Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Hizballah, the Jihad in Syria, and Commemorations in Lebanon

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Hizballah, the Jihad in Syria, and Commemorations in Lebanon

Article excerpt

HIZBALLAH AND THE SHI'I MILITIAS IN SYRIA: CUI BONO?

The involvement of Hizballah in the Syrian civil war has become one of the most wellknown basic facts about the conflict. The group's intervention inside Syria first gained widespread public attention in the battle for Qusayr in Homs province-bordering Lebanon-in late May 2013, clearly playing a leading role ahead of the regular Syrian armed forces. Though the battle eventually resulted in defeat for the rebels, it came with a great number of casualties for Hizballah. The most notable subsequent campaigns for Hizballah in Syria have included clearing out rebel strongholds in rural Damascus province, such as Nabk and Yabroud, fighting in East Ghouta areas like al-Mliha, clearing out the rebels from Homs city, and the long-standing attempt by the Assad regime to encircle Aleppo city and destroy rebel forces by siege. However, it is erroneous to presume that Hizballah had not been involved in Syria prior to Qusayr: Rather, it should be dated to at least one year before Qusayr. Already prior to that engagement, proHizballah media sources had openly proclaimed "martyrs" who died during the "undertaking of [their] jihadi and religious obligation in defending the site of Sayyida Zaynab-peace be upon her-in confronting the terrorist takfiri gangs."1

The phrasing here to describe deployment to Syria is not repeated word-for-word every time a new Hizballah "martyr" is announced, but more or less the same themes are used: Namely, (i) the Hizballah fighters are engaging in an obligatory defensive jihad, above all for the Sayyida Zaynab shrine in Damascus,2 and (ii) they are fighting "takfiri" forces-that is, Sunni extremists who denounce as disbelievers/apostates others who profess to be Muslim, particularly those of non-Sunni sects like the Shi'a. These forces are also portrayed as a threat to Lebanon itself, not wholly without justification, considering that in Sunni jihadi discourse Lebanon is regarded as a part of al-Sham (greater Syria) and the same battlefield as the Syrian jihad. Indeed, some Lebanese Sunni jihadists have taken the opportunity to expand into Syria, which could allow them to grow in strength and conduct more sophisticated operations inside Lebanon in the future.3

As of the time of writing, the Hizballah involvement in Syria continues unabated (the most recent prominent front being the Qalamoun area and the town of Zabadani bordering Lebanon) and was reaffirmed in a speech in late May 2015 from Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who is playing more than ever on an ostensibly non-sectarian narrative of the growth of the Islamic State [IS] as a threat to all: "This is not a danger to the resistance in Lebanon; this is not a danger to a specific sect or part of a specific sect; this is not a danger to the regime in Syria or the government in Iraq or a group in Yemen. No, this is a danger to all."4 Invoking the example of Sunni tribesmen and insurgent groups in Iraq who initially coordinated with the Islamic State (IS) last year but were then subjugated in the face of demands by IS, he warned that being silent about or ignoring the threat of IS and Jabhat al-Nusra would not save one from being targeted by them, claiming that Sa'ad Hariri's Future Movement would be "the first victim" of this jihadist threat.5 Nasrallah also spoke openly of Hizballah involvement throughout Syria in support of regime forces, even in areas one might not associate with the group's presence, such as Dayr al-Zur and Hasakah in the east of the country.6

Beyond the direct role of supplying fighters to participate in combat operations, Hizballah has also had an important part in establishing and coordinating the wider Shi'i jihad in Syria, which has now expanded its recruitment pool to include a contingent of Pakistani Shi'a fighters known as Liwa Zaynibiyoun.7 Hizballah's role as coordinator and advisor in the wider jihad fits in with its status as the chief proxy of Iran in the region, necessitating the preservation of the Assad regime to keep together the core of the Iranian-led "resistance" bloc. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.