Why did Hezbollah cede the ‘starring’ role to the army?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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Can someone explain to us why the Lebanese army, and behind it Hezbollah and the Syrian regime forces, allowed 250 terrorist fighters from ISIS who are besieged in Jroud, the barren, mountainous border area between Lebanon and Syria to peacefully be evacuated to the Syrian city of Deir az-Zour? That’s from the far west to the far east and it’s more than 400 kilometers into the war-torn Syria.

The deal seems suspicious as it’s based on a ceasefire between the Lebanese army – though it has not fought for the past four years there – and ISIS. When it comes to this deal, it seems the Lebanese army is the one ending the siege of the murderers in exchange of taking the corpses of Hezbollah’s fighters and learning where its soldiers are buried.

ISIS had abducted nine Lebanese soldiers and the army recently found the remains of six of them. Why didn’t Hezbollah play the starring role as usual?

It is because the deal obviously reflects a defeat and represents a scandal. It’s therefore a good excuse to say that the army struck the deal considering it is a legitimate power. As long as Hezbollah claims that it controls mountainous areas, it will not be logical or even understandable why it would allow so many ISIS fighters to leave in exchange of the remains of the dead.

This is why the families of the dead soldiers viewed the deal as a betrayal to their sons. It’s all based on the army’s statements that they seized control of Qalamoun and that there are only 20 kilometers left to seize control of out of an area which area is 100 kilometers.

The mysterious part is how will ISIS fighters go to Deir az-Zour? It’s a long journey that in the times of peace take five hours

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Safe haven for ISIS

The truth is obvious. Hezbollah was not capable of controlling this area and it justifies the agreement by saying that it’s not a strategic area anyway. However, this is not true as it’s a safe haven for ISIS where it can threaten all of northeast Lebanon with it terrorist operations, and it’s only few kilometers away from Syria’s borders.

Hezbollah is saying that the deal with ISIS aims to clear the area from ISIS and impose control over it so it can focus on fighting the Americans in the Syrian Badia region! Of course no one believes these claims! The mysterious part is how will ISIS fighters go to Deir az-Zour? It’s a long journey that in the times of peace take five hours. During these circumstances it may take an entire day or more.

What concerns us about this small battle within the context of Syria’s big war? We’re trying to understand the forces’ formation on ground through it. If ISIS can save its fighters who are besieged in the Jroud and the Lebanese region of Qalamoun and secure their transport to the faraway city of Deir az-Zour, then this means it’s still strong unlike everything we’ve been told.

This means that any agreement which the Russians and the Iranians impose on Syrian warring groups later will be just an illusion of peace.

Legitimacy of the regime

This does not mean terrorist groups are not collapsing in their strongholds in Syria. It’s actually true and it’s mainly a result of the western coalition’s strikes as the Iranian-Russian alliance only focuses on fighting the Syrian organizations that are fighting the legitimacy of the Assad regime and they are trying to force these factions to accept its political project.

The difference between defeating an armed Syrian faction and a terrorist group like ISIS and al-Nusra Front is that terrorist organizations are capable of surviving after defeat and becoming underground groups since they are ideological parties that live in a secret organizational environment.

Hezbollah wants its name to be associated with victories because it popularly lives off them. It let the Lebanese army sign the Qalamoun agreement so people get angry at the army and condemn it. The people will conclude that it was the army who agreed to the deal of evacuating ISIS fighters in exchange of recovering the corpses of dead soldiers.

However, everyone views this as a losing deal and an embarrassing defeat. This time, Hezbollah made its choice and ceded the “starring” role to the Lebanese army which is still helpless.

This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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