The coronavirus in Lebanon has put Hizbullah in a complex and sensitive position. Immediately after the first infected individuals were identified, Hizbullah was accused of conveying the disease to the country from Iran. Air traffic from Tehran to Beirut had continued without letup as Lebanese students and their families fled the universities in Iran, particularly the madrasas of Qom where thousands of Lebanese students learn, and returned to Lebanon without being checked or put in quarantine, thereby spreading the disease from Iran to Lebanon.
These accusations sparked fear as well as intense anger at Hizbullah, which claimed that the virus had broken out in the Jesuit monasteries of Beirut and Bikfaya in Lebanon. Hizbullah thereby sought to place the blame at the heart of the Maronite Christian community.
Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, who has given several speeches over the last few weeks, stated unequivocally that the responsibility for handling the virus in Lebanon belongs to the Lebanese state and the Lebanese government. That means all residents of Lebanon, including Hizbullah members and their families, must comply with the decisions of the Lebanese Health Ministry, which is headed by a Hizbullah-affiliated minister.
Meanwhile Hizbullah declared a state of emergency in its ranks and came up with an emergency plan to assist the Lebanese government that includes:
- 1,500 physicians, 3,000 nurses and paramedics, 5,000 members of medical teams, and 1,500 workers to provide field services.
- The full medical team, including logistics personnel and medical services, will number 24,500 people.
- An operations room in which teams from various disciplines will deal with the virus.
- The opening of two Hizbullah hospitals under Hizbullah’s aegis.
- The opening of private hospitals that had been closed.
- 100 special and equipped ambulances.
- The setting up of special committees in villages, towns, and urban neighborhoods that will assist the medical teams.
- The use of Hizbullah’s medical emergency capabilities, which are designed for war against Israel.
- Preparation of the ventilators possessed by Hizbullah’s military forces.
- The opening of bank accounts, at Hizbullah’s institute for loans, to provide loans to owners of businesses who have been hard hit.
In the wake of the crisis, Nasrallah has appointed Hashem Safi al-Din, head of Hizbullah’s Executive Council (a kind of Hizbullah prime minister and number two in the movement) to craft and implement the emergency plan. Nasrallah thereby underlined the importance he assigns to tackling the issue.
The coronavirus crisis offers a rare opportunity for Hizbullah to present itself as a Lebanese movement that acts on behalf of the Lebanese state. Presumably, most of Hizbullah’s aid will be directed to the Shiite regions of Lebanon, which are also the regions that support the movement.
Still, it should be borne in mind that, at the same time that Hizbullah has committed itself to help the Lebanese state deal with the coronavirus, hundreds of Hizbullah fighters are up to their necks in the war in Idlib, Syria, which continues to inflict losses on Hizbullah and to spark outrage among the Shiite community. The most critical voice continues to be that of Sheikh Subhi al-Tufayli, who was Hizbullah’s first secretary-general and recently declared that fighting under Putin’s flag in Idlib is forbidden by sharia law.