By intervening in Syria, Hezbollah makes dramatic gamble

The New York Times reports: Fighting a pre-emptive war against foreign jihadists is not the usual mission for Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group best known for confronting Israel. So when its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, explained why he was sending fighters into Syria, he took care to remind his followers that they were not “living in Djibouti” but on the border of a country whose two-year uprising Hezbollah sees as a threat to its existence.

With its plunge into the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah is taking its followers in an unaccustomed direction, in a gamble that could help rescue it from that threat, bringing it new power and confidence, or end in a defeat with wide repercussions. Hezbollah is betting its prestige and security on the effort to crush a Syrian rebellion that is detested by Hezbollah’s Shiite Muslim base, but popular with the group’s Lebanese rivals and with much of the Sunni majority in the wider Arab world.

Hezbollah’s biggest stake in the conflict is the same as that of its ally, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad: survival. The group relies on Syria to provide a conduit for arms from its main patron, Iran. Preserving that flow is a matter of life or death for Hezbollah, as its leaders have made clear.

Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, which it long played down, has gradually come out into the open as the casualties mount. In the past month, as the group began helping the Syrian Army sweep villages surrounding the strategic town of Qusayr in an effort to connect Damascus with government strongholds on the coast, 141 fighters have been killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that tracks the violence through contacts in Syria. Of those, it said, 79 have died in the past 10 days, a number in accord with counts by researchers tracking Hezbollah Web sites.

To justify the unexpected new sacrifices it is asking from its followers, Hezbollah has framed the risky intervention in Syria as crucial to safeguarding its avowed core missions: challenging Israel, empowering its Shiite community and protecting Lebanon. But if it fails, by Hezbollah’s own assessment the fallout could jeopardize all three of those missions. That would leave the group weakened, with bridges burned at home and abroad, amid growing fears of a regional war between Sunnis and Shiites. [Continue reading…]

AFP reports: Iran has opened two lines of credit totalling $4 billion to Damascus and expects to open up a third to counter the effects of an international embargo, Syria’s central bank said on Monday.

“Iran continues to support Syria, by opening one line of credit worth a billion dollars to finance the import of different items and another line of credit worth three billion dollars to finance the purchase of petrol and associated products,” central bank governor Adib Mayale said, quoted in the government daily Tishreen.

He said Iran was considering an additional loan totalling another $3 billion to bolster the struggling Syrian economy, which is dealing with the economic impact of a war and international sanctions.

In January, Syrian state news agency SANA said Iran and Syria had signed a deal that would see Tehran extend a billion-dollar line of credit to Damascus.

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