Hezbollah Leader Claims Group Has Over 100,000 Fighters, More Than Lebanon's Armed Forces

The leader of the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon claimed Monday that 100,000 trained fighters were among its ranks, the Associated Press reported. While it would be difficult to verify whether there are 100,000 fighters within the group, Hezbollah's forces would be larger than Lebanon's armed forces if Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's claims were true.

Nasrallah gave a speech Monday, his first since seven people were killed amid the violence that erupted on the streets of Beirut last week. The speech and street violence, the worst Beirut has seen in years, underscore tensions in Lebanon heightened both by the clashes and an investigation into the August 4 2020 explosion that killed more than 215 people.

Nasrallah's disclosure of Hezbollah's ranks seemed to serve as a warning for any would-be domestic opponents, the AP reported.

"We have prepared [those fighters] with their diverse weapons to defend our territory, our oil and gas that is being robbed before the eyes of Lebanese, to protect the dignity and sovereignty of our country from any aggression [and] terrorism and not for internal fighting," Nasrallah said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Hezbollah Fighters
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah revealed that his militant group has 100,000 trained fighters on October 18. Above, Hezbollah fighters march at a rally to mark Jerusalem day or Al-Quds day, in Dahiyeh, Lebanon, on May 31, 2019. Hassan Ammar/AP Photo

In his speech, Nasrallah accused the head of a right-wing Christian party, Samir Geagea, of seeking to ignite civil war in the small country.

Addressing Geagea directly, Nasrallah said: "Don't miscalculate. Be wise and behave. Learn a lesson from all your wars and all our wars."

Geagea's office declined to immediately comment late Monday.

At the end of the country's 15-year civil war in 1990, Hezbollah was the only group to retain its weapons. It has fought several rounds of war with Israel and took credit for Israel's troop withdrawal from the country's south in 2000. Hezbollah has also sent its fighters to support Syria's armed forces in that country's decade-long civil war.

Hezbollah and its allies have been highly critical of Judge Tarek Bitar, who is in charge of the port blast investigation, accusing him of being selective and going after some officials and not others while seeking to politicize the probe. They asked that he be removed.

The clashes on Thursday came as officials from Hezbollah have suggested the judge's investigation is leaning toward holding them responsible for the port blast.

Bitar has been criticized by other political groups, too, after he summoned senior officials as part of the investigation, including former ministers and a former prime minister, and charged them with intentional negligence that led to the deaths of over 215 people.

The judge has not publicly commented or responded to the criticism.

Thursday's clashes saw gunmen battling each other for several hours with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades in the streets of Beirut. It was the most violent confrontation in the city in years, echoing the nation's darkest era of the 1975–1990 civil war.

Nasrallah accused Geagea of "manufacturing" Thursday's clashes in the Tayuneh area of the city and described him as a criminal and a killer.

"The real program for the Lebanese Forces is civil war," Nasrallah said. "The biggest threat to the social peace in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces."

Nasrallah accused Geagea and his party of seeking to scare Lebanon's Christians over Hezbollah's intentions. He said that's mostly to serve foreign countries that have also made the Shiite group an enemy, including the United States, Israel and some Gulf states.

Geagea is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, which is critical of Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Geagea led the Lebanese Forces Christian militia during the 1975–1990 civil war and spent more than a decade in prison. He was released after an amnesty following Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005. The anti-Syria Geagea now leads the Lebanese Forces political party.

Nasrallah said his group and its ally, the Amal movement, expect results in an investigation into how the violence broke out Thursday. He suggested that if the army opened fire at protesters from the two Shiite groups, it should be held accountable.

It wasn't clear from Nasrallah's speech if his group and Amal are ending their call for the removal of the judge—a move considered by many as interference in judicial affairs.

The newly installed government has come to a standstill after opposition from Hezbollah- and Amal-allied ministers over government inaction against the judge. The crisis is the latest to beset the nation of 6 million, already struggling with one of the worst financial crises in the world in the last 150 years.

Hezbollah Leader Addresses Crowd
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech Monday, his first since seven people were killed amid the violence that erupted on the streets of Beirut last week. Above, Nasrallah addresses a crowd during the holy day of Ashoura, in a southern suburb of Beirut on October 24, 2015. Hassan Ammar/AP Photo