Lebanese complaints against Hezbollah’s parade of its newfound army, in the Syrian town of Qusayr, were misplaced. In fact, the Lebanese should rejoice on two accounts: That the Hezbollah militia has now become a regular army, and that the parade happened on Syrian soil.
The significance of a militia turning into an army is substantial. If Hezbollah sticks to such a format, it means that the party will lose its ability to fight asymmetric wars, and will be forced to engage in regular army-to-army battles. This means that Hezbollah will lose its ability to blend in with non-combatants, or launch its offensive from civilian neighborhoods. After all, tanks and artillery do not really fit in small streets and cannot be hidden behind bushes.
If Hezbollah’s militia sticks to its new setup as a conventional army, then the party will have to calculate its wars more carefully. Hezbollah already avoids battle with Israel after Tel Aviv announced its Dahiyeh (Suburb) Doctrine and razed large areas of Beirut’s southern suburbs, as well as Shiite villages in the south in the 2006 War. Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of neighborhoods containing Hezbollah and its supporters exacted a heavy toll on the party, and have forced it to avoid further wars with the Israelis, despite all the bravado from Hezbollah’s leaders.
With an army instead of a militia, Hezbollah will have to fight its future wars with Israel out in the open, which should be good news for Shiite non-combatants and the Lebanese at large, who lost a considerable chunk of their infrastructure, such as bridges, that Israel destroyed to hinder the movement of the party’s invisible fighters in 2006.
Now that Hezbollah’s fighters are visible, Israel will have less reason to hit Lebanon, and will instead engage Hezbollah in head-to-head combat, which Hezbollah says they are not shying from this time, arguing that in any future war with Israel, the party’s fighters will not sit back and defend, but might pressure the Israeli north, attempting to win and hold territory.
The second upside from Hezbollah’s military parade in Qusayr is the fact that, with this parade, the party did not undermine Lebanese sovereignty, for a change. For the first time in decades, Hezbollah has chosen instead to undermine the sovereignty of other states, this time Syria. This means that if anyone should feel threatened, and complain, it should be Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Even if Hezbollah is Assad’s ally, the Qusayr parade speaks volumes about who has the upper hand, and where.
If Hezbollah’s military parade in Qusayr was to show solidarity with Assad, then the parade would have been a joint exercise between the party and regular Syrian forces. Yet the fact that it was Hezbollah’s Politburo Chief Hashem Safieddine delivering a speech at the event suggests who is really the boss in Syria’s Mid-West.
Clashes between Hezbollah and Assad are inevitable, sooner or later. News reports suggest there have been skirmishes between the two in some areas across Syria. Assad should understand that Hezbollah did not offer so much blood and treasure, only to quit Syria the minute Assad might say “thank you and good bye.”
Lebanon has been in Hezbollah’s pocket for some time. Judging by how the Lebanese oligarchy is now back to its regular political shenanigans, electing Michel Aoun president and selecting Saad Hariri as prime minister, one cannot but conclude that Lebanon is “back to normal.” Syria, however, is not. If fighting ever stops in Syria, it will be interesting to see how things will play out between Assad and Hezbollah’s new army parading in Qusayr, which could end up exerting complete control over other territories inside Syria.