The leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group, Hassan Nasrallah, boasted this week that he commands 100,000 fighters.
Experts estimate that the claimed figure, which exceeds the size of Lebanon’s army, is almost certainly an exaggeration of the more likely figure of between 25 to 50,000.
However, Nasrallah’s claim is likely to further increase fears about a return to sectarian fighting in the finely-balanced Lebanese political system, which has suffered a series of serious crises in recent years.
“This is more about flexing Hezbollah’s muscles to demonstrate its power against opposing political parties that want to undermine it”, said Dina Arakji, a researcher at the Dubai-based Control Risks consultancy group.
Nasrallah made the claim on Monday, as part of the growing confrontation over a judicial investigation into the huge explosion at Beirut port, which killed more than 215 people and devastated the city.
Hezbollah and its Shi’ite allies in the Amal Movement, led by parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, have called for the lead judge to be removed, accusing him of bias.
Gun battles broke out last week in Beirut during a demonstration by the Shi’ite factions, lasting for several hours.
Hezbollah is a secretive organisation and it is difficult to verify Nasrallah’s claim about the size of its forces. The terrorist group rarely comments on its structure, weapons or numerical strength.