Rumors are circulating that Lebanese-based terrorist group and political party Hezbollah is debating whether or not to stop supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad in the ongoing war in Syria. Publicly, Hezbollah has not been open about any military support of the Alawite ruling party, and it is only recently that the media has directed any attention to the issue. The rumors of withdrawing support haven’t been confirmed or denied, but their existence indicates a trend—Hezbollah is feeling vulnerable and becoming more cautious.
In early October, the Free Syrian Army (fsa) captured 13 armed Hezbollah militants in full uniform. There are also reports of a steady stream of militia casualties returning back to Lebanon from Syria. Hezbollah originally denied allegations of providing military aid to President Assad in his crackdown against the rebels, but in the face of recent events, it has become increasingly more difficult to hide its involvement. The fsa has threatened to bring the battle to Beirut if Hezbollah doesn’t back down in Syria.
Assad has been accused of atrocities and human rights violations against his people during the struggle to put down the current rebellion. Hezbollah, the self-described “Organization of the Oppressed,” has waged an aggressive social campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Lebanese people. Throughout Lebanon it runs or heavily subsidizes multiple hospitals, clinics and schools, as well as providing support to local farmers and financial aid to the poor. But its support of Syria in its current civil strife has cast a shadow across the humanitarian reputation it’s been working to build. Now it is facing criticism at home from those who feel that supporting Assad is a hypocritical move on Hezbollah’s part.
Hezbollah appears to still maintain a strong hold over Lebanon, but it is facing pressure from within. It is still supported by the Shiite majority, but March 14, its Sunni rival, is increasingly more willing to speak out against it.
According to Al Akhbar, nicknamed “Hezbollah’s newspaper,” the previous Lebanese ruling party, Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, has allied with al-Jamaa al-Islamiya—none other than the Lebanese branch of the Muslim Brotherhood—both of which are Sunni groups. The Future Movement falls under the March 14 umbrella: a group of political parties that are in opposition to Hezbollah, but so far have not been able to organize or gain enough momentum to cause a power shift. But the possibility of a power shift is now the greatest that it has been since Hezbollah essentially gained control of the government. Support from the Muslim Brotherhood will serve to encourage March 14 to increase its opposition.
Hezbollah may weaken its stance in Syria in order to protect its interests in Lebanon. It is facing increased opposition politically and will have to stop sending mixed messages to the Lebanese people if it doesn’t want to further embolden its political opponents.
The intelligence think tank Stratfor predicts that if Syria’s regime falls and the country becomes Sunni-led, Hezbollah will have to integrate itself further into the Lebanese political system in order to survive. If that scenario comes to pass, nations with regional interests like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and the United States will likely put pressure on the organization to disarm. Further integration with the Lebanese military and intelligence establishments would provide legitimacy to the militia in the eyes of many.
According to Stratfor’s analysis, “Hezbollah has faced pressure to disarm over the past decade, but it will have a much harder time resisting this pressure without a strong ally in Damascus protecting its interests in Lebanon. A possible solution to this dilemma would be Hezbollah’s formal integration into the official Lebanese security and intelligence apparatus .… In other words, Hezbollah’s fights become Lebanon’s fights.”
The other scenario that Stratfor foresees is the possibility of Syria splitting into two autonomous entities—a divided nation. If the current instability leads to civil wars in both Syria and Lebanon, Shiites and Alawites (the current ruling sect in Syria) could join together and carve out a “contiguous Alawite-Shiite mini-state.” Stratfor indicates that Hezbollah appears to have already prepared for this contingency.
Sectarian violence breaking out in Lebanon, compiled with the situation in Syria, would further destabilize the Middle East. According to the prophecy in Psalm 83 (read “A Mysterious Prophecy” for further explanation), Lebanon and Syria will ultimately not be allied with Iran, but with more moderate nations like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been increasing cooperation with each other and other Sunni states in an attempt to combat the growing Iranian hegemony in the region.
Lebanon is dominated by Shiites for the moment, but if Hezbollah continues to weaken in the face of opposition at home and complications in Syria, the power may shift to the Sunnis, adding one more nation to the prophetic Psalm 83 alliance. ▪