May 31, 2013
by Avi Melamed
Since late 2011, I have been outlining a scenario in which Hezbollah in Lebanon would find itself in a violent confrontation with a Sunni Syrian-Lebanese crescent (links to articles on the subject are at the bottom).
These very days – right in front of our eyes – it is happening…
On Sunday May 26 three rockets were fired at Al Dahya Al Janobiya in the southern quarter of Beirut – the capital of Lebanon. As many of you may remember from my article Inside Hezbollah’s Private Dominion (February 2012), Al Dahya Al Janobiya is the major stronghold of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The attack on Hezbollah’s stronghold is not a surprise. Syrian rebels and Lebanese Sunnis have been warning Hezbollah ever since it entered Syria – if you don’t remove your forces from Syrian territory and you don’t stop shooting rockets on Syrian cities – we will target Hezbollah centers in Lebanon.
Over the past few weeks threats and ultimatums have turned into actions. First, rockets were launched from within Syria on the city of Al-Harmal, Hezbollah’s major stronghold in northeastern Lebanon. Al-Harmal is a critical center for Hezbollah activities, operations and logistics – housing weapons, training facilities, command centers, etc., it is also the organization’s major logistical base from which Hezbollah militants make their way into Syria.
Undeterred by the attack on Al-Harmal, on May 19 Hezbollah, together with Assad’s forces, launched a massive attack on the Syrian city of Al-Qusayr, pounding the 25,000 residents of the city with artillery, rockets and air power. Yet, as relentless as the shelling has been, Hezbollah and Assad’s forces have not yet been able to take over the city. Read more about Al Qusayr in Pay Attention to the Battle over Al-Qusayr in Syria (October 2012) and The Syrian Stalingrad (May 2013).
The scenes of the ruined city of Al-Qusayr and the mounting civilian casualties triggered the rocket attack on Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut. The message is clear: Al Dahya Al Janobiya as punishment for Al-Qusayr – an eye for an eye.
Who specifically launched the rockets on Hezbollah’s stronghold Al Dahya Al Janobiya? Formal spokesmen of the major Syrian rebel umbrella organization – the Free Syrian Army – deny their involvement in the shooting. According to unconfirmed information, the rockets were launched from Palestinian refugee camps in the area of Beirut. That is very possible. Read more about this issue in my article Clashes in Ain al-Hilweh – a Palestinian Refugee Camp in South Lebanon (March 2013).
Here is a quote from that article: “…According to unconfirmed information, Sunni-Jihadist militants recently entered Lebanon and are preparing the ground to launch attacks on Hezbollah targets and personnel inside Lebanon. Allegedly, some of these groups’ militants are based in Ain al-Hilweh Camp…The incident in Ain al-Hilweh is a reflection of the war in Syria. This incident could potentially intensify the tension between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon and specifically between the Sunni-Jihadist groups on the one hand and the Shiite-Hezbollah on the other hand.”
Hezbollah is sinking in the Syrian mud. Accumulating reports indicate that hundreds of Hezbollah militants have been killed in the war in Syria. According to unconfirmed information attributed to a senior Hezbollah militant who reportedly defected – 365 Hezbollah militants have been killed and more than 1000 wounded- 400 severely – in the war in Syria. This information should be taken with a bit of a grain of salt since the alleged Hezbollah militant quoted is identified with an opposition group within the Hezbollah party – a Lebanese Shiite group which is opposed to Nasrallah and his policies. Nonetheless, the figures quoted by this person are apparently not so far from the reality.
As Hezbollah’s fatalities in Syria grow every day, feelings of discontent are beginning to percolate among its core supporters and senior religious and political Shiite leaders in Lebanon are now openly criticizing Nasrallah, arguing he is dragging Lebanon and the Shiites towards catastrophe.
But Hezbollah can’t pull out of Syria because they are instructed by their master – the Iranian regime – to save Assad’s regime in Syria at all costs. And the more Hezbollah sinks in Syria, the more they find themselves on a collision track with a revengeful Sunni crescent that stretches from Syria into Lebanon. As long as Hezbollah stays in Syria attacks on its centers in Lebanon are inevitable.
Whether the attack on Hezbollah’s stronghold was conducted by Syrian militants who infiltrated Syria, Lebanese local Sunnis, or Palestinian Salafi Jihadist groups in Lebanon, Hezbollah is almost powerless to deter further attacks:
Hezbollah can’t threaten to attack within Syria if they’re attacked by the rebels – because they are already attacking the rebels.
Hezbollah can’t risk opening a broad confrontation with Sunnis in Lebanon while they’re bleeding in Syria.
Hezbollah also can’t risk a confrontation in Lebanon with the Palestinians. For the time being, major Palestinian organizations in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon – Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad – are doing all they can to distance themselves from being involved in any Sunni-Shiite collision in Lebanon. Furthermore, they are putting pressure on Palestinian Salafi-Jihadist groups not to launch or perpetrate attacks on Hezbollah.
The current policy of these major Palestinian groups serves Hezbollah well. Therefore, Hezbollah has no interest in initiating a confrontation with the Palestinians in Lebanon. In fact, Hezbollah is walking the extra mile to express good will towards the Palestinians. Hezbollah is providing goods and commodities to the Palestinian refugees who are flee from Syria to the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon (a phenomenon Hezbollah is partially responsible for since Syrians are fleeing the violence and bloodshed and desperate situation in Syria). Hezbollah, fearing a change in the status quo with the Palestinians, is also keeping the lines of communication with the major Palestinian organizations in Lebanon open and flowing.
However, the current relationship between Hezbollah and the Palestinians in Lebanon is quite fragile and all parties are aware and concerned that the situation could violently explode in an instant. Should a broad Sunni-Shiite collision break out in Lebanon the major Palestinians organizations will not be able to continue to sit on the fence for very long…At some point – even if against their will – they will have to take a side – and they’re not likely to choose Hezbollah. Therefore, Hezbollah can only hope that such a scenario will not unfold.
Hezbollah seems to be on a dead end street and this is a major source of concern for its patron – the Iranian regime. Hezbollah in Lebanon is one of the most valuable strategic assets of the Iranian regime. Hezbollah is the platform that gives the Iranian regime a foothold in the Mediterranean Sea. Hezbollah is a major bargaining chip the Iranian regime uses in its negotiations with the West regarding Iran’s nuclear military project. And Iran has poured billions of dollars, manpower and assets into building and strengthening this valuable and obedient proxy.
As of today Hezbollah is on a dangerous track. Hezbollah may find itself bleeding on two fronts simultaneously – Syria and Lebanon. Such a development could present a real strategic threat to Hezbollah and to its master – the Iranian regime.
Should Hezbollah face such a threat, this will force Iran to directly intervene to save its major proxy. To that end – and as a last resort – the Iranian regime may drag Israel into to a war. However, the ramifications of such a move may very well be counterproductive to the Iranian regimes strategic interests:
A war with Israel will cause Hezbollah grave damage. It will leave the organization badly beaten and at the mercy of the Sunni-armed crescent – and they will show no mercy. The Iranian regime will have to watch its major proxy and powerful strategic card disappear into thin air…
A war with Israel risks a massive reaction which could jeopardize the strategic assets of the Iranian regime within Iran.
In May 2000 following the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, Nasrallah made a speech known as “The Spider Web” speech, arguing that Israel is a weak spider web doomed to be torn apart.
As of May 2013, Hezbollah finds itself on a dead end street – and its master, the Iranian regime may soon also find itself in a similar position.
History definitely takes interesting turns; the rockets launched at Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut thirteen years after Nasrallah’s “Spider Web” speech, indicate that Hezbollah and its patron are caught in the web they spun.
Here is a complete list of my articles most relevant to this story
May 23, 2013 – The Syrian Stalingrad
October 24, 2012 – Pay Attention to the Battle over Al-Qusayr in Syria
October 11, 2012 – Mysterious Blasts as Hezbollah Sinks in the Syrian Mud
October 2, 2012 Most Senior Hezbollah Figure in Syria killed
August 23, 2012 – Nasrallah is Sending a Message…but to whom?
July 15, 2012 – Hezbollah Sunni Tension Rises
June 21, 2012 – Nasrallah Gets a Taste of his Own Bitter Medicine
February 25, 2012 – Is War in the Middle East Inevitable?
February 14, 2012 – Inside Hezbollah’s Private Dominion
August 23, 2011 – Thugs that use Honey-Dripped Words