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With Eyes on Syria and Israel, Hezbollah Consolidating Power In Lebanon

Hezbollah is tightening its grip on southern Lebanon, with Lebanese armed forces withdrawing from the area and U.N. peacekeepers finding themselves paralyzed and humiliated:

UNIFIL patrols are finding paths blocked and former temporary observation points suddenly out of bounds in what is being interpreted as Hezbollah seeking to flex its muscles on the ground at a time of heightened regional uncertainty and aggressive postures by Israel, the paper reported… According to the report, UNIFIL officers are privately expressing frustration at the often humiliating confrontations with Hezbollah personnel where the peacekeepers feel compelled to back down.

Hezbollah’s activities in Syria, where it is fighting on behalf of the ruling Bashar al-Assad regime, have generated substantial criticism of the group and risk dragging Lebanon into the Syrian conflict. Syrian opposition figures reported earlier this week that dozens of Hezbollah fighters were killed in battles on Syrian territory. Rebel groups may be preparing to launch a counter-attack against elite Hezbollah fighters, and the organization’s leaders may be consolidating their positions in anticipation of a widened conflict.

In addition to potentially dragging Lebanon into a war with Syria, Hezbollah is also risking violence with Israel. Speaking on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television from his underground bunker in Beirut on Tuesday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah sounded angry:

Nasrallah delivered a warning to Israel, saying “If somebody in the region or in Lebanon is mistakenly disillusioned that the Lebanese resistance is somehow in a state of weakness or embarrassment because of what is happening in Syria, Iraq or anywhere in the region – then they are very much mistaken. “I warn the Israeli enemy and those standing behind it not to make a foolish mistake in Lebanon, because despite all that has been said, the resistance is alert and is willing and able to protect Lebanon.”

The Hezbollah leader blamed America, Israel, and assorted Islamic “extremists” for undermining Syrian stability:

On Tuesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the group could step up its presence in Syria and issued an ominous warning to opposition members backed by foreigners who may try to overthrow al-Assad’s regime. “Syria has real friends in the region and the world. And they will never allow Syria to fall to the hands of the United States, Israel or extremist groups. They will never allow it. You may ask how will this happen. The details will come later,” Nasrallah said.

Nasrallah is expected to travel to Iran within the coming days and to deliver an address May 9. The Hezbollah leader has rarely appeared in public since the movement’s 2006 war with Israel.

Nasrallah’s speech was broadcast live by Iran’s English-language Press TV. His remarks on Israel begin within the first 30 seconds.

[Photo: LitleButerfli / YouTube]