Tony Badran

Hezbollah holds Lebanon's Sunnis hostage

Nasrallah speaks on Al-Manar TV after a blast in Beirut

It didn’t take long after last week’s car bomb in Al-Roueiss for Hezbollah to lay out its plan of attack. The group immediately announced a retaliatory campaign against Sunni targets under the guise of targeting so-called “takfiris” in Lebanon. Hezbollah-allied media have specified by name the areas where the group is likely to launch operations with the help of its friends in the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), as well as sympathetic security services. More ominous, however, were Hezbollah’s accusations against former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the Future Movement, and its Sunni base, charging them with inciting, supporting, and harboring terrorist groups supposedly directed by Saudi intelligence chief, Bandar bin Sultan.


While some Lebanese politicians tried to temper domestic tensions by laying the blame for the bombing on Israel, Hezbollah quickly turned to its domestic rivals and rolled out its talking points right out of the gate. Speaking to Al-Manar TV at the site of the car bombing, Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar set the tone: “those who conspired against the resistance during the July [2006] war and who still pave the way to cover terrorist operations to cease these practices… It’s not the resistance that is attracting terrorism, rather it’s those who speak under false headlines.”


Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah picked up on this theme in his address. He warned against providing cover to “these groups,” accused domestic rivals of “sectarian incitement,” and demanded more than mere condemnation.


Hezbollah flack and al-Akhbar editor, Ibrahim Amin, clarified Nasrallah’s point in an article entitled, “Hariri provides cover to the killers.” Amin claimed in the article that Hariri was not only “providing a popular foster environment, as well as official or quasi-official support, and funding and arms to these groups,” but also refusing that anyone take action against them.


Hezbollah’s objective is clear. By placing the onus on its adversaries and charging that Hariri was providing cover to "takfiris" and “terrorists,” terms Hezbollah is using to claim a license to kill (possibly with an international, namely U.S., nod), the Party seeks to gain forced acquiescence to operations against sensitive Sunni areas. The Hezbollah chief and his allied media organs were specific in which areas they have in their sights, especially the eastern towns of Majdal Anjar and, most of all, Arsal. As Amin explained in a second piece, “these groups have laid down a plan that benefits from… a political and media cover… [that] launched campaigns against anyone who tried to enter Arsal, or some Palestinian camps, as well as the unprecedented campaign following the incidents in Abra, east of Sidon.”


Arsal has been a set target for Hezbollah and the Assad regime for close to two years now. The reason has to do with its geographic location in the context of the war in Syria. The town’s hinterland represents an important logistical line for the Syrian rebels, extending into the Qalamoun hills on the Syrian side, and the vital corridor stretching between Zabadani and Hermel, west of the main highway linking Damascus to Homs. The location of the town and its outback also disrupts Hezbollah communication lines, and the group has not only highlighted that corridor’s critical importance, but has also signaled that this is where it intends to concentrate its operations. This is partly why Hezbollah sought to isolate Arsal prior to launching its full-on offensive in Qusayr this past spring. Little wonder, then, that al-Akhbar has dubbed Arsal and the Qalamoun hills “the den of terrorism.”


Predictably, the LAF Directorate of Intelligence (DI), which is friendly to Hezbollah, is taking the lead in investigating the various attacks on Hezbollah strongholds, and it is doing so in close coordination with Hezbollah’s security apparatus, as noted by both Nasrallah and Amin. In a concerted effort involving the Hezbollah-allied acting defense minister and the DI and friendly media organs, the group is now setting up a list of targets, with Arsal topping the list as the immediate objective, and with warnings to other potential targets too.


The publicized coordination with the DI and the charge that Hariri was covering terrorists and preventing the LAF from performing its duty were meant to politically corner the former prime minister and force him to acquiesce to the subjugation of Arsal by proxy. The coordination between Hezbollah and the LAF further institutionalizes a troubling phenomenon, the worst manifestation of which was in the Abra operation. However, Hezbollah has been clear in its threats: either Hariri and the Sunnis keep their mouth shut and allow the LAF to raid Arsal, or, if the state is incapable, then Hezbollah will take matters into its own hands, and everyone, as Amin put it, can go and “lay tiles on the sea floor.”


And here’s where Hezbollah’s threats become even more ominous. Besides accusing Prince Bandar bin Sultan of being behind these bombings, and aside from claiming that Hariri and the Sunnis were providing a “foster environment” to terrorists, Nasrallah also hinted that such bombings might easily spread beyond Shiite areas – conjuring up the exchange of car bombs between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis. He followed that thinly-veiled threat with a more explicit one: “if these bombings continue, Lebanon would be on the brink of the abyss.”


The message Hezbollah is sending by linking Prince Bandar, Hariri, and the Sunni “foster environment” to the bombing in Al-Roueiss is clear. As my NOW Arabic colleague, Elie Fawaz, explained it: “The Sunnis in Lebanon will be held hostage until the bombings in Dahiyeh stop.” The implicit threat that car bombs might hit non-Shiite areas aims to establish, in Fawaz’s words, a “balance of terrorism” equation.


Nasrallah proceeded to declare that Hezbollah’s operations in Syria will continue, even if it means all of his fighters, including him, go into battle. As one commentator noted, this declaration was also a threat "primarily directed at the Lebanese."


The Party of God is signaling that it is willing to go all the way, not just in Syria, but also in Lebanon. Its message after Al-Roueiss is that it will continue the war in Syria, and will move to secure areas straddling the eastern border. And if the bombings in Shiite towns and neighborhoods don’t stop, and Hezbollah and its allies in the LAF and security apparatuses are not given control over key Sunni areas, Lebanon’s Sunnis will pay the price.


Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets @AcrossTheBay.

Nasrallah speaks on Al-Manar TV after a blast in Beirut's southern suburbs. (AFP photo)

"The Party of God is signaling that it’s willing to go all the way, not just in Syria, but also in Lebanon."

  • Vlad Tepes

    Well it's not like Sunnis ever subjugate anyone of another faith to harsh punishments, except for you know: anywhere there is a Sunni majority. Matter of fact, I heard that in Saudi Arabia, Shiites are considered to be Jews by many, traitors, and idolators, amongst other things. Now the Sunni freaks see their chance and try to rise up against the "idolators", and "apostates". It's not like they have said it in any other terms or never cast out the black flag of jihad. It's not like Lebanese takfiris weren't allready in Syria causing mayhem. They want and have always wanted jihad, no more and no less. Now that they see that they might not get their jihad they go about killing innocent people. How wonderful. Now Tony, run off and play jihad with all your buddies.

    August 24, 2013

  • Taraman2

    Omark: Talk is cheap, rhetoric even cheaper. Anyone can go in front of cameras to claim and clamor for brotherly love. If not backed with action, those words mean nothing. How can anyone still believe the meaningless messages of reconciliation emanating from a party and a party leader who went to war in Syria to "protect" against so-called takfiris, a term which is being used as a code-word signifying Sunnis who do not agree with Hezbollah's view of the world? Tony: Thank you for attempting to read and analyze beyond the rhetoric. If I want meaningless talk, I can always listen to political speeches. If I want analysis - which I don't necessarily have to agree with - I'll read your and similar articles.

    August 24, 2013

  • Ren

    Fighting talk, the lunatics are running the asylum

    August 22, 2013

  • WIN

    Hezbollah is in part responsible for the emergence of sunni extremism in Lebanon as he has created a leadership gap within sunni moderates by undermining the Future Movement. This gap had to filled one way or another. Al Assir and his frustrated (from Hezbollah’s tenacious grip on Lebanon) fanatic friends stepped in. Today it’s the takfiris and we all know the reason why. @ Omark : Of course, we all believe Nasrallah’s “brotherly” discourse and his pure and noble intentions towards other Lebanese citizens: “In politics, my dear fellow, you know, as well as I do, there are no men, but ideas - no feelings, but interests; in politics we do not kill a man, we only remove an obstacle, that is all.” A. Dumas

    August 22, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    The Sunnis of Lebanon have only themsleves to blame. First, they were the ones who colluded with the Assad regime in Syria to undermine the Lebanese State between the late 1960s and the late 1980s, with their war against State institutions and the Lebanese army, using the PLO as their primary militia, the Mourabitoun militia, the seditious Arab Army of Lebanon of Ahmahd Al-Khatib, as well as a horde of Syrian paramilitary thugs like the Saiqa, the YArmouk Brigade etc. Once the Taif Agreement gave the Sunnis top dog position in the State's hierarchy, they continued to give political cover to Hezbollah and Syria to continue undermining the State. It was Rafik Hariri who allowed Hezbollah to remain the only operational militia in violation of the Taif Accord. When he rwalized his mistake in the early 2000s, he was assassinated by his former allies - Hezbollah and Syria. Now the hens have come home to roost, and the Sunnis are lamenting Hezbollah's power, and worst, they are using radical Salafis as their answer to Hezbollah, instead of rallying around the State institutions. The Christians of Lebanon had it right from the beginning: Work our your reforms through the State institutions, and not with Arabist, Syria, Islaimc, Palestinian, and other non-Lebanese causes. I am no Hezbollah lover, but the Sunnis are equally to blame for what has happened to my country.

    August 22, 2013

  • omark

    This article is the last straw for me. Frequently I visited this website because it provides frequent English news about Lebanon. This article however portrays that this news company is a sectarian group who frequently publishes articles with rheortic full with hate and sectarian discord. This Tony whatever his background has no respect for the stability and unity of Lebanon but rather is dedicated to insult and attack the resistance in Lebanon no matter how delusional and baseless his claims are. If Tony had any experience in journalism or even the level of common sense of a 8 year old he would know that Nasrallah in his latest speech like all speeches spend over 45 minutes urging no person to blame any Lebanese sect or group for this bombing including and most importantly our "brothers in the great Sunni sect" he went on to say anyone who commits a terrorist act like this anywhere in the world whether in New York or Beirut is a killer and a animal. So your lack of even elementary professionalism by impeding these facts to your readers is disgusting. Unlike other parties and media outlets in Lebanon who are dedicated to spewing sectarian discord(under gulf paychecks) the resistance has never even remotly said anything against the Sunni sect but has always referred to Sunnis as brothers, this fact is proven by the fact that huge amounts of christians Sunnis and shias are present in each speech he makes. They are present because they care for the soevergnity of their country and never want to see their lands occupied again or their children massacred like what is happening in Palestine and what would have happened in Lebanon for the last 40 years if it where not for the sacrifices of the resistance. A fundamental and rudimentary concept you fail to understand.

    August 22, 2013

  • Metnman

    Omark...you were making a valid point until you said that those who support HA "care for the soevergnity of their country." Can't you see that HA cares not one jot for Lebanese sovereignty. The party is a state within a state. How is that sovereign?

    August 22, 2013