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Global update

Why Hezbollah is keeping its powder dry

Hezbollah supporters with a photo of Nasrallah last year. Francesca Volpi/Getty

Hezbollah is “thought to be the world’s most heavily armed non-state actor”, says Katie Stallard in The New Statesman, with an estimated arsenal of around 150,000 rockets and missiles. The Iran-backed Lebanese militia is led by 63-year-old Hassan Nasrallah, who took over in 1992, aged just 31, after the founding leader Abbas al-Musawi was assassinated by Israeli helicopter gunships. Nasrallah “drove the group’s political emergence” by supplying social services like schooling and medical care to supporters at a time when the Lebanese government couldn’t. Hezbollah’s political wing scored seats in parliament and even cabinet positions; when Israel pulled troops out of southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah “took control of many of the evacuated villages”.

Nasrallah appeared to confirm in a major speech yesterday that Hezbollah won’t be jumping into the Israel-Hamas conflict – not yet, at least. That makes sense, says Bobby Ghosh in Bloomberg. The militia is Iran’s most valuable proxy force – a fight with the IDF would wear down its resources, which the sanction-choked mullahs can ill-afford to replace. And as well as menacing Israel, Hezbollah fulfils two other important roles for Iran: maintaining the “ascendancy” of Lebanon’s Shiite faction over the other main sects, the Sunnis and Maronite Christians; and propping up Bashar al-Assad, “the most vulnerable of Tehran’s marionettes”, in Syria. Picking a fight with the Israelis would be a dangerous distraction.