The Shia Duo in Lebanon: The Role of Amal in Hezbollah’s Political Scheme

The tension between Hezbollah and Israel keeps rising. While attempts to reach a diplomatic agreement to prevent further escalation have thus far failed, another aspect of Lebanese complexities has come into view, namely the complex interplay between the Shia Amal Party and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Nabih Berri, the leader of Amal and the speaker of the Lebanese parliament for the last three decades, has boosted Hezbollah’s legitimacy to continue its attacks on Israel. Berri has not only supported Hezbollah’s public narrative but has also exposed that Amal party members have joined the fighting alongside Hezbollah.

Israel’s strikes have already killed a few Amal fighters. The dead have already gained the position of martyrs.

The paradoxical characteristics of the Lebanese political system could not have been more bluntly demonstrated. Berri, who, as the speaker of parliament, holds one of the top three political positions in the country, has proudly admitted that his own party is involved in a low-intensity war initiated unilaterally by Hezbollah without the formal approval of the Lebanese state.

Berri’s official position of state should commit him to representing Lebanese interests in the most consensual way due to the sensitive security situation. This is especially true at a time when the two other top positions in Lebanon are technically vacant, as for the past two years, there has been no president of Lebanon, and the current government’s status is of an interim “caretaking” one. Political difficulties have prevented the establishing of a new permanent government since the 2022 elections, in which Hezbollah and its allies have lost their majority in the parliament.

Nevertheless, Berri’s ability to simultaneously hold the role of speaker of parliament and the position of an armed militia leader operating independently from any formal state oversight is a well-accepted reality in Lebanon. After all, Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah and Berri’s close political partner, has been practicing this dual identity scheme for years as Hezbollah holds seats in the Lebanese parliament. But unlike Berri, Nasrallah does not have an official state position.

Amal and Hezbollah, the two Shia parties who have been cooperating closely for years, represent the vast majority of the Shia population in Lebanon. Once bitter ideological rivals, as during the 1980s, Amal represented a secular-Lebanese-oriented Shia movement and Hezbollah a radical religious cause, the balance of power between the two today is overwhelming in favor of Hezbollah. The constant flow of funds from Iran over the years has enabled Hezbollah to supply the Shia population’s social needs in a way Amal was unable to compete with.

Nevertheless, Berri has harbored ambitions of his own, independent of Hezbollah. This was exposed through the WikiLeaks documents, quoting him saying to U.S officials in Beirut during the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel:

 “[Berri] admitted that a successful Israeli campaign against Hezbollah would be an excellent way to destroy Hezbollah’s military aspirations and to discredit their political ambitions… Berri then suggested that Israel's strikes were "like honey."

The exposure of the above text was surely an embarrassment for Berri, but it did not change much in the relations between the two parties.

Today, the political and ideological tensions of the past seem to have been set aside. Berri and his Amal party are a crucial element of what is called in Lebanon the “Shia duo,” a close political alliance between Amal and Hezbollah, in which Hezbollah, with its massive Iranian backing, is, of course, the dominant factor.

The armed clashes along the Lebanese-Israeli border over the past few months are examples of the cooperation between the two parties. As Hezbollah is a declared terror organization by most of the international parties involved in the attempts to prevent further escalation, Berri functions as the “mediator” between Hezbollah and the international representatives.

At the same time, as Berri holds an official state position, international negotiations with him give the talks a certain official nature and legitimacy, even though Berri does not represent any formal decision-making body. No parliamentary session regarding the war has been held. The dual identity of Berri—head of a formal state institute and head of a Shia militia participating in actions that undermine the state’s sovereignty—has rarely been more apparent.

From Hezbollah’s point of view, Berri is used as a tool enabling the organization to present its demands and conditions through a top state official, but without state oversight. This is a playbook that Hezbollah has mastered over the years: gaining influence without any responsibility or accountability.

Foreseeing how the current instability will evolve and whether diplomatic efforts to prevent further escalation will prevail is hard. However, the events have already exposed the inability of Lebanon's state institutions to enforce its authority over militant entities using its soil as a fighting platform against a neighboring country, especially as leading state officials are holding conflicting dual positions and operating under the overwhelming influence of Hezbollah.

Dror Doron is a senior advisor at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) focusing on Hezbollah and Lebanon. He spent nearly two decades as a senior analyst in the Office of Israel’s Prime Minister. Dror is on Twitter @DrorDoron