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19:36 10/22/2012
Hezbollah: Eyes Wide Open

By Mohammad Aslam

The 19-month-old conflict that's been raging in Syria between the government and rebel forces has certainly gone on far longer than most people predicted and witnessed a dangerously unforeseen cocktail of events.

The fallout from the tragedy could not have been epitomized more vividly than by the recent car bombing which killed the head of neighboring Lebanon's internal intelligence branch, Brigadier General Wisam Al-Hassan.
 
Prime-Ministerial threats to resign, opposition politicians pointing fingers at Damascus, sectarian demonstrations on the streets and widespread rumors of more attacks to come ­-- Lebanon appears to be on the brink.

But amongst all the killing and confusion taking place, there's one movement in the region that's inadvertently been sucked into a maelstrom as a result of the on-going crisis: Hezbollah.
 
The tripartite alliance of Turkey, Saudi-Arabia, and Qatar, and backed by the west with non-lethal equipment and money, has made sure that those fighting the regime of Bashar Al Assad have the means to do so for the foreseeable future.
 
Hezbollah for its part sees this alliance as a conniving attempt to strategically choke the anti-Israeli and anti-American "axis of resistance" that it has formed along with Iran, Syria and Hamas in Gaza.
 
This calculation is based on the premise that a rebel victory would not only deprive them of the vital conduit for political and military support that the Syrian authorities have long provided, but it would also threaten the delicate sectarian equilibrium that exists in Lebanon and Syria, which both have large numbers of non-Sunni Muslim minorities.

The rebel's resort to kidnapping Iranian and Lebanese nationals, vitriolic attacks on the movement that go some distance past hate and the infiltration of extremist Sunni fighters linked to Al Qaeda, has emboldened them to politically throw in the lot with the Syrian regime.

The recent admission that Hezbollah fighters have been killed defending villages and towns inhabited by Lebanese nationals on the Syrian side of the border only hammers home this fear about being entangled in a wider sectarian confrontation.
 
In addition to Syria, Hezbollah also finds itself in a complicated situation vis-à-vis Iranian nuclear quests and the Israeli sabre-rattling to prevent it.
 
Hezbollah, which sees Iran's Supreme leader as its ultimate authority, would no doubt be expected to act as Iran's first strike option in the event of an Israeli attack.
 
This hypothesis could not have been made more evident than by the acknowledgement from the movement's leader a few days ago that they indeed sent an Iranian designed, but Hezbollah assembled, reconnaissance drone over strategic locations in Israel - before Israeli aircraft shot it down.
 
This in turn culminated into domestic opposition accusing it of trying to divert attention from the situation in Syria by provoking Israel into a confrontation.
 
But that seems a highly implausible scenario.
 
The fight against Israel is the movements Raison d'être and not only did it lead to led to them liberating parts of south Lebanon from a 22-year Israeli occupation in the year 2000, but its belligerent attitude to the Jewish states existence was ratified most recently by a major flare up in 2006 -- which culminated in mighty Israel's only ever tactical defeat in a war.
 
Secondly, luring Israel into a confrontation with itself, an inevitably Syria as Israel has threatened do in any future war, when the "axis of resistance" already have their hands tied, would be militarily illogical.
 
Considering that Israel occupies high ground positions on the Golan Heights with less than 40 miles to Damascus and no natural obstacles that stops their advance, Israeli involvement would no doubt bring the highly ineffective Syrian Army to the their knees and hasten the job of those fighting the regime much sooner.
 
Ultimately, for those wishing to see Hezbollah disarmed and thereby diminish its ability to use Lebanon as a battleground against Israel, the key lies in confronting it domestically.
 
Their main adversaries in Lebanon, the pro-Saudi and American alliance led by self-exiled Saad Hariri, are banking on just that.
 
The calculation is that once mass death does away with the regime in Damascus, her benefactors in Lebanon will become somewhat politically orphaned and therefore susceptible to their demands.
 
They've used the conflict in Syria, as if it were some grand pageant of stoicism in which they can orate their wrath, to step-up the campaign calling for Hezbollah's disarmament, threats to topple the incumbent government and even the audacity for some close to Hariri to fund rebels fighting the Syrian government.
 
But Hezbollah on the other hand, is unlikely to lose any sleep over the Hariri-led campaign.
 
Perhaps this is because the last time he tried to restrict their activities, back in 2008 when his handpicked Prime Minister was in power, using a combination of unilateral executive decisions and the deploying of party militiamen on the streets; it took Hezbollah just over twenty minutes to crush them.
 
A few days later his government revoked all its earlier anti-Hezbollah measures.

- Mohammad I. Aslam is a Ph.D candidate in Political Science at the Department of Middle East & Mediterranean Studies, King's College London. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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