Hezbollah: Why Hezbollah is in Syria and until when (1)?
24th of February 2014
Iran Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khaminei described Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria and its effect as follow: “Hezbollah has changed destiny. Hezbollah held the regime from falling and is turning the course of the battle from a great defeat into a path of victory regardless of looses”.
This is a strong statement about the involvement of the Lebanese Hezbollah organisation in the war in Syria, with reference to “changing the course” of the ongoing battle and the long awaited Imam Mahdi in Shia ideology (though not explicitly clear in Khamenei’s statement), with Iran’s blessing.
But why is Hezbollah is in Syria and until when? What did Khamenei mean by “Hezbollah has changed destiny”? Whose destiny? Is it only Assad’s destiny?
Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria in support of the Syrian regime was considered by the organisation a survival necessity for itself and for the regime, and this is still true. In 2013, the battle in Syria reached Sahat al-Abbasiyeen, the heart of Damascus. Until that date, President Bashar al-Assad had refused any participation of Hezbollah beyond the front of Sayyeda Zaynab (the sister of one of the 12 Shia Imam Husein Ibin Ali Ibin Abi Taleb and grandson of the Prophet Mohammed), in the suburb of Damascus, a holy shrine for the Shia. The rebels and Takfiris have bypassed another holy shrine, Sayyeda Ruqay’ya, occupied it and were at a demarcation line with the sayyeda Zainab’ shrine. The shrine itself was shelled and Hezbollah fighters, protecting its surroundings, started to suffer casualties.
Assad called the leader of Hezbollah, Sayed Hasan Nasrallah in March 2013. The meeting between the two men was not rare. A secure landline has been created between them and the contact was regular. This is when Assad was in urgent need of an immediate meeting. He wanted Hezbollah’s full involvement in the war.
Nasrallah, before travelling to Iran to meet sayed Ali Khamenei after his meeting with Assad, asked al-Majlis al-Jihadi, the highest military authority in the organisation, to study the military situation in Syria with the Syrian military commanders. Such an access, now encouraged and authorised by Assad himself, was not permissible until that date.
Nasrallah was in need of religious cover for all his men who are expected to die or remain injured. According to Hezbollah Shia doctrine of Welayat-al-Faqih, Nasrallah needed a religious Fatwa from a higher cleric to whom he has declared loyalty to his doctrine.
By that time, the military commanders in Hezbollah were shocked by the outcome. “Are you asking us to intervene now that Jabhat al-Nusra and other rebels are in Damascus? said a Hezbollah high-ranking commander to Nasrallah, not to decline his instructions but to explain the gravity of the situation. The decision was made and the blessing was given: Hezbollah must consider fighting the Takfiris as a priority higher than fighting Israel. The Takfiris had declared war against the Shia, men, women and children, while Israel was in war against Hezbollah.
Hezbollah’ objective to intervene was not only to save the regime. Hezbollah’s intervention is both ideological and existential. To sum up in Hezbollah’s words: “It is a religious duty, a continuity of military supply, a support to an ally in the “resistance axis”, a protection of its supporters in Lebanon from terrorist acts, a backing for its presence as a main player, a balancing element in the struggle against Israel and finally a war quoted in the prophecy to stop the slaughtering of the Shia in Bilad al-Sham, Jabal ‘Amel (Lebanon) and until the final battle in al-Koufa (Iraq).”
Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria has not worsened the sectarian violence in Lebanon but has accelerated its timing and brought it into the surface. A sectarian struggle in Lebanon was expected to trigger extreme violence between the years 2004 and 2005. It was delayed due to the Israeli war in 2006 but seems difficult to avoid at a certain point. For Hezbollah, fighting the Takfiris in Syria is less costly than facing these in Lebanon, and above all, in Shia controlled areas if they were to win in Syria and to control it.
End of part one
Written on the 24th of February 2014. Revised on the 25th of January 2016.