Article by Sarit Zehavi
Originally posted on Rubin Center Research In International Affairs
On July 7, 2017, 16-year-old (17 years old according to some reports) Hizballah fighter Mahdi Hassan Abu Hamdan from the town of Taalbaya in the Beq’a Valley, Lebanon, was killed in battle. Following the death of his four brothers while fighting for Hizballah,, Abu Hamdan, technically an only son, was forbidden by the organization’s higher-ups from fighting at the front. Still, he insisted on doing so and even provided permission from his parents. 
Young Mahdi’s death aroused widespread criticism in Lebanon. The anti-Hizballah Shi’i website Janoubia.com, based in South Lebanon, was quick to report the news of his killing. It highlighted the fact that his baccalaureate scores were announced the following day and that he had passed his exams. Ali al-Husseini of the al-Mustaqbal newspaper (owned by Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri’s family) wondered “how can children be sent to war where adults haven’t managed to attain victories, and it’s been that way for six years.” Former MP Khalid al-Daher noted that “by sending children into Syria, Hizballah gives clear evidence of the great distress the organization has inflicted on its own ranks and on its supporters in Lebanon.” The UAE newspaper Al-Khaleej posited, “Are the youth of Lebanon to die for the sake of a pointless regional argument?” 
Hizballah was quick to defend itself. The pro-Hizballah news agency Arabi Press played up young Abu Hamdan’s excellent baccalaureate scores.  It also published a letter written by the young fighter in which he asked to join the fighting, along with his parents’ signed approval.
With an estimated loss of 1,100 to 2,000 Hizballah fighters in Syria, analysts may be misled by the organization’s sporadic use of child fighters there. One might conclude that Hizballah was facing difficulties on a number of fronts. This theory could be supported by the organization’s recent efforts to increase popular support. This included its “Adopt a Fighter” fundraising campaign in February 2017 and a high-profile parade–the first of its kind–including tanks, in the Syrian city of al-Qusair, not far from the Lebanese border.
The parade was part of Hizballah’s continued psychological warfare against Israel, which has also included intimidating videos and songs directed to the Israeli villages along the border. Hizballah’s open presence along the fence bordering Israel could be misinterpreted as a provocation in response to the loss of internal Lebanese support and as an attempt to play the Palestinian cause/Israeli enemy card in order to garner support.
But the cries of the Lebanese mother, who has now lost her fifth son, did not reach the ears of Hassan Nasrallah. There is some truth in al-Mustaqbal writer al-Husseini’s accusation that Hizballah “inculcates children” in its youth movement with absolute loyalty to wali faqih (the rule of the Muslim jurist and Ayatollah Khomeini’s legacy) to the point that they would boast to their friends that if the leadership were to ask them to jump off the roof, they would do so without hesitation. Hizballah MP Nawar a-Sahili mocked the criticism resulting from the martyr’s young age, tweeting, “The heroic martyr Mahdi Abu-Hamdan (17 years old) will indeed create difficulties for the resistance, because thousands of boys his age will now demand a place at the front!” 
Hizballah is therefore at no loss for personnel.
The widespread criticism of Hizballah does not translate into action nor does this mean that its political or military power are waning. On the contrary, and despite the large losses in Syria, Hizballah is growing stronger in Lebanon both militarily and politically. With Hizballah troops returning from the battlefield as veteran combatants, they bring extensive experience in military maneuvers and in conquering villages. This experience could help them in any future confrontation with Israel. In fact, reports already indicate that Hizballah has set up a commando unit called Radwan tasked with attacking Israeli communities and IDF positions near the border fence.
On the political level, no decision is made in Lebanon without broad consensus. As one of the parties forming the government, Hizballah plays a central role in the Lebanese decisionmaking process. Lebanese President Michel Aoun even announced some months ago that Hizballah, which has become “mightier than the Lebanese army, serves in practice as a force complementary to the Lebanese army,” thus implying that it need not be disarmed at this stage.
Hizballah’s great military strength in Lebanon, the paralyzing fear of civil war among the Lebanese people, and the Sh’ii alliance’s upper hand in Syria have enabled Hizballah to continue to grow stronger, without interference, despite the challenges it faces from the war in Syria.