Hezbollah has been a major player in the Middle East for many years. The Iranian-founded and backed terror group has held sway in southern Lebanon for more than 20 years. They are powerful and well-organized, with far-reaching political, as well as military – ambitions. With that in mind, perhaps Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad should fear Hezbollah more than the Syrian opposition.
The forces opposing Assad in the Syrian struggle for power are fractured and seemingly unable to garner firm support from anyone in the outside world. The United States appears uncertain and even though powers in Europe seem to be cautiously getting behind the rebels, fears linger about the true motives of those who seek to overthrow Syrian strongman Assad. What should be most troubling to the West is the opposition’s ties to al-Qaeda and also it’s subservience to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Neither of these two organizations are potential allies to the United States and Europe. Additionally, neither of them will be future partners in peace with Israel.
Hezbollah, which was founded and organized Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in order for them to fight a proxy war against the occupying Israeli forces in Lebanon, is – seemingly – a natural ally to the Syrian President; Like him, they are shi’a and determined to prevent the Sunni opposition from taking control in Damascus.
As the Lebanese government discovered, however, there is a heavy political price to pay for Hezbollah’s assistance. After the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 1990, Hezbollah’s ally, Syria, became virtual proxy rulers over their neighbor and Hezbollah itself became a virtual state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon.
Now that several thousand Hezbollah fighters are in Syria and already taking a toll on the fractured rebel forces, Bashar-al-Assad may be wondering if he should fear Hezbollah more than his Syrian opposition. It is starting to be reported that Assad is gaining the upper hand, but is it he who is gaining momentum or Hezbollah – and, by extension – Iran?
Without determined intervention by the western powers, it seems likely that the once resolute and successful opposition will crumble. Those doing the fighting on the ground have little loyalty to the political arm of the Syrian opposition. The political arm itself is also split between two major camps; the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, on the one hand, and a coalition of democratic politicians on the other. Even among those battling Assad’s army, there has been a string of skirmishes and tit-for-tat kidnappings.
The seasoned Hezbollah forces have taken advantage of this and appear to have tipped the balance back in favor of the Syrian President. More direct U.S. intervention will lead to a direct diplomatic confrontation with Russia – which is now reported to be openly arming Assad. Although Assad may come out on top, after all, he will not really be on top: His grip on Syria is forever weakened. Hezbollah will demand a share of the spoils; their fighters will not simply sling their weapons and trudge back across the Lebanese border. Assad may well find himself the symbolic head of a Hezbollah government.
For the U.S. and Europe, the Syrian conflict is a conundrum. Should Assad fall, then the country will be under the control of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. It could likely become a new home for al-Qaeda. If Assad prevails, he will be at the virtual beck and call of one of America’s – and Israel’s – most implacable foes in the Middle East. With his once tenuous hold on power now recovering with each passing week, Assad, were he a wise man, would look to the future and realize that, perhaps, he should fear Hezbollah more than the Syrian opposition.
Written by Graham J Noble