On Hezbollah’s regional ideological coalition
Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian confilct is bringing instability to Lebanon
With the intensifying involvement of the powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah fighting alongside Assad's forces, the number of attacks in Lebanon, particularly Hezbollah's military bases and the areas where supporters of Hezbollah and Hassan Nasrallah reside, have increased as well.
A series of kidnappings, bombings, explosions, and clashes between Hezbollah and other groups has rattled Lebanon in recent months. Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict has led to a spillover of Syria's civil war into Lebanon. As result, this has significantly aggravated Lebanon's underlying political and sectarian divisions. In other words, Lebanon has become vulnerable to a potential governmental and institutional paralysis, as well as prone to outbreaks of violence among various domestic or foreign factions in Lebanon.
The issue with Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict though, is that after almost every victory that the group has clinched in Syria, Lebanon has been attacked.Majid Rafizadeh
Most recently, Hezbollah fighters reportedly assisted in an offensive military operation in the strategic Qalamoun Mountain region of Syria, resulting in some initial gains for the al-Assad regime. After Nasrallah public announcement that Hezbollah will be supporting Assad's regime against "terrorists," or Takfirism, Israeli and US-backed conspirators, the group was able to gain fighters and shift the balance of power in favor of the Assad regime.
The issue with Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict though, is that after almost every victory that the group has clinched in Syria, Lebanon has been attacked.
Early Tuesday, after the offensive military operation in the strategic region of Qalamoun, a vehicle packed with explosive materials was detonated at a Hezbollah military post in the Bekaa Valley. According to Lebanon’s National News Agency, this explosion caused casualties among Hezbollah members as well. In addition, according to the Lebanese local channel Al Manar, a Hezbollah-affiliated entity, the explosion hit the military post in the town of Labweh north of Baalbek, considered to be the focal point for Hezbollah fighters to enter and exit Syria. Moreover, a few months ago, twin car bombings struck the south of Beirut in neighborhoods where Hezbollah has a considerable amount of supporters.
Besides the ideological conflict, Syria is a strategically critical area for Hezbollah because Damascus is a useful land bridge for transferring military equipment from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Two Concentric Circles of Sectarian War
Hezbollah’s involvement in impacting the direction of the 32-month-old Syrian civil war in favor of the Assad regime, takes not only a regional dimension, but also a domestic facet.
At a time when Lebanon needs a unified government in order to preserve security, protect its borders, respond to the demands of its citizens, and address and strengthen its economy, Hezbollah's involvement in the domestic Syrian war has worked to revitalize the Lebanese sectarian conflict between the Shiites, sympathizers of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, and the opponents of Hezbollah's actions and policies.
According to several reports, the Lebanese people have shown significant concern that their country is once again falling into a protracted civil war such as the one which lasted for almost 15 years, ending in the 1990s, along with facing the possibility of a governmental collapse. It has been difficult to prove whether the domestic attacks or explosions in Lebanon have been carried out by Syrian rebels or the forces in Lebanon that oppose Hezbollah's involvement in the country. People are concerned that Lebanon will regress into a battleground between Hezbollah and other domestic and regional forces. In other words, Lebanon's social, economic, and political fate will be determined by Hezbollah's actions in the Syrian civil war.
This issue has without a doubt contributed to the sharp decline of Hezbollah's popularity, not only in Lebanon but also across the Arab world. While Hezbollah, in the climax of its popularity, was perceived as a resistant group that fought Israeli forces, it is currently viewed as the military arm and puppet of both the Assad regime and the Iranian leaders, specifically for their ideological and geopolitical agenda to maintain Assad’s presidency at any cost, allowing Shiite ideology to prevail over the Sunni majority.
Hezbollah and Iran are seen as the responsible political actors in keeping Assad and the Syrian regime in power. The first dimension of the sectarian conflict –domestic sectarianism seen in Shiite/Sunni tensions— has not only been intensified in Lebanon, but also domestically in other Arab countries including Syria and Iraq.
Ideological: Shiite Regional Coalition
More fundamentally, Hezbollah's determination to fight in support of the Syrian regime forces has led to a second set of issues manifested in regional tensions. The economic, political, military, and advisory assistance of Hezbollah, and its patron, the Islamic Republic of Iran, have turned the Syrian domestic conflict into a regional, ideological, and sectarian conflict across the region between the Shiite coalition and other ethno-religious groups.
Reportedly, Shiite fighters from across the region have been fighting in Syria, assisting the government forces in their battle against the rebels and other civilian groups. Multiple credible reports have shown that the involvement of Iranian military officers, particularly from Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, in the training of military officers and soldiers of the Syrian regime. It is also believed that approximately 5,000 Shiite volunteer fighters from Iraq are currently operating in the Syrian civil war.
This ideological conflict has grown from merely a geopolitical conflict, spreading to other platforms. For example, a leading Shiite Muslim cleric from Qum in Iran, widely followed by Iraqi, Lebanese, and Iranian Shiite militants, has issued the first Fatwa, a public religious edict, indicating that Shiites are permitted to fight in Syria's civil war alongside President Assad's military forces and against the rebels. Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri was one of the mentors of the radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq.
This fatwa, along with the mounting number of messages by Iran of this nature, Hezbollah and other Shiite clerics, will likely heighten the sectarian and political tensions already present in the domestic affairs of each country, and across the region, by pitting Muslim rebels against members of Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Finally, Hezbollah’s increasing involvement in the Syrian civil war, with some reports indicating numbers as high as 15,000 fighters, has resulted in two concentric circles of tensions, which are likely to aggravate already present geopolitical, sectarian and strategic tensions. This has led not only to a rising number of kidnappings, bombings, explosions, and clashes in Lebanon, but has turned Lebanon into a sectarian battlefield. The advancement of the Shiite coalition, led primarily by Iran, is inciting a broader regional, ideological, and sectarian proxy war.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at [email protected]
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