By: Fidaa Itani/Now Lebanon
When the war is over, the “era of victories” will have come to an end yet again
Hezbollah did not manage to achieve victory in the Qalamoun battles. Rather than scoring a decisive victory in Yabroud following the fall of Qusayr, it invaded this Syrian town, leading thousands of Islamist and non-Islamist Syrian fighters to deploy in the highlands and into the Lebanese highlands. They thus threatened sensitive Hezbollah positions and depleted its fighters in long and harsh guerilla wars fought in a rugged area they know well. They ultimately occupied Arsal, and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) had to negotiate and seek a settlement with them.
Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is no longer the most popular figure in the Arab world and among Muslims worldwide. In fact, he lost the support of hundreds of millions of people due to narrow-minded sectarian calculations, as he invested himself as a hired gun so as to preserve a past epitomized by the Syrian regime and prevent the progress of life which took the shape – in 2011 – of a generalized popular uprising in the Arab world. In so doing, Nasrallah sided with the most backward of Arab forces, namely Arab regimes, whether those whose rulers have been toppled, are moribund and terrified that the fire of Arab revolutions will reach them, or those that would rather fight the Islamic State (IS) than hear screams of “the people want to bring down the regime.”
In addition to losing the popularity he gained through resistance against Israel, Nasrallah also lost irremediably the legend known as “the end of the era of defeats and the start of the era of victories.” Either that, or the man’s credibility is going through a serious crisis.
In 2012, Nasrallah took to justifying the death of several Hezbollah fighters in Syria by claiming that they were fighting on an individual basis to defend Lebanese residents of Syrian towns, rather than in Hezbollah-sponsored patterns. Yet since mid-2011, Hezbollah had been training thousands of Lebanese and Syrian youths in several combat camps. Leaked obituaries for fallen fighters whose families refused to remain silent mentioned that Hezbollah operatives had died “while on jihad duty.”
Hezbollah and Nasrallah later gave their intervention in Syria a clear label – namely, protecting the Sayyidah Zaynab shrine. As Hezbollah operatives deployed in the area, heated battles erupted with local Syrian youths who targeted the area simply because Hezbollah was stationed in it.
In 2013, the party expanded the slogan justifying its intervention, now claiming that it aimed to protect holy shrines in general, announcing – albeit unofficially – that it was intervening in several areas. Such announcements took the shape of party-controlled leaks so that it would not have to either divulge or deny information. It then became clear that Hezbollah was involved in fighting from the governorate of Aleppo to the governorate of Damascus, going as far as some areas in the governorate of Daraa.
Once again, Hezbollah modified its political slogans, saying that it was aimed at preventing the fall of the Syrian regime and had been the last to intervene in the Syrian war, as Nasrallah declared towards the end of 2013. Nasrallah repeatedly invoked this idea. Indeed, the party had long accused other parties of interfering in Syria, including the Future Movement, the Salafists in the north, and residents of Arsal or other areas. The purpose was always to justify the Party’s fighting in a foreign country.
Hezbollah subsequently added to its slogans the claim that its intervention in Syria was merely preemptive war. It argued that it was fighting takfiris there before they came “to fight us” and Nasrallah asserted that the Lebanese would, one day, thank him for it.
As the bodies of more and more young men who had fought in Syria came back, they brought with them the news of how harsh it was to fight there and to bring down towns controlled by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or Islamist fighters. But none of Hezbollah’s slogans have been achieved so far.
Nasrallah has lost all the credit he had accumulated over a long struggle against Israel on the Lebanese political scene. After three years of fighting in Syria, it turns out that the man was preparing his supporters with a rhetoric that drowned them in the Syrian war, drowning Lebanon along with them. Hezbollah thus went from individual fighters rushing to defend Lebanese villages in Syria on a personal basis to military mobilization, estimated by some specialized services at 15,000 field fighters and some 30,000 others in Lebanon as backup for their comrades fighting all over Syria. The Party managed to convince its supporters to overlook this huge difference in less than two years.
Hezbollah groups were able to protect the villages mentioned by Nasrallah, albeit at a heavy cost of lives. But they put Lebanese security in danger, especially in those regions where Hezbollah bases and sympathizers are to be found.
Furthermore, protecting holy shrines prompted several massacres in adjacent regions, as well as increased Sunni-Shiite animosity. Party leadership actually sought that animosity to help mobilize its supporters and urge them to take part in the fighting.
The third slogan Hezbollah was unable to put into practice was preventing the fall of the Syrian regime, which has practically been the case since the first days of the Syrian revolution. In fact, all that remains of it are restructured military and security services. Whether Hezbollah and its secretary general like it or not, any solution in Syria will have to take the shape of a foreign political settlement in which the Syrian regime and people would stand to lose the most.
The greatest defeat Hezbollah is promising to his public takes the shape of the confrontation with takfiri forces. Indeed, the party’s continuous incitement naturally extended to media affiliated with it, and has exacerbated Sunni popular mobilization in general. One result, among others, has been Sunni support shifting from the Future Movement to Jabhat al-Nusra, which along with other Syrian fighting groups, has crept quite close to Hezbollah’s long-range missile outposts in the Lebanese highlands. Saad Hariri has had to return to Lebanon toting $1 billion as a Saudi donation to unify the Sunni ranks “as best as possible.”
Hezbollah has forgotten two important lessons, the first of which was from Iraq. Iraqi Sunnis were promised that they would be involved in the political process in 2007 and they liquidated Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s organizations themselves, even though they had sponsored them for more than three years.
By allowing the party to be dragged into the Syrian quagmire, Nasrallah also forgot a lesson he himself had taught the Israelis in the 2006 July War. The secret reason the Israelis were politically defeated was because they adopted a high-pitched political rhetoric and put forward slogans that could not be realistically achieved unless they paid a huge toll in human lives, a price politicians in Tel Aviv were reluctant to pay at the time. Today Nasrallah is brandishing slogans for each period in Syria, but he certainly has no control over the human or political costs needed to achieve victory over the Syrian people – or the takfiris, as he would rather refer to them – despite what he has promised his supporters.
The takfiris are multiplying proportionately to the number of Hezbollah fighters dispatched to Syria. Nasrallah’s promises are self-contradictory and he has once again been cornered into adopting increasingly heated political rhetoric and high-pitched slogans. Yet his public will discover one day that they have entered a 1,000-year war and that it will not end anytime soon, at least not during the lifetime of its discredited secretary general. When the war is over, the “era of victories” will have come to an end yet again.