Portuguese / Spanish / English

Hezbollah's calculations

At the end of January, Israeli occupation forces in the south of Lebanon came under attack by Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance movement. Two days later a piece in the Washington Post revealed that the CIA had been behind the 2008 assassination of  Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah's top military commander.

Several commentators speculated that the timing of the story was a deliberate message from the Americans to Hezbollah that it is still willing to engage in warfare against them. Hezbollah had long blamed Israel for the car bombing that killed Mughniyah. While the Post article confirmed Israeli involvement, the overall picture painted is of a joint US-Israeli operation in which the US was the senior partner.

While the article did rely on former US intelligence sources, it seems unlikely that its timing had anything to do with the resistance operation in the south. The long piece was clearly some time in preparation, relying as it did on multiple sources and interviews, including with Israeli officials.

The Post's national security correspondent Adam Goldman's article makes for an interesting read, but should be viewed with scepticism, considering its sources. It really in no way deviates from conventional wisdom, and leaves readers with some questionable conclusions and impressions.

Taking his narrative from his US spy sources, Goldman gives a list of attacks against US and Israeli (and one Argentinian Jewish) targets that the US and Israel allege Mughniyah was behind. It apparently did not cross the author's mind to question this. In fact, several of the attacks took place before Hezbollah was officially formed as a group in 1985. And Hezbollah officials emphasise this as the year of their founding, partly as a way to distance themselves from earlier attacks on US targets (the 1983 bombing attack on a US Marine barracks in Beirut, for example).

Under Nasrallah's leadership the movement had made sure that its military operations have been solely devoted to its war against Israel. Mughniyah's fame amoung the movement's supporters in Lebanon and Syria is as the military commander who led Hezbollah to victory in its successful campaigns of guerilla warfare, driving Israel and its puppet militias out of most of south Lebanon in 2000, and halting the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006.

In recent years, Hezbollah has gotten involved in the civil war in Syria, something which critics say is a diversion from its project of resistance to Israel. But the movement rather sees it as an existential issue. The anti-government armed rebel groups in Syria are dominated by sectarian fanatics who have an extremist, twisted interpretation of Islam, strongly influenced by the wahhabist doctrine favoured by the Saudis (hence the vast amounts of Gulf cash they have received over the last few years). These groups have expressed extreme hostility to Hezbollah in nakedly sectarian terms.

Furthermore, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has for years been a strong supporter of Hezbollah, allowing imports of Iranian weapons to pass through its territory and onto Lebanon. The rebels currently fighting the Assad regime, along with their political allies in the Syrian exile opposition, have long signalled that would come to an end were they to be victorious.

So for both those reasons, Hezbollah considers that its military effort in Syria in support of the government is a fundamental issue. Hassan Nasrallah's speech last week once again confirmed this.

In the speech, Nasrallah also attempted to portray the two military campaigns as strongly interlinked: that is to say that Hezbollah's war against the takfiri rebel groups in Syria is, in a way, part of its overall resistance project against Israel.

Nasrallah emphasised the increased recent reports that Israel is fostering links with armed rebels in Syria – even with al-Qaida-affiliated group the Nusra Front. He claimed that Nusra Front is a "natural ally" for Israel.

The movement is probably emphasising this connection in order to regain some of its lost popular support in the wider Arab world (its popular support in Lebanon has not really suffered) since its Syria intervention.

While Israel and al-Qaida finding themselves in the same war trench may have seemed unlikely to many a few years ago, the reality on the ground today seems very different. The Syrian civil war has thrown together the unlikeliest of allies. After all, to the extent that both the US and Iran are at war with ISIS, the so-called Islamic State, one could say they are also both in the same trench.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

Show Comments
Show Comments