Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mideast Media Sampler 8/20/13: Hezbollah Targeted by (Other) Terrorists -- But That Won't Stop Them In Syria

by David Gerstman, contributing blogger at Legal Insurrection

Why Hezbollah takes a shine to the shrine

It took a while but a few weeks ago the European Union designated Hezbollah’s “military wing” to be a terrorist organization. There is some speculation as to why the EU took the action, but it seems likely that Hezbollah’s support of Assad was a major factor.

About the same time the Gulf Cooperation Council didn’t split hairs and designated the all of Hezbollah a terrorist organization. A big part of that is that the Gulf states are Sunni and are concerned about being future targets of Hezbollah and its sponsor Iran.

As noted last week, in blowback that was inevitable, a car bomb exploded in a Hezbollah controlled area of Beirut.

The New York Times reported Deadly Blast Rocks a Hezbollah Stronghold in Lebanon:
There were no credible claims of responsibility, but many here saw the bombing — and a similar attack nearby last month — as spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria. Hezbollah has become increasingly involved there, sending fighters to back President Bashar al-Assad against the predominantly Sunni rebels seeking his overthrow. That involvement has enraged Sunnis in both countries, and many said they suspected that extremists among them had used the blasts to strike back.

“It was clear that this was an attack on Hezbollah,” said Moussa Ghamloush, 54, who was standing outside his restaurant, around the corner from the blast site. He had been in the kitchen when the explosion “shook the earth” and sent glass flying.

“This is all because of the fighting in Syria,” Mr. Ghamloush said, accusing Al Qaeda and an extremist Syrian group linked to it, the Nusra Front.

The next day, though, Hezbollah was undeterred from its foreign adventure. The New York Times followed up with Hezbollah Makes Vow to Step Up Sunni Fight:
Addressing the attackers, Mr. Nasrallah insisted the bombing had not affected the group’s position. “If you think that by killing our women, by killing our children, by killing our innocents,” enemies will make Hezbollah stop aiding the Syrian government, “you are wrong,” he said.

In fact, he said, such attacks would lead Hezbollah to double the size of its forces in Syria, where, he said, they were fighting takfiris, or extremists, who consider all but those who follow their school of thought heretics.

“If this battle with these takfiri terrorists requires that I and all of Hezbollah go to Syria, we will go to Syria,” he shouted.
Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, doubles down on Syria

Hezbollah gained legitimacy in the Arab world by leading the “axis of resistance,” in other words, the fight against Israel. Now that its main targets are Sunnis in Syria it has lost that credibility. Additionally with hundreds of troops fighting in Syria it can’t even claim that it is defending Lebanon. Perhaps that’s why Hezbollah publicized the explosion that injured four Israeli soldiers last week and why, on Friday, they were celebrating their 2006 war with Israel. Hezbollah, now, is mostly acting a proxy for Iran and it needed to reclaim its anti-Israel credentials.

Last week, however, Hezbollah didn’t just suffer a setback on its home turf, it lost a major player in Syria. According to reports, one of Hezbollah’s leading commanders was killed near Damascus.
“Hezbollah military commander Hossam Ali Nisr, aged 33, was buried on Saturday. He was defending Sayyida Zeinab,” which houses a Shiite shrine southeast of Damascus, “when his group was attacked and he was killed,” one resident told AFP, without giving a date. …

The report of Nisr’s killing comes after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said he was ready to go to Syria to fight extremists he accused of staging a deadly car bomb attack last Thursday in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a bastion of his movement.

Whatever the setbacks, Hezbollah is not deterred. According to a piece in Asharq al-Awsat, Hezbollah goes all in, the likely reason Hezbollah is committed to fighting on behalf of Assad, is to protect its supply lines from Iran. But Hezbollah doesn’t describe its involvement in such narrow terms:
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Vera Yammine, a prominent figure in the Marada Party (part of the March 8 Alliance), says that “involvement”—Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria—has a negative connotation. According to Yammine, Hezbollah’s actions are about “defense,” not “involvement.” The decision was taken “not only in defense of religious shrines, but in defense of Lebanon in the shadow of repetitive threats by many,” and also for the sake of “the entire axis of resistance.” By way of example, she mentions Abdul Halim Khaddam, a Sunni Muslim who was vice president of Syria until he fled the country in 2005, who said the Free Syrian Army “will enter Lebanon and remove Hezbollah.”
This is why the Hezbollah has developed the narrative that its fighters are defending the Sayyida Zaineb shrine, it’s a cause many Shi’ites sympathize with while masking its more selfish motivation.
Don’t expect its recent setbacks to dissuade Hezbollah from continuing to fight for the brutal Assad regime.

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