Hezbollah’s strained alliance with Assad

The New York Times reports: Mazen, a carpenter who organizes protests against President Bashar al-Assad in a suburb of Damascus, Syria, has torn down the posters of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, that once decorated his car and shop.

Like many Syrians, Mazen, 35, revered Mr. Nasrallah for his confrontational stance with Israel. He considered Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group and political party, as an Arab champion of the dispossessed, not just for its Shiite Muslim base but for Sunnis like himself. But now that Hezbollah has stood by Mr. Assad during his deadly yearlong crackdown on the uprising against his rule, Mazen sees Hezbollah as a sectarian party that supports Mr. Assad because his opponents are mainly Sunnis.

“Now, I hate Hezbollah,” he said. “Nasrallah should stand with the people’s revolution if he believes in God.”

Mr. Nasrallah’s decision to maintain his critical alliance with Syria has risked Hezbollah’s standing and its attempts to build pan-Islamic ties in Lebanon and the wider Arab world.

Though Hezbollah’s base in Lebanon remains strong, it runs an increasing risk of finding itself isolated, possibly caught up in a sectarian war between its patron, Iran, the region’s Shiite power, and Saudi Arabia, a protector of Sunni interests in the Middle East. Its longtime ally, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, has distanced itself from the Assad government, moving its headquarters out of Damascus, and Sunni revolutionaries in Syria have explicitly denounced Hezbollah as an enemy. At home, its Lebanese rivals sense a rare opportunity to erode its power.

In a delicate adjustment in the face of these new realities — and the resilience of the uprising — Hezbollah has shifted its tone. In carefully calibrated speeches last month, Mr. Nasrallah gently but firmly signaled that Mr. Assad could not crush the uprising by force and must lay down arms and seek a political settlement. He implicitly acknowledged the growing moral outrage in the wider Muslim world at the mounting death toll, obliquely noted that the Syrian government was accused of “targeting civilians” and urged Mr. Assad to “present the facts to the people.”

Behind the scenes, Mr. Nasrallah personally tried to start a reconciliation process in Syria early in the uprising and is now renewing those efforts, said Ali Barakeh, a Hamas official involved in the talks.

“He refuses the killing for both sides,” said Mr. Barakeh, the Beirut representative for Hamas.

Mr. Barakeh said that Mr. Nasrallah visited Damascus in April of last year and briefly persuaded Mr. Assad to try to reach a political solution, with Hezbollah and Hamas acting as mediators. But as Hamas began reaching out to fellow Sunni Muslims in the opposition, the plan was scuttled by the Syrian government.

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One thought on “Hezbollah’s strained alliance with Assad

  1. osama

    Shia/Sunni split is the narrative pushed by the Saudi/Qatari media machine, apparently with great effect, judging from the responses of the mechanic in the above piece. Is that what’s happening in Syria? Or is the the NYT pushing the same spin?

    The piece reveals nothing new, at least to people who have been paying attention. What we are witnessing is the same process we witnessed in Iraq twice before, short of Mr. Assad handing in his resignation, nothing the Syrian government could do will change the response from the enemies of Syria.

    The lies told before the launching the third Gulf War, were so potent, that you still have a majority of Americans believing that WMDs were found after the war ended and almost a decade has passed.

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