Hezbollah: The International Community’s Sole Concern

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A Lebanese woman waves Hezbollah's flag in Dahiyeh, Beirut's southern suburb, on February 16, 2015. Al-Akhbar\Haitham Moussawi.

By: Hiyam al-Qusayfi

Published Thursday, March 5, 2015

With an array of crises sweeping the Middle East, the “global community” is no longer taking much interest in Lebanon. Only Hezbollah continues to draw international attention, due to its expanding role in the region.

Lebanon has been supplanted on the international agenda by other more dangerous arenas. Think tanks and strategy centers have lost interest in the country’s issues since its security situation reached a stalemate. The Lebanese presidency, parliamentary consensus, or the work mechanism of the Council of Ministers are no longer international concerns. Only nearby arenas evoke Lebanon: security threats associated with the Syrian refugee crisis or military movements on the border.

While Western stakeholders have become weary of procrastinating Lebanese officials, their interest in Hezbollah has grown with the party’s regional clout. According to an inside source, much talk in Western diplomatic circles is about Hezbollah’s role and involvement in the conflict in Syria; its potential ability to make an effective contribution in Iraq; its relationship with Israel, Bahrain, and even Bulgaria. Much of this chatter has been devoted to Hezbollah's role in ongoing conflicts and wars — particularly in Iraq and Syria. This has intensified with the the battles in southern Syria, where Hezbollah will certainly play a role in any potential future settlements.

Like it or not, Hezbollah is a feature of the Middle East’s new political landscape. It is an important ally in one of the two axes of power taking shape in the region: the Iranian axis, with implicit Russian support and a strategy extending to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon; in opposition to the Saudi-Gulf-Jordanian-Turkish axis, now trying to forge a pragmatic alliance after the Saudi tripartite system took power in Riyadh in the wake of King Abdullah’s death.

In the past few weeks, the latter regional axis — particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey — has been working to reintroduce the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Middle East, all the way to Tunisia – and to support its reemergence in the face of fundamentalist groups and the Iranian axis, which is expected to extend to strategic points including Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Ahead of a prospective US-Iranian agreement, Saudi Arabia has reconsidered its recent policies, which have resulted in changes to the regional map. That meant learning from previous mistakes in Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia, and so formulating a new strategy. Restoring the Muslim Brotherhood as a regional power is a pivotal component of this policy, and should help govern the relations between the countries of the region – between Turkey and Qatar on one hand, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the other. This mutual concern has been expressed by politicians and the media in the two latter countries. The Egyptians are worried about a potential revival of the Muslim Brotherhood with Saudi support, which represents a turnaround from late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz’s policy toward post-Muslim Brotherhood Egypt.

The new axis has shown itself particularly in Yemen, and in Aden’s transformation into a “capital” for the groups backed by Riyadh, versus Sanaa as a capital for the Huthis. That said, it is too early to predict how the new axis will take shape, especially as it is now seeking to establish a clear identity and regional policy, ahead of a potential US-Iranian agreement, as well as the global fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). However, the main challenge to this axis remains the growing presence of Iran, to whom Washington seems to have “delegated” the task of confronting ISIS, in conjunction with the aerial campaign launched weeks ago against the group in Syria and Iraq.

The ground operation – promoted from Tikrit by the Iranian-friendly media, through the display of pictures of General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, in an attempt to assert its strong presence against ISIS in the Iraqi province of Salahuddin before launching a similar battle in Anbar province – has begun.

Amidst the battle in southern Syria – where Iran is fighting openly alongside Hezbollah, and without any international objection, to drive away ISIS and al-Nusra Front – a new regional scene is taking shape, in which Washington sees a balance between two powers in the Middle East: one Sunni and another Shia.

Lebanon’s only presence on that map is due to Hezbollah and its intersecting role between two axes: the first axis seeing the party as a dangerous threat equivalent to ISIS, while the second axis relies on it to formulate a strategic line extending from Iraq to the Mediterranean.

With the US-Iranian agreement approaching – and despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s high-pitched tone at the US Congress on Tuesday – the level of disagreement between the two axes and its regional ramifications has yet to be seen. At least, both parties have so far kept Lebanon out of the conflict.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Saudi Arabia's choice to counter Iran influence is limited. Either it supports the Salafi extremist movement with the risk of being ostracized by the West and get a spill over on the kingdom, or to favor a revamped version of the Moslem Brotherhood tightly controlled by Turkey and Qatar.
It seems that Saudi Arabia is opting for the second choice.
It is now investigating this new approach. The visit of Erdogan in KSA is significant. Yet the success of this strategy is heavily dependent on the military power the Moslem Brotherhood could get in Syria if Al Nusra converts from extremist to 'moderate' under Qatar's proposal. The killing of A Shami may be part of the Qatar's effort to reliminate the Al Qaeda presence within Al Nusra before rebranding it under a different name as 'moderates'.
The goal in Syria would still be to topple Bashar al Assad and install a Moslem Brotherhood ruling under the tight control of the Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. The Western community, terrified by ISIS will accept this with enthusiasm.

Iran has always been in favor of the Moslem Brotherhood as it carried high hopes in Morsi's government. It is therefore interesting to see how it will deal with this new development and how this will affect its involvement in Syria and its relation with Hezbollah. Will it force Bashar al Assad to include elements of a revamped Moslem Brotherhood elements in a new government? How would it deal with the Sunni block made of the GCC and Turkey?
In the next few months we would see if this strategy would work..

If Lebanon doesn't want to become a footnote in the book of history, it should devote all its efforts to making Hezbullah the legal ruler, via its Shia majority, which supports Hezbullah as the defacto government, gaining access to voting power by removing Christian privileges in Parliament via Article 24. Compared to, say, Saudi Arabia, where there is no foundation for the rule of law except in the theology and philsophy books, Lebanon has everything it needs and one thing it must get rid of: racism. Racism is the false belief that you can divide humanity into races by extraneous factors like ethnicity, religion, length of fingernails, etc., and then treat your various categories as if they were livestock and you were the farmer. Patriarch al Rahi obviously believes that he is some sort of superior human being compared to the majority of Lebanese who are Shia, so that he may say that equality means that his quarter of the demographic slice is equal to their half of the demographic slice, so that one of his Christians is worth two of these Shias (in terms of Article 24's reservation of half of Parliamentary seats to Christians, so-called).

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