Syrian Civil War: Hezbollah is Backing Assad, and It's a Huge Mistake
In a recent column, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki warned against intervention by any country in Syria. He writes that "We have been mystified by what appears to be the widespread belief in the United States that any outcome in Syria that removes President Bashar al-Assad from power will be better than the status quo."
Hezbollah, the main Shia political entity in Lebanon and a significant player in the Lebanese parliament, has had their sympathies strongly aligned with the Bashar Al-Assad regime during the course of the continuous civil strife. The downfall of Assad would be a troublesome prospect for the group, considering their backers in the Middle East are few. However, unconditional rhetorical and likely military support to an inhuman and vicious government like that of Assad's may not be in the organization’s favor.
The Assad regime and Hezbollah have been strong supporters of each other since the formation of the group as far back as during the reign of Hafez Al-Assad, the late father of the current Syrian ruler. Hezbollah has continued to receive technical, economic, as well as military support from Syria. The country is the route through which its supply of arms and money from Iran is safely brought in to fund the movement.
In return, Hezbollah has fully facilitated and supported the regimes of both father and son. It had vocally backed Syria's stay in Lebanese territory until their withdrawal in 2000, and has been crucial in helping Syria neutralize any perceived threat of their mutual enemy Israel.
As the crises in Syria started to gain traction over two years ago, Hezbollah has been staunchly supporting the Assad regime's assault against the predominantly Sunni militias. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the movement, has made it abundantly clear that if need be he would send his men to fight alongside Assad. At the moment, Hezbollah has backed the Popular Committees, a group of Lebanese Shia men fighting on behalf of the ruling regime.
Over the course of the past week, reports of Hezbollah fighters being killed in Syria is being perceived as the organization's direct military support for the Assad regime. Israeli military intelligence officer Major General Aviv Kochavi has alleged that Iran, in concert with Hezbollah, has prepared an army of "50,000" people to help Assad. Kochavi further asserted that "Iran and Hezbollah are both doing all in their power to assist Assad's regime."
Hezbollah's continued vocal support and alleged venture into Syria could be seriously detrimental. They have recently come under great criticism for their alleged role in Bulgaria in the killing of 5 Israeli tourists. This European Union is now considering designating the group a terrorist organization. Bahrain a week ago became the first Arab nation that declared Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Assad's dreadful tactics have also led Hamas, a Hezbollah supporter in its quest against Israel, to leave the downtrodden country for Qatar, citing the instability of the regime and the negative publicity that would cast its shadow on them as result of continuing to have their leadership be protected by the Syrian government.
While one can diligently argue that the case of other nation against Hezbollah is drenched in local and geopolitical maneuvers and politicking, it is undeniable that tensions amongst Lebanese factions might be the biggest threat to its influence and reputation, especially its own country.
Fighting amongst Sunnis and Shias have been witnessed, where Lebanese Alawites (belonging to the same religious faction as Assad) and Sunnis were caught in a deadly clash. Over a dozen people have died. The Sunni-dominated group March 14, led by former Saad Hariri, has backed the ouster of the Syrian government, coming in direct conflict with Hezbollah.
Tensions started to mount between the two groups as early as December when Brigadier General Wissam Al-Hassan, an intelligence chief officer, was killed in a car explosion, giving rise to sectarian tensions and riots around the country. He was an important figure of the March 14 group. His allies blamed the leadership of Hezbollah for the attack.
While Hezbollah's support for Assad and his regime may somewhat make strategic and historical sense, it has more to lose than gain for trying to help sustain the status quo in Damascus. Creating tensions at home amongst their own people who continue to suffer recurring conflict can only spiral into a disaster for the Shia-based entity.