We must read Hezbollah’s behaviour in the same manner we would any militia group that relies on a military balance it dares not break. The consecutive speeches made by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah might not necessarily be a true expression of his enthusiasm for the al-Assad regime – despite his fiery rhetoric – indeed this might be nothing more than a cover to justify his inability to take the required action to aid his Syrian ally.
To my mind, Damascus did in fact truly want Nasrallah to open a new front with Israel in Lebanon. We cannot forget that for the first time in 40 years since the signing of the ceasefire agreement in May 1974 – thanks to the efforts of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger – the Syrian regime dared to incite Palestinian organizations to carry out demonstrations along its border with Israel in the Golan Heights in the hope of diverting attention away from Deraa, Duma, and other Syrian towns which have joined the revolution. The attempt did not succeed because Israel was aware that this was nothing more than a Syrian trick. In an attempt to satisfy Damascus, Hezbollah also staged a similar theatrical act along the Lebanese borders with Israel however it ultimately does not want to get embroiled in a conflict with Israel, which might exploit any provocation to strike a blow against Hezbollah. Similarly, Hamas disappointed Assad and refused to open a battlefront with Israel, whilst Islamic Jihad refused to carry out any hostile operations targeting Israel. In the end, they all abandoned Assad.
I believe that the Syrian regime was furious over Hezbollah’s refusal to open a battlefront with Israel, thereby easing pressure on it and embarrassing the revolutionaries by placing them on the same side as the Zionist enemy. Despite the fiery rhetoric issued by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah strongly defending Assad, the organization has refused to confront Lebanese political forces that are sympathetic with the Syrian revolutionaries. Damascus believes that expanding the conflict will serve to embarrass the world since this would be interpreted as an expansion of a sectarian conflict involving the Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites and perhaps even the Christians. This would turn everything on its head; calls would be issued not just to save the Syrian revolution from the regime’s brutality, but there would also be calls for a peace plan to stop the fighting that would – at this time – be taking place on several fronts.
I assume that Hezbollah chose to support the Syrian regime by sending its brigades to supress demonstrations in the Syrian territories parallel to Lebanese territories. It is also supporting the Syrian regime with propaganda, and is in control of the Lebanese arena, ensuring that this does not become a rear-guard base for the Syrian revolutionaries. In this regard, it is being claimed that Hezbollah has carried out abductions and even killings, whilst it has also worked to protect certain areas of the country from Syrian opposition groups.
Hezbollah’s actions in this regard represent a response in kind to the actions taken by Damascus after Israel attacked Hezbollah in 2006, when Syria provided support from a distance but nothing more for fear of getting embroiled in a war with a stronger power, namely Israel.
Hezbollah’s speeches and threats are nothing more than a cover for its inability to do what is expected from it to support its Syrian ally whose very survival is under threat. Sending its militias to the Syrian quagmire is the only real support that Hezbollah has provided to its ally in Damascus. However this is a dangerous step because it exposes Hezbollah’s back amidst intensifying Israeli threats that it will strike Iran, and the expectation is that in this event, Israel would seek to strike Hezbollah at the same time.
The conditions in the region are becoming more complicated, and this is something that is not completely in the favour of the Syrian regime. Damascus believes these complications will increase its ability to prolong the Syrian crisis, but this is also something that will harm Damascus and its allies. We cannot rule out Israel taking this opportunity to destroy the capabilities of Hezbollah which is preoccupied with trying to save Assad’s regime. Following a destructive campaign like this, the prediction made by Sheikh al-Tufayli would come true, namely Hezbollah forming an alliance with Israel in Lebanon in the future. This is something that would be possible if there were extremist Sunni groups that were pressuring Hezbollah or if the group weakens to the extent that it would be strengthened by reaching an understanding with Israel. It would mean the end of the war, at last.
The writer is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on March 3, 2012