Op-Ed: Hizbullah and the Syrian Civil War
The reported presence of thousands of Hizbullah fighters and tens of thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria to protect President Assad and his regime means that Iran has made a strategic commitment not to lose Syria.
That means that Syria will not follow the example of Libya.
Backed by Iran and Russia, Hizbullah will not allow Assad to be deposed, hunted down and assassinated, nor will they allow a potential massacre of Alawites and supporters of Assad. This emphasizes the importance of Hizbullah in Syria and the role it will likely play in any future settlement and government.
There will be no NATO/US military action in Syria, as there was in Libya. But, as the US and Europeans support the Syrian rebels diplomatically and supply them with arms, Hizbullah’s presence in Syria is a game changer that should prompt policy rethinking.
With Hizbullah fighting alongside the Alawites, it will be impossible for the rebels to defeat Assad, and sooner or later the rebels will understand that they must make a deal which will allow for power-sharing and the protection of Alawites and other minorities. The Kurds, who have created a virtually autonomous region, will likely follow the path of the Iraqi Kurds.
Hizbullah is the critical element in such a deal -- which will not only end the civil war, but ensure Hizbullah's place in Syria -- similar to its role in Lebanon.
As part of a new Syrian government, Hizbullah will be protected and legitimized. Backed by the EU, it will enjoy international support despite its involvement in terrorist attacks around the world, drug trafficking, etc. With a significant presence in Syria and Lebanon, the US will probably reconsider its relationship with Hizbullah.
Fragmented among various factions, a new Sunni-backed Syrian government will be weak and no match for the more disciplined, organized and well-funded Hizbullah. Backed by “democratic” elections, Hiezbullah will gain legitimacy and a political role which will give them a chair at the diplomatic table.
A renewed Syrian-Lebanese axis under Hizbullah will provide Iran with a huge land base from which they can extend their influence in the region and lead the fight for every inch of “occupied Syrian territory “ (according to the international community) – the Golan Heights.
A new radical Islamist Syrian government will focus on a return of the Golan to Syria as a way of building national cohesion. Their efforts will be primarily diplomatic and media-oriented, intended to further isolate and condemn Israel. Guerilla terrorist incursions and missile attacks, however, should be expected as part of a campaign to ‘liberate land stolen by Israelis (Jews).’
Israel’s northern border, therefore, will become “hot,” like that with Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Since Iran supports Hamas and Hizbullah, it is logical that the organizations are working together. Although it’s unclear what Egypt’s position will be in a growing confrontation with Israel in the north, one would expect at least approval if not active support. Egypt could, for example, allow Hizbullah units to work in the Sinai, along with Hamas, to create a second front in a conflict. It’s a nice fit with Moslem Brotherhood interests.
Along with Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) and eastern Jerusalem, the Golan Heights will be on the negotiating table. This sets up a stand-off that cannot be resolved without Israeli capitulation. Even Israeli politicians, like President Shimon Peres, who advocated relinquishing the Golan, would be hard-pressed to make that argument again.
The unpredictable danger in a future Syrian government that includes Hizbullah is the massive stockpile of chemical and biological weapons which remain unsecured and still available to President Assad and his regime. Presumably, these WMD would also be available to any future government and perhaps splinter groups and non-governmental rogue actors.
The failure of the international community to eliminate this threat is at least on a level of allowing Iran to achieve nuclear capability. It can and must take responsibility for removing WMD from Syria.
Hizbullah’s role in the Syrian civil war is ominous. Supporting Syrian rebels will have a short-term effect of prolonging the crisis, but will not end it. Only when a stalemate is reached and the sides exhausted will the stand-off conclude in some form of political compromise.
As the recent terrorist attack in Bulgaria shows, however, the danger of Hizbullah is not limited to its presence in Lebanon and Syria. Supported by Iran, it is a world-wide terrorist organization capable of attacking anywhere and anytime. Ironically, it is also the key to resolving the Syrian civil war.
One of the few ways the internationally community can check Hizbullah and Islamists is by recognizing Israel’s claims to the Golan Heights and removing it as a bargaining chip. Failure to do so will encourage Islamists in Syria and Hizbullah in their efforts to destroy Israel.