Hizbullah is likely glad to see the end of 2014.
It will be viewed as a year in which its mortality as an Islamist militia was exposed, and its 'post-Israeli withdraw/post-2006 war with Israel' glow began to appear as a distant memory. It faces challenges on several fronts.
To begin with, its ongoing support for the Assad regime in Syria has continued to cost it in blood and treasure. Casualty figures are nigh on impossible to accurately determine, but it likely numbers in the high hundreds.
Wars are also an expensive business. Because of the slump in global oil prices, it appears that subsidies from Iran are being squeezed and Hizbullah is undergoing some belt-tightening, though there is little indication that this has had any significant operational effect. But the Iraqi Shi'a militia groups which had begun to make more of an appearance in Syria have had to withdraw to Iraq to face the threat posed by the Islamic State coalition there, which means Hizbullah may have to shoulder more of the military load.
If that isn't enough, Hizbullah has also confirmed reports that the organisation has been living with an Israeli informer in one of its most operationally sensitive areas. The damage that this caused is something few of us will ever know, but it is likely to be significant. It is not the first time Israel or its allies have been able to target the organisation, but so far as we know it is the first time such a senior member has been turned. Hizbullah's 'debriefing' of the spy will determine what damage has been done. It will also likely make it difficult for future penetrations to occur, given Hizbullah is a learning organisation.
Yet the successful targeting of a small Hizbullah convoy in southern Syria last night by the Israeli Air Force also indicates that the party's operational security woes are far from over.
On the Lebanese domestic front, some commentators have claimed that Hizbullah faces serious political competition from other elements of the Lebanese Shi'a community as local political dynamics change. But in Lebanon all is rarely as outsiders suppose it to be. Hizbullah is a canny political organisation and its strict internal discipline marks it as different from the other confessional groups operating inside Lebanon. Moreover, under Lebanese electoral law it is practically impossible to challenge Hizbullah's political dominance. As I wrote in this journal article, independent Shi'a political actors stand no realistic chance of achieving electoral success in Lebanon.
While the losses for Hizbullah in Syria are significant, Hizbullah is quick to portray itself as part of a Lebanese national resistance movement, as well as a player in the broader sectarian narrative that has increasingly come to dominate the conflict. Certainly every time I return to Lebanon, I notice greater levels of support for Hizbullah's actions among its co-religionists (even many not aligned to Hizbullah), who see the increasingly sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict as an existential threat.
Hizbullah's investment in the Syrian civil war has grown as the conflict has gone on, and its battlefield performance since it spearheaded the retaking of Qusayr has arguably been pivotal in allowing the Assad regime to regain the military initiative. Years of conflict in Syria will not only have produced a new generation of battle-hardened Hizbullah fighters, it will also have allowed it to establish links with a range of other Shi'a fighters that would otherwise never have occurred. The ramifications will become apparent in the years to come.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user LALLA - ALI.