Why would Hezbollah accept 1400 fighters killed and several thousands wounded over 3 years of war on numerous Syrian fronts? Is it the result of a strong bound or a strategic alliance?
Who is Hezbollah: From 1982 until 1992, Hezbollah was completely different from Hezbollah after 1992 to-date. The Shura council (Majlis Shura al-Qarar) and military leadership (later known as Majlis al-Jihadi) have changed from the one known today. There were different factions and loyalties. The “Origin of Hezbollah” will be covered in another chapter. For simplicity, even if inaccurate, I shall use the term “Hezbollah” for the initial 10 years of its existence.
Hezbollah and Syria: The relationship between Hezbollah and Syria started long ago but was neither strategic nor constructive. On the contrary, Syria tried its best to destroy Hezbollah in the 80s, when the organisation was still very young. The first contact between Syria and Hezbollah in 1982 was not direct but happened through Iran when the Islamic Republic sent a large contingent to Syria, establishing itself in Zabadani, Syria, and in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It remained as such for many long years. More details under “the Origin of Hezbollah”.
According to a Hezbollah commander, since the start, President Hafez Assad did not allow Hezbollah to receive specific weapons from Iran that were “balance breaking” even if designated to fight Israel. Arms used to reach Damascus airport, were off-loaded by the Syrians and delivered to Hezbollah, after inspection and selection.
Syria saw in Hezbollah a threat to its long strategically planned presence in Lebanon and defined its fighters as a “bunch of outlaws and rebels”. Therefore, the Syrian political leadership considered receiving destructive weapons could create a menace as these could potentially be used, one day, against the Syrian Army in Lebanon. Moreover, Assad wanted to keep a certain balance between his relationship with the United States of America and Iran at that time.
I travelled to Lebanon in 1981 to cover the Palestinian organisations where I met Yasser Arafat, Salah Khalaf, Farouq al-Qaddoumi and different Palestinian leaders, in the area of al-Jamea al-Arabia in Beirut where PLO had one of its main HQ. In 1982, the Israeli invasion came as a surprise while I was learning more about the various groups involved in the Lebanese civil war. The invasion was key to understand the birth of “Hezbollah”. Since the borders with Lebanon were confined with Israel from the South and with Syria from the North and the East, Damascus was the only way out or in the country from where Hezbollah received its support from Iran or to travel outside the country. The road through Damascus was a necessity. But the contact between Hezbollah and Syria was not easy, neither very friendly since the beginning
Syria pushed its forces into Lebanon as part of the Arab Deterrent Force, an international peacekeeping force created by the Arab league following a Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) Summit in Octobre 1976, to halt the civil war. Syria had decided to stay in the country and didn’t pull out until 2005. Syria spread its forces from the North, to the East in the Bekaa Valley, going through the capital Beirut and until Saida, in the south of Lebanon. Damascus controlled all key figures and institutions in the country, promoting leaders and dismissing others. No group was allowed to stand and operate without its consensus.
The Fathallah Barracks: The relationship between Syria and Hezbollah was difficult because Hezbollah was under Iran’s not Syria’s orbit. It became bloody in 1986, when Mustafa Shehadeh, a Hezbollah responsible of Beirut sector then, arrested 12 Syrian soldiers and their officer in west Beirut. Shahadeh, who had his office in Nuweiry where I met him the first time with his deputy Ihab, humiliated the soldiers by beating them up, shaving their heads and one side of the officer’s moustache before releasing them. Shehadeh burned the Syrian Army cars and warned them never to return again. Two month later, on the 26th of February 1987, Syrian soldiers entered western Beirut, positioned themselves in Basta area where Shehade had shown his strength, and killed 24 Hezbollah members. These were gathering on that Thursday evening to read a Shia prayer, Dua’ Kumeil, as done weekly. One Hezbollah among the total of 25, Mohammad al-Shami, was wounded in his hand and shoulder, and informed Hezbollah of the event.
The next day, on Friday, I took a taxi to visit the scene. The Syrian established a barrack in Fathallah where, on the right hand side, the building where the killing took place, and, on the left, a large parking and a building that was once Hezbollah prison and where some foreign hostages were kept under the ground. When I asked the Syrian soldier for information, it was clear from his reaction the tension was at its pinnacle.
In fact, on that same day, Imad Mughniyeh (IM), a known figurehead, gathered 400 men with the aim to kill the 120 Syrian soldiers stationed in the area, in order to avenge the 24. The attack was stopped as Iran used all of its influence to force Hezbollah to lift the siege. Tehran was cooler headed than the enthusiastic and young inexperience Hezbollah.
U.S. Col William Richard Higgins and Hezbollah: That was not the end of the tension, in 1988, U.S. Col William Richard Higgins was kidnapped while in a car, driving between Naqoura and Tyre. He was escorted by another United Nations’ car driving behind him. As he took a blind turn, several cars were involved, blocking intentionally the escort car behind, told me an eyewitness, enough for Higgins to be abducted. He was among tens of other hostages that were kidnapped by different organisations in Lebanon between 1985 until 1992 under what was known as the “Hostages crisis”.
AMAL and Hezbollah: The hostage’s crisis was a turn when the Syrian forces declared war on Hezbollah through A.M.A.L, the main and largest Shia movement of the time in Lebanon. Nabih Berri, the head of AMAL, ordered his military commander in the south of Lebanon Dawood Dawood to escalate against Hezbollah. Many were hunted down and imprisoned. The tension with AMAl was not new.
According to Hezbollah, AMAl was arresting anyone holding weapons and willing to fight Israel in the south of Lebanon. Israel warned that it would destroy any village or city if attacks were registered against its troops. AMAl endorsed the Israeli warning, accepted the Israeli equation and the will of Syria to eliminate Hezbollah. In fact, during the 1982 Israeli invasion to Lebanon, Israel allowed AMAl to keep its weapons because it was clashing with the Palestinians years before. AMAl was not the enemy for Israel but Israel was the enemy for Hezbollah. Syria wanted the south of Lebanon calm without clashes or lack of security.
Those who were in power for Lebanon, on the Syrian part, were the Syrian vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam and General Ghazi Kenaan, the Syrian head of the Intelligence service in Lebanon. They asked Berri to get rid of Hezbollah. They also have managed to convinced President Assad that “Hezbollah should disappear because it was an obstacle to Syria’ influence in Lebanon”. Thus, Syria declared war on Hezbollah.
Dawood Dawood arrested and imprisoned many Hezbollah members and some were executed. Hezbollah decided to respond. In Ouza’i, in the suburb of Beirut, on the road to the south, just 10 meters away from a Syrian checkpoint, Dawood Dawood and two other AMAL leaders, Mohamad Fakih and Hasan Sbeity were leaving Beirut. Several gunmen surrounded the car and opened the fire against them. One of the gunman, I was told by eye witness, jumped on the boot and emptied his AK-47 in the bodies. The inter-Shia war began.
End of part two.
See also Part I:
 The Origin of “Hezbollah: will be covered in another chapter.
 Encyclopedia Of The Palestinians: Biography Of Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad) http://www.palestineremembered.com/Jaffa/Jaffa/Story166.html
 PLO Official Speaks before the Fez Summit, Farouq al-Qaddoumi (Abu Lutf), Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 11, N.2 (winter 1982), pp.167-170.
Gaub, F., Lebanon’s civil war: seven lessons forty years on, European Union Institute for Security Studies, Alert issue 21, April 2015.