During a speech on the 10th day of Ashura, the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, used the term “variables” three times, while affirming that the resistance would survive, along with its weapons. He was talking about those who were wagering on these variables, as if they wanted to achieve what Israel could not, through Lebanon's National Dialogue, and their focus on the future of the party's weapons.
Nasrallah displayed a hard-line stance with regard to the party’s retaining its arms, which is natural, but the use of the term “variables” is something new, compared to his earlier rhetoric. Even if Nasrallah did not say that by variables he meant a change in Syria, as a conduit of weapons to the party and its fighters, and its number one regional ally and for Iran. The new element is that for the first time, he was indicating the possibility of changes in Damascus. In doing so, Nasrallah was telling his local and regional rivals that all of these possibilities will not lead to a change in the basis of Hezbollah’s policy in Lebanon, or in its long-standing policies on its weapons.
The earlier political line of Nasrallah and the party’s leaders was completely different. Only two weeks ago, they affirmed confidently that the Syrian regime would survive, and would not change; it would not fall, and it would be stronger than before. In fact, for the last nine months, during the Syrian uprising, they were affirming to this or that group, and to this or that ally, what was being said by the pillars of the Syrian regime – the crisis was over, and that only the “remnants of armed gangs” remained. These groups were being pursued by the army and security forces, and eliminating them was a matter of days, or a week or two.
Some Lebanese allies of the Syrian regime told their interlocutors, as they looked at their watches, that at such-and-such a time the uprising in Deraa (or Hama, Homs, Idlib, Jisr al-Shughur, etc.) would be over, and the mopping up of rebels would begin. Some of those who heard such talk believed it, while others did not, and contented themselves by waiting things out. Then, a few weeks later, they would once again ask about what had happened to the military end to the unrest, promised by this or that Syrian leader, and receive a similar response, but about another area of the country. However, the leadership of Hezbollah was acting as if it could do nothing other than wager on the regime's success in crushing the uprisings. Party leaders felt that the future of Hezbollah, its role and its strength depended on the survival of their ally the Syrian president, irrespective of his problems with wide segments of the Syrian public.
Those who received promises that the military option would decide things, in favor of the regime of Bashar Assad, became fed up with hearing this scenario repeated without it coming to pass. The leaders of Hezbollah themselves must have become fed up with this broken record.
This prompted a debate within the party, about its options and policies in the event the wager fails on the Syrian regime’s survival, or if it remains in power, with a fundamental change in its policies, including its actions in Lebanon. The party’s leadership had earlier closely followed the beginning of the crisis, and advised the acceleration of reforms, and non-reliance on a “security solution,” while opening dialogue with the opposition. However, the Syrian leadership dealt with this advice as it did with the advice of others (Turkey, Qatar, the Gulf States) at the beginning of the crisis, by refusing to act on it, under the pretext that Syria did not need such advice, and that its leadership was better informed about its own affairs.
It is no exaggeration to say that Hezbollah is behaving anxiously vis-à-vis the possibility of change in Syria, and has begun to make calculations to head off the repercussions of this variable.
But the worrying thing in how the party views this possibility is that it is adopting a policy of waiting for change in Syria and is waiting for it to happen, without acknowledging this. Hezbollah and its allies blamed the leader of the Future Movement, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and the leaders of the March 14 coalition for wishing to expedite the fall of the Syrian regime, and placing their bets that this collapse would lead to a change in the local balance of power; they considered this intervention in Syria’s domestic affairs. But what they blame their rivals for, they are guilty of themselves as well, when they ignore the impact of the possibility of change in Lebanon, and change in Hezbollah’s regional status in the domestic political equation. It is a case of intervention, but in the opposite direction: against the aspirations of the Syrian people for change, and against the arrival of the “Arab spring” in Syria.
It is also worrying that Hezbollah, instead of striving to adapt to the situation with flexibility, has resorted to a hard-line stance that might lead it to act too harshly. It refuses to acknowledge that the Syrian variable might end up changing its superior position in the domestic balance of power, which it has obtained thanks to Syria's previous role, built on suppressing one group at the expense of another. This means that the party, up to know, is leaning toward believing its leading position in the current Lebanese domestic political formula as an acquired right, with no reduction in its domestic political weight by any change in the Syrian role. This is why Hezbollah has started warning its adversaries to not “think” that its power will decline, and that it will continue to benefit from the Syrian assistance that it has received in recent years, even if “changes” take place.
And this means that whatever the case, Lebanon is in for a hard time.
The writer is a columist and political commentator. This article first appeared in Dar Al Hayat on Dec. 9, 2011