The Syrian Tragedy and Hezbollah’s Predicament

Faraj al-Awar writes on Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian affair

What could one write about the Syrian civil war, now that it has turned into a genuine tragedy, destroying Syria and displacing and humiliating her people? What is heartrending is that this war – which could have been avoided and with it the destruction of Syria, if the interests of Syria were what the parties to the conflict really cared about – was the first choice for both sides equally.

 

On the regime’s side, Arab uprisings were applauded as they erupted in Tunisia and Egypt, while the regime boastfully claimed in the Western media that such events could not spread to Syria, because the position of the leadership there on the Arab-Israeli conflict reflected the popular attitudes. Immediately after that, the peaceful protests, which erupted after the barrier of fear was overcome in Syria following those Arab uprisings, were dealt with via the “usual” level of brutality deployed by the successive regimes of the past six decades in Syria, as though nothing had happened, and as though those who made the decision to resort to this level of heavy-handedness had not heard of the uprisings. When the regime failed to put down the protests in their early days, it judged that the logical next step was to deploy tanks and engage in further brutality, while declaring at the same time that what was happening was a “conspiracy” against Syria.

 

Neither side to the abhorrent conflict cared for the tremendous devastation they caused to Syria.The regime was desperate to militarize the uprising by all available means, including by releasing scores of Islamists of various backgrounds from prison. In the regime’s view, the easiest way to counter the uprising, which was still peaceful at the time, was to lure the other side into a military confrontation, in which the regime would prevail being the stronger party. But these facile calculations did not pay attention to the risk of splitting Syria along sectarian lines, and did not factor in the possibility of Western and Israeli intervention, as though Syria was on another planet, and not a part of our Arab region.

 

All these calculations seem to have been predicated on the facts that prevailed in the region pre-Arab Spring, and thus did not take the Turkish position seriously despite the sweeping diplomatic offensive and enormous pressure exerted by the Turks at the beginning of the crisis. Nor did the regime give any weight to the Gulf countries’ attitudes despite their blatant intervention in all the countries that had seen uprisings before Syria, and despite the overt tension between Syria and Saudi Arabia over the assassination of [Lebanon’s former prime minister] Rafik Hariri.

 

On the opposition’s side, various Islamist factions, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the ultra-Salafis, immediately jumped on the bandwagon of the protests, and resorted, with much alacrity, to militarization and full-scale civil warfare. Soon afterwards, legions of armies, brigades, battalions, leagues, and fronts began to “hatch,” until the day came when it became difficult to take stock of or understand the many names, kinds, and sizes of opposition militias.

 

Neither side to the abhorrent conflict cared for the tremendous devastation they caused to Syria, nor indeed, the hundreds of thousands killed, wounded, or dispossessed. The sectarian motives of the two sides to the conflict soon emerged, with the “revolution for freedom and democracy” transmuted into a “war on Alawis” or a “war for the defense of minorities.”

 

Various segments of the armed opposition fantasized about a U.S.-led Western intervention in Syria, similar to the NATO intervention in Libya, while hoping that the Israeli factor would offset the oil factor that sealed the deal for Libya. But Bashar al-Assad proved his cunningness, and that the apple had not fallen far from the tree as relates to his father, and quickly invalidated the Israeli factor by handing over his entire chemical weapons arsenal – of course, after he explained to us in detail how this arsenal was actually a burden that Syria wanted to get rid of anyway, and that what we knew before about the arsenal being a counterweight to Israel’s nuclear weapons was only a misunderstanding.

 

Unfortunately, there is nothing in sight to suggest there is any chance to stop the ongoing Syrian tragedy. The war is now linked to the Western-Russian standoff, which began in Syria and has now spread to Ukraine, where the conflict is still in its early stages and is likely to last for a long time, since, just like in Syria, no side will allow the other side to prevail there.

 

Therefore, ending the war is linked to a deal that ends the standoff, and God knows how long it would take the West and Russia to pull something like this off. In the meantime, the parties involved in the Syrian civil war have become small pawns in this international confrontation, through which Russia is trying to make a comeback as an international power. It changes nothing in this reality, as Assad has been boasting, that Syria has contributed to making this comeback happen, as though it is our destiny to see the Soviet Union’s collapse be announced through the destruction of Iraq and Russia’s return to be announced through the destruction of Syria.

 

What is more worrying still is the apparent effect of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria on the real balance of deterrence between the party and Israel.The other great disaster resulting from the civil war in Syria is that the latter has also become the primary arena in the Sunni-Shia battle throughout the region. This is something that the glaringly sectarian intervention of the Gulf countries has contributed to, as well as the intervention by Turkey, where the AKP government has only perceived the Arab world, since the start of the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, through the lens of the Muslim Brotherhood. On the other hand, Hezbollah’s involvement in the war has also, unfortunately, added fuel to this transformation.

 

It changes nothing in this affair that Hezbollah was ostensibly forced to intervene in Syria to prevent the country from falling into the hands of its opponents in the region, and hence, protect the Resistance from death by suffocation as a result. The nature of things cannot be alerted by good intentions. The fact of the matter here is that Hezbollah has drowned itself, by becoming implicated in this war and by defending militarily the Syrian regime in its current authoritarian form, in a quagmire of the sectarian confrontation raging in the region, and which the United States and Israel have long worked to stoke.

 

In the beginning, Hezbollah justified its intervention in front of the narrow band of its supporters – and Hezbollah has not cared much for justifying its intervention except to this narrow segment – by citing purely sectarian grounds such as the need to protect the areas inhabited by the Shia minority and their religious shrines in Syria. However, Hezbollah had little regard for the impact of this kind of discourse on its image in the minds of the Arab public, and on how it turned for the latter from a force of resistance, deterrence, and relative balance against Israel, into a Shia force that defends Shias and their shrines in Syria.

 

It has become rather tedious to warn about the tremendous impact of Hezbollah’s foolish discourse on its image as a resistance force in the eyes of the Arab public. Hezbollah has shattered this image with its own hands, something that the United States and Israel themselves could not achieve since the party’s inception. Even when addressing its direct narrow audience, Hezbollah had to justify its involvement in the Syrian war by invoking terms like “the preemptive war on terror,” which is dreadfully reminiscent of the terminology that the United States and Israel use in the course of justifying their assaults on the Arab region.

 

What is more worrying still is the apparent effect of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria on the real balance of deterrence between the party and Israel. This was evident from the very limited response Hezbollah carried out following the Israeli airstrike on a Hezbollah position in Janta.

 

We hope that the days when Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah would warn Israel of a strong response in the case of an Israeli strike on the Resistance in Lebanon are not behind us. If this is the case – and we truly hope it is not the case – then Israel will from now on never leave Hezbollah alone. Instead, Israel could deal with Hezbollah in the same manner it has been dealing with the Syrian regime ever since that strategic air strike that destroyed the reactor in Deir Ezzor, until Hezbollah is put in its place and turned in reality – and not just in the minds of the public – from a force of deterrence into a sectarian force, whose only function would be to maintain a kind of sectarian equilibrium in the region.

 

Hezbollah’s patriotic and moral duty requires it…. to work in collaboration with all democratic forces in Syria to impose a democratic political solution on both sides of the conflict.The implication of the above is that the threat resulting from Hezbollah’s involvement in the civil war in Syria on the party’s position vis-à-vis Israel, and hence, on the entire Arab-Israeli conflict, is much too great to allow Hezbollah to maintain its involvement in the long run. For Hezbollah to emerge from its predicament in Syria, and in order not to turn from a force of deterrence into a sectarian force in the region, it is not at all sufficient to achieve military victories in Syria, especially since a rapid and final victory in the war there before washing its hands clean and returning to Lebanon is impossible. In the end, the “other side” in Syria is not an absolute enemy like Israel, but a part of the Syrian people. Even for those who have become fodder for those intervening in the Syrian war, the final solution with them will have to be winning them back through a real democratic solution in Syria.

 

Hezbollah’s patriotic and moral duty requires it, having indeed turned around the course of the civil war in Syria and guaranteed that the regime would not be toppled and that the country would not switch to the rival camp, to work in collaboration with all democratic forces in Syria to impose a democratic political solution on both sides of the conflict. It is the right of the Syrian people, who have stood alongside the Resistance in all the occasions of the confrontation with Israel, for Hezbollah to couple the declared positions of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah about a political solution in Syria with actions, and for Hezbollah not to contribute in regenerating tyranny in Syria.

 

The Syrian regime, in its current authoritarian form, is acting as though it has guaranteed final military victory in the conflict. Recently, the regime held elections with a return to its old habits of manufacturing demonstrations “renewing allegiance” to Bashar al-Assad in the cities it controls, as though nothing has happened in Syria. Meanwhile, the regime still refuses to deal with civil opposition forces such as the National Coordinating Commission (NCC), which has proven in word and deed that it only wants democracy for Syria, and which opposes civil war and all forms of Western intervention in Syria, except by repressing and imprisoning its members.

 

It is the duty of Hezbollah, having become a guarantor for the survival of the Syrian regime, to prevent the latter from attempting to reproduce the kind of tyranny that existed before the civil war. For one thing, this would be impossible to accomplish, and for another, such an attempt would only lead to the final partitioning of Syria on a sectarian basis.

 

There are forces both within and outside the regime that expect nothing less of Hezbollah than to help produce a democratic political solution in Syria, as Hezbollah has now guaranteed the country will not defect to the rival camp in the region. Both Farouq al-Shara has expressed this before he retreated to his home, and Haitham al-Manna in more than one meeting with Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

 

A real contribution toward a democratic political solution for Syria, in collaboration with all its democratic forces, is the only way for Hezbollah to emerge from its predicament there, and to preserve its bright image as a resistance force that defeated Israel, and which remains a force of relative balance with the Jewish state. We thus hope that Hezbollah is sufficiently aware that military victory in Syria is not enough.

 

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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