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Ex-Hezbollah leader decries group's position on Syria

February 29, 2016 at 1:21 pm

Former Secretary-General of Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement, Subhi Al-Tufayli, has called for providing support to the Syrian people against the Russian “invasion” of the war-battered Arab country.

After leading Hezbollah from 1989 to 1991, Al-Tufayli is now a vocal critic of the group’s current leadership, especially its policy on Syria.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Al-Tufayli urged Saudi Arabia to arm the anti-regime opposition in Syria instead of what he described as the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese army.

“Muslim countries must provide men, funds and weapons to support the Syrian people,” said Al-Tufayli, who helped found Hezbollah in 1982.

“The fight in Syria isn’t just one between Syrians, but of every Muslim against the Russian invasion,” he said.

Last September, Russia – a staunch supporter of Syria’s Assad regime – began carrying out airstrikes against the regime’s opponents.

Moscow says the air campaign is aimed at combatting terrorism in Syria, which has been locked in a devastating civil war since 2011 when the regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

According to the UN, more than 250,000 people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced since the conflict erupted almost five years ago.

Al-Tufayli lamented the support given by some Muslim nations to Russia’s military intervention in Syria.

“The Russians are bombing a Muslim nation; we as Muslims should not tolerate this,” he said.

The former Hezbollah leader added: “We’re described as extremists when we defend ourselves and our children against those coming from Moscow to kill us.”

Nationalist goals

Al-Tufayli went on to denounce Iranian support for the Assad regime.

“Iranian support has nothing to do with Islam. It’s only related to nationalist and expansionist goals,” he said.

“When Hezbollah decided to enter the Syrian war, [the group’s leadership] did not tell Hezbollah fighters that it planned to support Assad,” Al-Tufayli said. “Rather, they claimed that Shia villages and holy places [in Syria] were being attacked and that they must protect them.”

He went on to challenge claims that the Assad regime represented the Arab world’s “first line of defence” against Israel.

“The Syrian regime is guilty of committing crimes against Palestinians; it has betrayed the Palestinian cause,” he asserted. “It has nothing to do with the resistance [against Israel].”

Al-Tufayli also said that the Hezbollah leadership in Lebanon had initially opposed the group’s involvement in the conflict next door.

“Iranian directions, however, came down that Hezbollah must enter the war,” he said.

He also warned that Hezbollah would be the prime victim of any regime change in Syria.

“Hezbollah’s involvement in this war will have far-reaching consequences. Future generations will pay the price,” he said.

Arming Assad’s opponents

Al-Tufayli accused Lebanese state agencies of providing support to Hezbollah.

“I was puzzled to see Saudi Arabia providing support to the Lebanese army,” he said. “Any incoming weapons will be used in Hezbollah’s favour.”

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia cancelled a promised $3-billion grant earmarked for the Lebanese army and an additional $1-billion grant for the country’s internal security forces.

Saudi Arabia accuses Hezbollah of serving as a proxy for Iran and of hijacking Lebanese policy-making. Since 2012, Hezbollah has sent fighters into Syria to support the Assad regime, a close ally of Tehran.

Riyadh, meanwhile, remains one of Assad’s staunchest foes.

“Saudi Arabia should send the funds to the Syrian opposition to buy weapons to defend itself against the Russian invasion,” Al-Tufayli said.

‘New Mideast’

The ex-Hezbollah leader said the region was in the midst of a fierce battle in which certain parties strove to create a “new Middle East”.

“In Iraq, for instance, there are attempts to create competing Kurdish, Sunni and Shia entities with three [different] armies with US blessing,” he said.

“What’s strange is that Iran, the Kurds and the Shias are very enthusiastic for this,” he said, going on to criticise US support for Kurdish militant groups in Syria.

Al-Tufayli went on to commend the Turkish position on the Syrian conflict.

“Turkey is almost the only country whose interests are identical with Syria’s,” he said. “It serves Turkey’s interests to have Syria remain united.”

The Hezbollah leader went on to call on the US to respect Turkish interests.

“Regimes in the region have helped the Kurdish nationalists, who pose a threat to Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria,” he said.

Al-Tufayli accused the Kurds of implementing foreign agendas.

“They [the Kurds] can serve the Israelis, Americans or Russians,” he said.

He went on to urge all countries of the Middle East to close ranks “to prevent major powers from interfering in the region’s affairs”.

“The first step is to work toward creating a kind of federalism,” he said. “Any talk other than this will be meaningless.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.