Hezbollah has in the past boasted about launching drones against Israel. Lebanese leaders responded by blasting the group for risking a war with Israel, and suggested that Hezbollah’s gambits were designed to promote Iranian rather than Lebanese interests.
The group’s leaders may be reluctant to face renewed accusations that they are dragging Lebanon into a war with Israel, especially as they struggle to respond to similar charges in the context of Syria. Hezbollah has poured thousands of soldiers into the country to fight on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime, and rebels have responded by attacking Lebanese interests and Lebanon itself.
Just this week, influential Sunni preacher Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir declared to his followers that fighting against Hezbollah defending Assad was “jihadist duty.” Meanwhile, on Wednesday Moaz al-Khatib, the recently resigned head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC), lashed out against Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. He warned that the organization risked igniting a regional sectarian conflagration between Sunni and Shiite Muslims:
“I demand that you withdraw all Hezbollah troops from Syria and begin communicating with rebels in all Shiite villages, to secure the safety of all,” Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib wrote on his Facebook page, addressing Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah. “There is a massive plot to drag the entire Muslim world into a Sunni-Shia war beginning from Syria, and then to Lebanon and the rest of the region, including Iran and Turkey, destroying these two countries,” Khatib warned.
The conflict, Khatib said, would “completely exhaust the money of Gulf states in order to support the war or purchase weapons, for the sake of an insane war in which there will be no victor.” Khatib urged Nasrallah to meet with two Salafist Lebanese sheikhs who earlier this week called for a jihad to defend Sunnis in the central Syrian town of Qusair, where Hezbollah fighters have taken the lead in battling anti-government rebels… “Haven’t over 1,000 years of Sunni-Shiite strife and disputes been enough for us to bury this rigid [sectarian] mentality and leave behind illusions of one side achieving victory over the other?” he asked.
Al-Khatib resigned as SNC chairman after just five months in the post. Prior to that, he was imam of Damascus’s historic Umayyad Mosque, lending him substantial credibility with the Sunni Islamists who make up a large and growing contingent of the Syrian opposition.
Fighting has been raging in the Qusair border area between Syria and Lebanon. The area has become one of the central fronts of the Syrian war, with the regime fighting to maintain its access to Lebanon and the sea. Hundreds of Syrian families are reported to be fleeing from the area and into Lebanon as Hezbollah operatives fight alongside Syrian forces there.
Hezbollah’s intervention in and around Qusair risks further eroding its already badly damaged image as a Lebanese organization, suggesting that its calculations are being made with an eye toward promoting Iranian interests:
It’s still too early to tell whether Hezbollah will succeed in its bid to clear the area of Qusair of Syrian rebels, in that way assuring Syrian regime control over the passage between Damascus and the coast, via Homs, and between the coast and Lebanon’s Hermel region.
Hezbollah is perfectly aware of the great risk it has taken by intervening in Syria. The fact that it has done so regardless suggests that the decision was an Iranian one. Hezbollah’s risk is twofold: Its intervention has provoked domestic discontent, increasing Sunni-Shiite tensions, while undermining the policy of Lebanese non-intervention in the Syrian war; perhaps more dangerously for the party, it may be sucked into the Syrian conflict, unable to extirpate itself, taking ever greater losses in someone else’s fight.
[Photo: spdl_n1 / Flickr]