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Hanin Ghaddar

Hezbollah’s deadly connection

Baalbek funeral

Recent developments in Syria indicate that Iran has increased its support for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on more than one level. As Iran seems to have taken over military and logistical decisions, Hezbollah’s involvement has also expanded and intensified. This is very bad news for Lebanon, and unless the Lebanese government and the Shia community take drastic measures to dissociate themselves from Hezbollah, Lebanon will not be spared from an imminent, region-wide sectarian war.

 

Last month, in a significant prisoner exchange between the Syrian rebels and the Assad regime, forty eight Iranians were hand-picked by the regime for release by the rebels, and not a single Syrian. This caused a wave of discontent among Assad supporters and fighters, who felt betrayed. Assad no doubt realizes that ill will among his already-shrinking popular base will not help his cause. This questionable decision indicates that Assad had no real say in the matter, and probably doesn’t on other issues either.

 

Then last week, Iranian official Hojjatoleslam Mehdi Taeb, head of the Ammar Strategic Base and a former Basij commander said that “Syria is [Iran’s] 35th [district] and a strategic province… If the enemy attacks us and intends to occupy either Syria or Khuzestan, the priority is that we keep Syria.” He also added that Iran suggested the Syrians establish their own Basij. “Syria then [must] set up its own Basij with an initial force of 60,000 Hezbollah forces and they [could] replace the regular army in dealing with the urban warfare."

 

If this statement had come out a month ago, no one would have believed Taeb. However, it has become obvious today that Hezbollah is involved in the bloodshed in Syria up to its neck, whether under a “Basij” or in a different form.

 

This dangerous reality has been acknowledged by Hezbollah officials who claim they are defending Shiite residents of Syria. This reality has put Lebanon and the Lebanese at a new crossroads that can only lead to bad scenarios. Hezbollah in Syria versus Jihadist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra is a story that will not have a happy ending. Both are sectarian armed groups that will do anything and kill anyone to protect their presence and the power of their founders and funders. A Sunni-Shiite war is now no longer a scenario. It started when Hezbollah sent its fighter into Syria.

 

Hezbollah’s sending militants to Syria to fight against the rebels has a number of dangerous implications.  

 

Hezbollah is not, as it claims to its supporters, a Lebanese party whose mission is to protect Lebanese people and territories. It is a militia which uses Lebanon as a geographical base from which to launch attacks against Iran’s enemies no matter where or who they are. This means that Hezbollah will probably fight Iran’s war on other fronts as well. If Iran gets attacked by Israel or others, Hezbollah could retaliate.

 

Many Lebanese believed that the Party of God would never confront Israel if Iran was attacked because its leaders do not want to lose their arms or credibility among their supporters. Iran also prefers this scenario. However, becoming militarily involved in Syria raises this concern again, especially that this involvement will probably expand and increase.

 

The involvement so far is probably limited to the Shiite villages along the Lebanese-Syria border, and could have been stretched to Homs in order to link the Syrian coast to Damascus and Lebanon. This means that the Syrian regime, with major Iranian support, could be planning an Alawite/Shiite enclave that will be connected to Lebanon. However, this enclave can only hold up if it is protected militarily for years to come, to avoid possible ethnic cleansing. Hezbollah, in this scenario, could be asked to stay around to protect and defend this area to preserve the linkage to Lebanon, mainly to Shiite areas.

 

Their involvement in terms of presence and use of arms could develop and grow as the crisis does. The Party of God could find itself managing a war against Sunni Jihadists for a very long time, mainly because these jihadists can no longer see the difference between Assad’s regime and Hezbollah.

 

So Hezbollah has decided to be part of an upcoming regional war, and to drag Lebanon into it. The war between Alawite/Shiite fighters and Sunni jihadists will not stay within the parameters of Qusayr along the Lebanese-Syrian borders. The spillover of the Syrian crisis to Lebanon will possibly take the form of increased military clashes in more than one area in Lebanon. Jihadists from both groups will not limit their clashes to Syrian territories and become friends back at home.

 

The problem is that entire Sunni and Shiite communities in Lebanon will be dragged into this war. Al-Nusra and other Jihadists groups in Syria have already defined themselves along sharp sectarian lines. And Hezbollah entered the sectarian game the moment they claimed they are defending the Shia in Syria.

 

By ‘defending Shiites in Syria’ Hezbollah is exposing the Shiites in Lebanon, as usual, to a very dangerous front. This time the price is going to be very high, as no Shiite will ever be trusted, and no Shiite will be spared.

 

It is convenient to blame Hezbollah for the dark days to come, but if we look inside, it is unsettling to see that the Lebanese government is not doing anything about it. The Shiites are not really doing anything about it either. Some actually believe that Hezbollah needs to protect this bridge in Syria to secure the passage of arms, while others are just afraid to look the other way. They do not want to see the reality, or do anything about it.

 

If the Shiites in Lebanon don’t do anything now, in the context of a strong condemnation of Hezbollah’s behavior, they will have only themselves to blame when things get bloody.

 

Read this article in Arabic

 

Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW. She tweets @haningdr

Shiites mourn a fallen Hezbollah fighter in Baalbek. (AFP)

"If the Shiites in Lebanon don’t do anything now, in the context of a strong condemnation of Hezbollah’s behavior, they will have only themselves to blame when things get bloody."

  • NotSure1

    Hezboallah should not be blamed. It is those who made Nasrallah powerful should be responsible for HA actions. Of course on the top of the list is the UN who enjoys issuing resolution after resolution without following up on them. Only 2 are achieved: the cease of fire and deployment of the UNIFIL. If just 1 weapon was picked from the hands of HA and others since 2006, we would have been free arm country by now. On the contrary, Lebanon became more dangerous after this stupid resolution. Then we have the EU who refuses to put HA on the terrorist list even after Bulgaria’s investigation. Of course we shouldn’t forget the internal entities like Jumblat stance during the May 2009 elections, Aoun, the Patriarch and others. It is amazing how Israel reminds us of the threat from Iran yet fails to know that the same threat can be transported to HA and closer to Israel’s border. What a scary game - who forgot the Iranian naval ships sailed recently through the Suez Canal. But then I remembered the Iran contra scandal. I am sure today they are more careful to hide it. Likewise, another game is to throw the word “Al-Qaeda” anywhere, in any situation and you will get away with it. You can even kill your mom if you accused her of dating el-zawahiri and get away with it. Now they are in Mali all of the sudden. This scary and vicious group is always mysterious except for few videos on the internet. But again the internet is where it can be anonymously used as a shell game to hide and disguise identities.

    February 25, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Scotty: You really don't see how a war between a Shiite Iranian militia pointing 50,000 missiles at Israel and a Sunni Al-qaeda inspired militia with deep seated enmity to the US, would be important to Israel and the US? Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't it Bibi netanyahu who reminds us every day of the Iranian threat to his country? Or hasn't the US been at war for the past 12 years fighting the same fanatical terrorists of Sunni Al-Qaeda?

    February 25, 2013

  • boontee.tan.5

    Have the world not seen enough of dirty and ugly wars? Vengeance does not solve any problem, it only perpetuates. If Hezebollah-Sunni war begins in Lebanon, the neighbor(s) would not just sit idly and watch. It can spiral to a horrific consequence. (mtd1943)

    February 24, 2013

  • Scotty

    I fail to see how a 'war' between two fanatical and crazy terrorist organizatioins is important to the US, Israel, The West or civilization in general.

    February 23, 2013

  • ZizouZeGreat

    I can't agree more, Beiruti. It seems that Hezbollah is going down the unknown and is taking Lebanon with it. What can you say or do when the people who invaded Beirut in May 2008 now believe they are fighting until Al-Mahdi" shows up to fight with them? You may not know, but believe it or not, Imam Ali (KarramAllahu wajhah) personally joined the battle with Israel in 2006, with many Angles too, who were loading the artillery for the resistance fighters! I know... I was speechless too when I heard it :) The scary part is that Hezbollah thinks it's the only one capable of guerrilla war. Well, the Syrian revolutionaries have been doing it day-in day-out for two years, in what can be considered a super crash course, unlike the many years Hezbollah has been doing it one day ON ten days OFF against Israel. Leave alone that Hezbollah has been "off duty" since 2006, over 6 years. The Syrians are fresh-trained, and have lost tens of thousands, and their country is leveled. They have nothing to lose. Are the Shia in Lebanon ready to give tens of thousands? For what? Are they anxious to rebuild Dahieh again? How about the south or Hermel? The fact is, Asad won't rule Syria again, like it or not. Not going to happen. And, sooner or later, when Asad is hung, the Syrians are going to pay Hezbollah back for his services. Unfortunately, it won't be only Hezbollah that pays, but most if not all Lebanon.

    February 23, 2013

  • Beiruti

    Unfortunately Lebanon passed that tipping point some time ago. When Hezbollah took to the streets of Beirut on May 7, 2008 and the Army stood by, that was the day that Lebanese sovereignty was surrendered to Hezbollah. Who will stop Hezbollah from dragging Lebanon into the Syrian centered regional sectarian war? There is no one unless an outside power comes into Lebanon to liquidate Hezbollah's arms

    February 23, 2013