‘‘Hezbollah doesn’t have the luxury to remain silent,’’ Gerges said.
Despite its formidable weapons arsenal and political clout in Lebanon, the group’s credibility and maneuvering space has been significantly reduced in the past few years.
The civil war in Syria, the main transit point of weapons brought from Iran to Hezbollah, presents the group with its toughest challenge since its inception in 1982.
Once lauded on the Arab street as a heroic resistance movement that stood up to Israel, it has seen its reputation and popularity plummet in the Arab world because of its staunch support for Assad.
The group has faced repeated accusations that its members were helping the Assad regime’s military crackdown against rebels in Damascus — a claim the group denies.
Officials and analysts say there is real anxiety within Hezbollah that if Assad falls, it might lose not only a crucial supply route for weapons but also political clout inside Lebanon, where it currently dominates the government, along with its allies.
Hezbollah still suffers from the fallout of the 2006 war, which many in Lebanon accused it of provoking by kidnapping soldiers from the border area. Since then, the group has come under increasing pressure at home to disarm. Sectarian tensions between its Shiite supporters and Sunnis from the opposing camp have often spilled over into deadly street fighting.
Furthermore, four Hezbollah members have been named suspects by a U.N.-backed tribunal in the 2005 Beirut truck bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was then Lebanon’s top Sunni politician. Hezbollah denies the charges and has refused to hand over the suspects.
As the Assad regime in Damascus becomes weaker, analysts expect Hezbollah to come under more pressure and Israel to take advantage of the group’s perceived vulnerability at home, particularly ahead of parliament elections scheduled for this summer.
‘‘Hezbollah remains preoccupied with domestic stability in Lebanon and will not want to shoot itself in the foot by launching an offensive against Israel prior to the 2013 general elections,’’ said Anthony Skinner, an analyst at Maplecroft, a British risk analysis company .
‘‘Hezbollah may also want to keep its powder dry for an offensive against Israel if the Israelis launch airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities,’’ he said.