Hizbullah's Unspoken War in Syria

(Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah - The fighting in Syria has already spilled over the border into Lebanon, threatening the fragile sectarian balance holding the country together. Cross-border attacks have become customary, with the Syrian Army shelling and shooting into Lebanese villages that it says are harboring Syrian rebels. Across from El Hermel in northeastern Lebanon and inside Syrian territory, a string of villages inhabited by Shiites has been clashing with majority-Sunni villages that back the Syrian opposition forces in the countryside of Qusayr, on the outskirts of Homs. Hizbullah is interfering directly and militarily in Qusayr under the pretext of protecting the Shiite villages in the area. It currently claims control of 18 villages along the widest part of the Orontes River Basin. The French Mandatory authorities delineated the Lebanon-Syria border in the years following the creation of Greater Lebanon in 1920, but the border was never finalized. What is happening on the ground could be called de facto demarcation since Hizbullah has a presence in the Shiite string of villages (annexing them de facto to Lebanon), while the Free Syrian Army is present in most Sunni villages, thus annexing them to Syria. Hizbullah appears to be carving out a 20-kilometer (12-mile) border corridor to the Syrian Alawite enclave on the coast. Hizbullah appears to be seeking to control strategic access to the Orontes River Basin in Syria and Lebanon to form a contiguous Alawite-Shiite mini-state. Yet the Shiite belt would likely face a major challenge from Sunnis on both sides of the border. For the first time, Hizbullah is "exporting" its military know-how and might for use against Arab neighbors, in order to respond to Tehran's strategic scheme to protect the Assad regime from falling. But by doing so, Hizbullah has alienated the Sunni majority in Syria and also in Lebanon. It would be fair to assess that in case Assad's regime falls, Hizbullah will also have to fight for its life in the Lebanese context. Hizbullah has been fighting for years to prove its "Lebanese" credentials. Fighting alongside the Alawite regime has turned Hizbullah back into what it really is: just another Lebanese armed militia, a Shiite army at the service of its patrons, sponsors, and protectors in Tehran. Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.

2012-10-24 00:00:00

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