Hezbollah and Syria: Who abandoned who?
Hezbollah’s mission, since the group’s establishment in 1982, has been extremely easy in that it has been limited to confronting Israel. This mission allowed Hezbollah to obtain Arab respect, Iranian funding, and local influence. However today Hezbollah finds itself in an extremely difficult situation; its enemies have multiplied and increased to the extent that Israel is now the least of their worries. More then half of the Lebanese people are against Hezbollah, whilst most Arabs are against them as well, and Syria seems to have abandoned them or at least distanced themselves from the Lebanese group.
The majority of Sunnis in Lebanon view Hezbollah with suspicion, or indeed hatred, because they believe that Hezbollah was responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as for occupying areas of Beirut three years ago. In addition to this, at least half the Christian population of Lebanon oppose Hezbollah, demanding that it give up its arms, fearing that Hezbollah wants to establish an Islamic republic along the lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We must also not forget that the International Criminal Court [ICC] is carefully observing and investigating Hezbollah, and will prosecute some of its members on charges of assassinating Hariri.
However none of this can be compared to what Hezbollah will face in the future because the most dangerous challenge for Hezbollah today has come from an unexpected side, namely Syria. Syria has been Hezbollah’s neighbor, ally, and protector for over 30 years, however the popular uprising spreading throughout Syria is witnessing the demonstrators openly chanting anti-Hezbollah slogans and accusing the Lebanese group of supporting the al-Assad regime in suppressing and even killing the demonstrators.
In the speech he gave a few days ago, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah tried to defend the Syrian regime, yet at the same time, his rhetoric seemed to suggest that he advocates the demonstrators’ calls for reform. Nevertheless, this speech served only to further anger the Syrian people who regard Nasrallah as al-Assad’s partner in suppressing them.
Doubts about the relationship between the oppressive Syrian security regime and the Hezbollah militia have been raised after the French Le Figaro newspaper published a report claiming that Hezbollah has moved weapons – that were previously being stored in Syria – to Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. The French newspaper added that Hezbollah fears the Syrian regime being overthrown.
There can be no doubt that Hezbollah is very aware of what is happening in Syria, and is conscious that the al-Assad regime is now on the verge of collapse and may be overthrown. However I am not sure that Hezbollah would dare to shows its doubts over the possibility of the Syrian regime remaining in power by withdrawing secret weaponry [from Syria]. There are therefore two ways to explain the reports which emphasized the departure of trucks from Syria bound to Lebanon. Firstly, either al-Assad had finally decided to satisfy Israel and the US by abandoning Hezbollah and removing its arms and weaponry from Syrian soil in line with this new stance. The second way of explaining this is that Hezbollah is frightened that its weapons stores [in Syria] could be targeted by foreign countries, most likely Israel, exploiting the Syrian military and security chaos. This may explain the recent massacres spoken about by al-Assad, and the news reported by the official Syrian media about attacks outside of the framework of the uprisings.
Whether the al-Assad regime is overthrown or not, Hezbollah is now surrounded by enemies in Lebanon and is like an orphan after it has lost the geographic and political dimensions afforded to it by Syria. Therefore, just like any other Lebanese political party, Hezbollah should consider an equation that does not rely upon weapons.
Hezbollah’s mentality of seeking to dominate Lebanon by force will be confronted and face severe challenges in the forthcoming stage. Hezbollah’s pretext of confronting Israel has been removed since Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon 11 years ago. Since then, Hezbollah has transformed into an organization that serves Iran’s interests with regards its battle to obtain nuclear weaponry and impose its influence on the region. Syria was playing the role of custodian and ally to Hezbollah, a role which it seems to have given up, even before the situation in Damascus is resolved one way or another.