[Marxism] Hezbollahs Plunge Into The Syrian Abyss - By Randa Slim | The Middle East Channel

Jeff meisner at xs4all.nl
Mon May 27 15:49:45 MDT 2013

Excellent article. For those of you who don't wish to hand over your 
personal information to Foreign Policy magazine, here is the full text:


Foreign Policy Magazine
Tuesday,   May 28,   2013

Posted By Randa Slim  Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 1:10 PM   

 Hezbollah built its legitimacy fighting Israel. On April 30, Hezbollah's 
Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah admitted publicly for the first 
time what was until then an open secret in Lebanon's Shiite community that 
Hezbollah was fighting in Syria, with the objective of preventing the Assad 
regime's fall. Hezbollah's decision to plunge into the Syrian abyss is a 
potential turning point in Hezbollah's trajectory since its founding in the 
early 1980s and might prove to be the undoing of the monopoly Hezbollah has 
so far enjoyed over Lebanon's Shiites. 

 Partly this is because the Shiite community of today, which Hezbollah calls 
on to fight, is different from that of the 1990s when Hezbollah and other 
Lebanese political groups waged the war of liberation in the south of 
Lebanon and eventually forced Israel to withdraw from villages and towns it 
occupied. Since then, mainly thanks to Hezbollah and Amal, Shiites have been 
on an ascending course of political and economic empowerment. There is a 
significant Shiite middle class that now has a stake in a stable and secure 
Lebanon where economic conditions are conducive for business and investments. 

 While Hezbollah has successfully cultivated the cult of the martyr among 
its fighting force, this cult is not necessarily shared in the Shiite 
community writ large including those who are considered political supporters 
of Hezbollah though not part of its fighting manpower. In a way, the success 
Hezbollah has achieved in delivering to the Shiite community the political 
empowerment they promised them stands to serve as a limiting factor to 
Hezbollah's long and protracted engagement in the Syrian civil war. 

 Moreover, Hezbollah cadres have been involved in Lebanese political life 
since 1992. While Hezbollah entered politics mainly to protect its weapons, 
the party now includes a sophisticated cadre of political operatives who 
have grown to appreciate and master the art of retail politics. While the 
founders' generation which makes up the Shura Council, Hezbollah's 
decision-making cell, remains committed to the resistance raison d'etre, the 
younger tiers in the party's numerous political, administrative, and social 
organs see in politics a means to achieve other party objectives, which are 
of equal importance to the armed struggle.  

 Finally, Hezbollah enters this new front in Syria after a series of 
self-inflicted wounds, which they suffered as a result of a string of 
corruption scandals of which some of their senior officials and their 
relatives have been accused. This has also put some daylight between the 
leadership and the families of those who are now being called on to fight 
and die in Syria. Around Dayieh, Beirut's southern suburbs, the expensive 
cars that relatives (especially wives and daughters) of party officials 
drive are striking. Often, people joke about these cars. They murmur about 
the expensive apartments in which party leaders live and they ask from where 
they got all this money. Hezbollah's image of a resistance movement led by 
leaders who are not corrupt and who engage in selfless behavior is not there 
anymore. Hezbollah's public has a more jaded picture of the party and its 
leadership. The more sacrifices this public is asked to deliver the more it 
will feel it has the right to raise questions about the endgame in Syria. 

 In the short-term, Hezbollah needs not worry about a rebellion in its 
midst. Two factors serve as mitigating factors. First, Hezbollah still 
enjoys a deep reservoir of goodwill among the majority of Shiites. As many 
supporters told me, "Nasrallah and Hezbollah delivered on every promise they 
made." "They promised to rebuild Dahieh after the 2006 war and they did." 
This reservoir will not be exhausted anytime soon. A major component of this 
reservoir is the personal trust the majority of Shiites have in Nasrallah. 
Having lost his son in the war against Israel, he can speak from a place of 
authenticity to the families whose sons are now being called to fight in 
Syria. This kind of authenticity in a leader is almost unchallengeable and 
very hard to compromise. A second factor is the discipline of the Hezbollah 
fighting force. Similar to a regular army, the fighters will go to battle 
when they receive their orders to do so. 

 In the long-term, if Hezbollah cannot achieve a clear-cut victory over the 
Syrian rebels as Nasrallah promised on May 25, there is a risk that the 
goodwill reservoir might start to thin. Being engaged in a civil war on a 
foreign, albeit a neighboring land, is a different fight from dying 
defending your village, family, and honor against an Israeli occupier or in 
a war with Israel as was the case in 2006. While Nasrallah is correct in 
arguing that people on the outside do not understand Hezbollah's resistance 
and its social milieu, I would argue that Hezbollah leaders might in the 
future be forced to rediscover that same milieu. 

 Hezbollah's Syria narrative has evolved along with the party's deepening 
military involvement in Syria. On May 25, Nasrallah admitted that his party 
and operatives had been involved in Syria for months. The nature of 
Hezbollah's role in Syria evolved along with its calculus about President 
Bashar al-Assad's survival chances. The bomb that killed four senior Syrian 
military and security officials in July 2012 marked a turning point in that 
calculus. Prior to that, Hezbollah's assessment was that the war in Syria 
was going to be long, the opposition was too weak and disunited to defeat 
Assad, and Assad had enough firepower, manpower, and control over his 
military and security apparatuses to deny the armed opposition a victory. 

 After the bomb struck at the heart of the Syrian regime, Assad looked 
vulnerable. The decision was made to shift from what was until then an 
advisory and a training role to a more active fighting mode. Soon after, 
funerals for young men who died in Syria started being held in 
Shiite-majority villages in Hermel and in Dahieh, Hezbollah's stronghold in 
the Beirut southern suburbs. Initially, a wall of silence was imposed on 
these funerals, whose number was small in the beginning. Families were asked 
not to say where their sons died and how. Since April 30, when Nasrallah 
made the first public admission about Hezbollah fighting in Syria, the wall 
of silence on Hezbollah's fallen in Syria has been lifted. While it is hard 
to ascertain Hezbollah's death toll in Syria, funerals are now being held 
almost on a daily basis in Shiite-majority towns and villages around Lebanon. 

 As Hezbollah's role deepened in Syria, its narrative shifted accordingly. 
The challenge facing Hezbollah leadership was how to shift the narrative 
about the war in Syria from what was initially perceived as a political 
choice in support of a long-standing ally to a war of necessity to protect 
Shiites. The last three speeches by Nasrallah were about making this shift. 
In the latest version of Hezbollah's Syria narrative, the threat facing 
Shiites from the jihadi-takfiri groups in Syria is existential, equal to the 
Israeli threat. The war in Syria is a war of pre-emption that has been 
imposed on Hezbollah by the takfiris and their political and financial 
backers in Israel, the United States, and the Gulf countries. Fighting these 
groups in Syria is not only needed to safeguard Shiite interests, it is also 
being waged to protect all Lebanese. This last twist on the narrative is 
addressed mainly to the Christian supporters of Michel Aoun, Hezbollah's 
principal ally, who have been lukewarm about the prospects of deeper 
Hezbollah engagement in Syria and in opening a new front with Israel in the 
Golan Heights. 

 So far, Hezbollah's constituency has bought into this narrative. Based on 
conversations I have been having for the last three weeks with Hezbollah 
supporters in Beirut's southern suburbs, it seems the mood prevalent inside 
the Shiite community is of feeling caught between two threats: Israeli from 
the south and takfiri-jihadi from the north and east. Most people feel 
trapped in what they now believe is an irreversible course of action in 
Syria. Now that Hezbollah is fighting in Syria, it must commit all it 
possesses to secure a military victory otherwise the enemy (which for 
average Shiites now includes mainstream Free Syrian Army and Salafi-jihadi 
groups) will come to their doorsteps. As one Hezbollah supporter told me, 
"Do you want us to wait until the takfiris come to our homes and pull our 
hearts out of our chests?" 

 That Lebanese state institutions are almost in a state of collapse does not 
reassure the average Shiites who still remember the years of neglect and 
abandonment by their state institutions when their southern villages were 
being bombarded and then occupied by Israel. Even if Assad were to fall, 
many people argued, Hezbollah and its weapons will be the only means to 
protect them and their families.  

 Two factors have helped Hezbollah in its mission to frame and monopolize 
the Syria narrative. The first factor includes videos and threats coming out 
of Syria. One video seemingly showed a rebel fighter pulling the heart and 
lungs out of his enemy soldier, and another showed Jabhat al-Nusra fighters 
shooting 12 Syrian soldiers at short range. Additionally, Free Syrian Army 
commanders have leveled threats such as that from General Salim Idriss who 
called Nasrallah a "criminal" and warned him on February 21 " we know how to 
get you," affirming the existential nature of the fight in Syria. The videos 
and statements are referred to over and over in conversations I have been 
having in Beirut's southern suburbs. A second factor cementing Hezbollah's 
hold over the framing of the Syria narrative is the absence of a credible 
Shiite counter-narrative to Hezbollah's about the conflict in Syria and what 
should be done to deal with the real and legitimate threats to the Shiite 

 While there are few "independent" Shiite voices questioning Hezbollah's 
decision to drag the Shiite community into the Syrian civil war these voices 
which hail mostly from the religious, academic, and civil society spheres, 
remain isolated from each other. Their support inside the Shiite community 
is limited. They have been mostly discredited in the eyes of the majority of 
Shiites mainly because of their funding sources (mostly Western and Gulf) 
and their political affiliation with the March 14 camp. It has always been 
the case that a serious challenge to Hezbollah's political and military 
supremacy in Lebanon can only come from within its Shiite base. So far, none 
of these independent voices amounts to a serious challenge to Hezbollah's 
leadership monopoly. 

 Syria is a different fight than the ones in which Hezbollah and its 
constituents have engaged in the past. Hezbollah is fighting people who are 
defending their villages and families -- a position it knows well since it 
is the same position Hezbollah was in when it was fighting the Israelis in 
the 1990s and in 2006. It is a new type of war for Hezbollah and it is still 
not clear how Hezbollah, its fighters, and their families will be affected 
by it. As a result, it is hard to ascertain the Shiite community's endurance 
threshold. How many deaths will it take before people start asking questions 
whether this has been a just war? When will the first mother in black who 
has already lost one son fighting in Qusair refuse to send her second and 
third sons to fight in Rif Dimashq? Time will tell. 

Randa Slim is a research fellow at the New America Foundation and a scholar 
at the Middle East Institute. 

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