Hezbollah’s history has been marked by blood, and each achievement marred with death. Each victory – divine or not – has been commemorated despite its heavy price. This week, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah appeared twice – in flesh – to declare a new victory, marked yet again not only with blood, but more importantly with intense sectarian animosity.
Nasrallah, confident in a diplomatic breakthrough between the US and Iran, seemed sure his party’s strength in the region will only grow. He denied that a nuclear agreement between Tehran and the P5+1 powers would force Iran to abandon Hezbollah in a quid-pro-quo deal, stressing that any diplomatic measures would not only prevent war, but also strengthen Hezbollah’s regional influence.
Nasrallah’s repeated public appearances also suggest a growing confidence in his safety and in Hezbollah’s survival, guaranteed by a potential US-Iran deal. He is saying to all his opponents that Iran – and now the US more indirectly – will protect Hezbollah.
Recent diplomatic breakthroughs, however, are anything but a success. They will entail more death in Syria, starting from Aleppo, Qalamoun, and eventually spreading to the Damascus suburbs. Nasrallah only cares about his party’s interests first, which is an unceasing control over Lebanon and Syria. Unfortunately, his ambitions will only entice more sectarian hatred.
Let’s say for argument’s sake that the Syrian revolution fails. It doesn’t mean that Assad will win. Instead, it will mean more sectarian war and bloodshed. But of course, this is not the US’s main priority, which is stopping Iran’s nuclear program despite all the terrible repercussions of Iran’s hegemony in the region, and the sectarian wars it is creating.
If Iran becomes America’s friend, the need for revenge against Iran for its role in Syria might not spare the US. Nor will it spare the region’s Shiites, either, and Hezbollah’s quarters and constituency in Lebanon stand to suffer most.
Let’s do the math. 20.8% out of 814,000 Syrian refugees registered with the UNHCR in Lebanon are males between 18 and 59 years old. This is around 170,000. Even if only 10% decide to take matters in their own hands following Hezbollah and Assad’s victory in Syria, that’s 17,000 mostly Sunni men ready to carry arms and fight Hezbollah and the Shiites. Recruiting them won’t be difficult, especially as living conditions are poor and continually deteriorating.
All of this is a recipe for civil strife.
Already, past Hezbollah victories bore major consequences. In 2006, a war with Israel led to a significant loss of life and immense infrastructure damage. In 2008, even though Hezbollah may have kept its arms and telecommunication networks after the May incidents, the party lost its credibility as a resistance movement in the process. In each instance, Hezbollah’s victories have come at the expense of Lebanon’s stability and state institutions.
And so, even if the US-Iran deal bears fruition, the US must pay attention to the regional implications of a diplomatic move. With Hezbollah in power, peace is a far-fetched option.
For a party that has depended on blood and war, how can it be satisfied with a peaceful and diplomatic outcome? Hezbollah, without the prospect of war, will lose its raison d'être, its justification for arms, and the core purpose of its existence.
Clearly, Hezbollah isn’t interested in peace. The party knows that it has aroused hatred from Sunnis across the region after getting involved in Syria. And with the prospect of a US-Iran deal, the party knows the West may no longer check Hezbollah’s regional sway.
Now that Hezbollah is fighting al-Qaeda in Syria, the party may seem more favorable to the US. But as long as Hezbollah and Iran back the Assad regime, more al-Qaeda fighters and support will prop up across the country. A Hezbollah-Iran-Assad victory in Syria will therefore only lead to stronger al-Qaeda networks in both Lebanon and Syria.
How is this not a greater concern for the US?
Hanin Ghaddar is managing editor of NOW. She tweets @haningdr