Hassan Nasrallah’s hold in Lebanon hangs in the balance. Hezbollah’s fighting in Syria gives Iran an essential role that the West prefers it didn’t have.
A mini-civil war has been taking place in Lebanon over the past week. Its focal point is the city of Tripoli, in the area between Jabal Mohsen, home to a Shi’ite majority, and Bab al-Tibbaneh, which has a Sunni majority. To date, 30 people have been killed in this war and some 240 wounded. This isn’t a new war – it erupts at varying intensities once every few years. But this time it’s different.
The active involvement of Hezbollah forces in Syria’s civil war enraged Lebanon, both among its top officials – such as President Michel Suleiman, who suggested that the militant group fight its traditional enemy, the Zionists- and within the general public. This wasn’t the main cause for the fighting in the northern part of the country, however. But when rockets are fired from the Beirut area toward Hezbollah’s stronghold in the southern part of the city, the country is exposed to a threat that may not be controlled.
Nasrallah is waging an existential war with a main front in Syria, but if President Bashar Assad falls, Hezbollah will find itself not only without a clear weapons supply, but also confronting two difficult fronts: A Sunni-Syrian state, and Israel. Hezbollah’s alignment with the Assad regime is not just a favor or mission on behalf of Iran; likewise, the struggle in Qusair, close to the border with Lebanon and constitutes a major weapons supply route, is also not a tactical operation.
Hezbollah’s political hold in Lebanon hangs in the balance. Its war in Syria currently lacks a legitimate basis, i.e. the struggle against an external enemy, which has heretofor guided Hezbollah’s actions against Israel. Hezbollah is not protecting Lebanese citizens and the enemy is neither external nor an occupying force on Lebanese territory; Hezbollah is not protecting holy Shi’ite sites and worse, it is fixing Lebanon into a war that could end in its political and economic demise.
There is currently no power in Lebanon that can prevent Hezbollah from fighting in Syria. The Lebanese army barely operates in the Beqaa area, the clashes in Tripoli are out of control, and the next phase may reach the streets of Beirut. The only entity that can stop Hezbollah is Iran, who Russia is hoping will join the international conference that is taking place in Geneva next month. It appears as if the United States doesn’t have sufficient footing to stop Iran’s participation – especially considering its expected role in convincing Assad to adopt a diplomatic track- and in light of its ability to stop Lebanon’s deterioration.
Hezbollah’s continued struggle in Syria and the tensions in Lebanon are providing Iran with an essential role, much more important than that of Arab countries, in managing the crisis. As far as Assad is concerned, the Hezbollah he is accustomed to controlling is becoming a major independent factor in and of itself in the developments in Syria, and is currently determining the political weight Iran can have.
Under these circumstances, it is doubtful whether Hezbollah is interested in opening a new front against Israel and providing it with legitimate cause to strike its bases in Lebanon and its forces in Syria. Such a front will serve neither Iran nor Syria. But the fragile and sensitive situation developing in Lebanon could lead other entities in Lebanon to try to “enlist” Israel against Hezbollah by firing rockets or missiles into its territory (in anticipation of Israel’s automatic response).
Although Israel has hurled threats at Syria and even seems to have operated within its borders, it must still carefully examine the sources of attack against it, to avoid involving itself in a war in which it is not the target.
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