014.

[28] Maria Abi-Habib, “Diverse Allies in Lebanon,” Electronic Intifada, January 14, 2007.

[29] Hugh Macleod, “Lebanon’s Militant Hizballah Forging New Ties,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 1, 2007.

[30]Al-Akhbar [Beirut], “Saida Salafi Cleric to Form Militia: Official,” November 13, 2012.

[31] Amal Khalil, “Lebanese Resistance Leader: The Saraya is Here to Stay,” Al-Akhbar [Beirut], October 19, 2013.

[32] Elie Hajj, “Lebanon’s Assir Gone, But Problems Remain,” Al-Monitor, June 26, 2013.

[33] Al-Manar [Beirut], “Lebanese Hizballah Leader Accuses Saudi Arabia of Promoting Takfiri Trend,” October 27, 2014.

[34] Al-Manar [Beirut], “Lebanese Hizballah Leader Accuses Saudi Arabia of Promoting Takfiri Trend,” October 27, 2014.

[35] Al-Monitor, “Hizballah Calls for Resistance against IS,” August 27, 2014. Also see Saada Ouloua, “Christians in Eastern Lebanon Prepare for Worst,” Al-Monitor, July 29, 2014.

[36] Nadine Elali, “Christian resistance brigades?,” NOW Lebanon [Beirut], September 25, 2014.

[37] Economist [London], “Taking Charge: Lebanon’s Border with Syria,” June 15, 2014.

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive updates from CTC.

Sign up