Hezbollah’s expanding role in Syria

The National reports: In response to a blast that claimed the lives of 22 in the middle of the Hizbollah-controlled area of southern Beirut, Hizbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, delivered a fiery speech, rife with threats. The bombing was clearly intended to send a message to Hizbollah that Mr Nasrallah could not leave unaddressed.

Mr Nasrallah has vowed to avenge attacks against his followers. As expected, he blamed the Dahiyeh blast on Takfiris, a term usually applied to Sunni Islamists who cast other Muslims as apostates, but commonly used by Hizbollah to describe all of Syria’s rebels.

One of the most significant points Mr Nasrallah made was: “If we have 1,000 fighters in Syria, they will become 2,000, and if we have 5,000 fighters in Syria, they will become 10,000.” Disregarding the numbers, this statement does have some validity, since the group and its Iranian-backed Shia militias have been increasing their presence in Syria. If anything, the bombing’s real accomplishment has been to give Hizbollah a further excuse for expanding its presence.

It should not be forgotten that when Mr Nasrallah publicly admitted his party’s involvement in Syria, he proclaimed that defeating “US and Israeli-backed Takfiris” in that country is one the organisation’s primary goals. During his May 25 speech, Mr Nasrallah clearly stated: “We today consider ourselves defending Lebanon, Palestine and Syria … As I used to promise you victory always, I promise you victory again.” It should come as little surprise that if the group is pushing for absolute victory in Syria, it would require further deployments to that country.

Since June, there has been gradual increase in Hizbollah and Shia militia presence in Syria. Following Hizbollah’s large-scale intervention in Syria during the battles in Qusayr, battles that some in the group celebrated as a “victory” akin to “defeating” Israel in 2006, Hizbollah tended to downplay announcements of its activities there. Compared to May, when the group had public funeral after funeral and public acknowledgement of their activities in Qusayr, the current silence has had the added bonus of deflecting western attention from Hizbollah’s activities.

In Hizbollah’s media, the familiar anti-Syrian rebel and pro-Assad tone has continued. Nevertheless, the group’s rather extensive combat and support actions in Damascus and Homs were downplayed. Instead, armed engagements by Mr Al Assad’s army were covered by Hizbollah’s media. Hizbollah’s support for Mr Al Assad’s forces received little to no mention. For the western press, which utilises limited assets devoted to tracking Hizbollah’s moves, the silence and message-reorientation implied decreased or hazier levels of Hizbollah’s involvement. [Continue reading…]

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